Forgotten Art: Meadow-Watergate 1


Dear Mr. Watergate:

The Pen Pal Project recommended you as a match for me. I see in your profile that you have many daughters ranging in age from toddler to teen.

How perfect! With all your experience, you can give me the advice I need!

You see, I have recently become a mother to Jena.


She is my adopted daughter.

She’s a miracle, a handful, and a mystery, all rolled into one!


I have to admit that, as a new mother with no experience with children, especially very young children, I am at a loss more often than not!

Sometimes, we get along swimmingly!


She’ll be happy, cheerful, and cooperative. At these times, it seems that she’s settling into her new home and that she actually likes me! I start to feel that we can be a family.

And then, something will shift. I will find her standing with the saddest look on her face.

What has happened? Why is she now sad? Will I ever be able to figure out her needs and anticipate her moods?


I could really use your insights and advice, Mr. Watergate.

Thank you, in advance.


Meadow McCumber

P.S. If you are too busy to write back, I completely understand! I know that this letter is coming out of the blue. Is it OK if I keep writing to you, though? Somehow, just sharing my worries with someone who might possibly understand, I feel better already.

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Forgotten Art: Meadow’s Profile


Name: Meadow McCumber

Select your age bracket: 25-32

Profession: Other

If you selected “other,” please describe: I am a human being. My vocation is to live, deeply and fully, in such a way that the world is better because of my actions, thoughts, and endeavors. (Ugh. That sounds so presumptuous. I’m sorry. I don’t know how else to say it.)


How many pen pals are you interested in acquiring? At present, I have the time, energy, and interest in corresponding with two to three others.

What qualities do you seek in a pen pal? I have a very practical purpose in joining this project at present. I’ve just adopted a Pakistani orphan. I know! They always say that adoption isn’t the answer to the refugee crisis! Believe me. I had to think this all the way through from every angle and back again. But after all the thinking, I looked in the eyes of my friend Jordan, who works with a refugee agency here in Windenburg, and I had to reply, “I’ll take her.”

So now, Jena lives with me.

And I have absolutely no idea what to do.


So, I guess the qualities I’m looking for in a pen pal would be:




The ability to talk me down from the ledge when I’m freaking out

Common sense

Understanding of children and of the process of being an adoptive mom

Expertise in early childhood development and how to best nurture these little ones

I’d also love to find a relative of Jena’s or someone from her culture of birth, so that she can feel some connection to her heritage.


Do you have a desire to meet your pen pal face-to-face? Sure, if the opportunity arose! I would love for them to meet little Jena, so they could help me understand her better!


Please describe, in as much detail as possible, your reason for wanting to join the pen pal project: Let me tell you a story, and this will help you to see why I want to write to someone who knows about very young kids.

The other morning, Jena and I were sitting in the living room, talking.

Now, isn’t that weird? I mean, she’s two! She’s still in diapers.

And there we were, carrying on a conversation, as if she were an old college chum.


But the thing was, I couldn’t understand a word she said.

She just spoke on and on and on, in baby talk. And I couldn’t make heads or tails of it.

I pretended like I understood her, but it became evident when our conversation was finished, that she felt disappointed. I’d missed something essential that she was trying to convey.


What do I do in situations like that?

I really need someone to tell me.

We went into her room and I read her a story. I got so engrossed in it that I forgot to read aloud. See what I mean? I’m hopeless as a mom. I need help!


When we finished reading, I knelt on the floor and she walked up to me, looking like the angel she is.

I could see in her eyes that she was trying to communicate with me.

But all I could hear was, “Ti solly tee! Ti solly tee!”


“I’m sorry, Jena,” I replied. “I don’t know what you’re saying.”

She looked so crushed. We need help, this baby and me. She has so much to tell me, and I need a way to understand.


Forgotten Art: Jasper’s Profile

The Pen Pal Project Online Application

Please complete the following questions as accurately and honestly as possible. Your sincere responses will help us match you with the applicants most suited to correspond with you.


Name: Jasper McCumber

Select your age bracket: 62+

Profession: Retired Professor of Literature, University of Windenburg


How many pen pals are your interested in acquiring? Two-three

What qualities do you seek in a pen pal? Preferably, a fondness for writing, though, as evidenced by my responses, writing in complete sentences is not required. If my correspondents do not like to write, then drawings or other two dimensional means of communicating would be acceptable, and, perhaps, even desired. I could use a paper napkin or two with some artistic–or even-not-so-artistic scribbles on them. I would find beauty in them, anyway. Or at least, if not beauty, then something to ponder–some intriguing insight into the person who created them. I suppose, the rare three-dimensional object of communication would meet with approval, too, especially if that three-dimensional object happened to be an apple pie.


Do you have a desire to meet your pen pal face-to-face? Heavens, no! This is called “pen” pal, not “face” pal!


Please describe, in as much detail as possible, your reason for wanting to join the pen pal project: Was a time when folks wrote to each other, long, detailed letters sharing all the little elements that make up a life–the shape of clouds. The taste of wind. The songs of mockingbirds. The bubbling sound of beef stew simmering on the stove. And more than these little details, folks shared thought, feelings, insights, questions, confusions, and resolutions.

How did we come to stop sharing our inmost thoughts with each other?

I can’t do this in a text, or even in a long conversation on the phone.

Magic happens when two people write to each other the words forming in their brains, those words that can travel only through a pen or through fingers on a keyboard.

Think of Elizabeth Bishop’s letters to Robert Lowell. Or Thoreau’s letters to Margaret Fuller. Or Clara Schumann’s correspondence with Johannes Brahms.

For decades, I’ve been bemoaning the forgotten art of correspondence. The time has come for me to stop bemoaning and start acting.

I write not for posterity, but for the present moment: for the quickening of thought and pulse with another sentient being. Words change us. And I want to change and be changed.


After you have reviewed your application and made any necessary revisions or corrections, please click “Submit.” Only click once. Do not click “Refresh” or the back button on your browser.


The Pen Pal Project will notify you by email within ten days of any suitable correspondents we find for you.

Thank you for your wishes to participate in this project, and happy writing!


Author’s note: What’s this? It’s a new collaborative project, The Pen Pal Project! Want to take part? If so, check out the Forum thread or drop me a comment here!