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Handwritten is a place and space for pen and paper. We showcase things in handwriting, but also on handwriting. And so, you'll see dated letters and distant postcards alongside recent studies and typed stories. 

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#MappedMyRun: Drink, Pray, Run

Brett Rawson


Overcome by the idleness of a windowless office job, I grabbed a sheet of 8x11.5 paper from the printer tray. It was nine or so at night, late October, and my legs still burned a little. Two weeks earlier, I had completed the Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim (R2R2R) — a forty-seven mile run in the Grand Canyon — with three other wild hearts. I had a hard time explaining the experience to people. The best I could come up with was, "It was brutal and beautiful." That's what I sent in an email to my parents, brother, and girlfriend when I finished. They were waiting to hear we'd made it out. 

As I started to draw the route, I let the pen drift, while my mind recollected some of the twists and turns. There'd be no way to remember it all — in addition to the 47 miles, we experienced 20,000 feet of elevation change. There were plenty of times when, for lack of a better phrase, I was "out of it." I do remember the moment we could see the Colorado River. It was sunrise. The canyon was just beginning to wake up.

The South Rim sits at 7,000 feet, and to the base of the canyon, it was a 5,000-foot descent. My thighs felt the decline, but my left big toe felt like a flaming rod. After we crossed the Colorado River, we took a short breather to adjust our layers of clothes and do a "systems check." Only six miles in, a blister was bad news. I could feel the burning liquid swish back and forth in the newly-formed bubble. I mentioned this to one of my Grand Companions, Martin. An elite runner with a 100-mile race under his belt, he was quick to point out a simple solution — something I'd never considered in five years of distance running — lace my shoes the top hole. Otherwise, it's like being buckled into a seat that doesn't stay in place. How I've never encountered this issue before was beyond me, but at that moment, I was thinking of what was ahead of me: in ten miles, we'd the North Rim, ascend and then immediately descend, adding another 11,000 feet of elevation change.

"Want to take care of that blister now?" Martin asked.

"I'm ok for now," I replied. Suit yourself, Martin's eyes warned, and as the canyon thawed, I briefly contemplated the healing power of cutting off my big toe.  

Anais Nin once said, "We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect." The same could be said for mapping. I map to experience land twice, in the moment and in reflection. I find so many similarities between the two — writing and mapping — that I sometimes can't tell which I am talking about. I usually begin both without a plan. On a run, I never know how far I'll go. Sometimes, I end up running a single mile, stop, and call it quits. Other days, I am able to run 27 miles across bridges and through rush hour in Manhattan. While there are some days that I need to get in a certain number of miles — if I am training for a run — I view quantity in a macro-way: it's not about how far I run each time, but it's about how many times I run.


People that tells me my pace or distance, though I will wear one that tells time; I don't wear headphones or have a playlist at the ready; and I hardly ever set out with a plan. I just tie my shoes, head out the door, and within a few blocks, I usually have a pretty good idea how far I'll run that day, though I  today will be a short or long run. Sometimes, I turn around a mile in. Other times, I take a few turns and end up linking together fifteen miles. And on a few occasions, what was supposed to be an ordinary four-mile run turned into a twenty-seven mile run around Manhattan or Seattle. These things — watch, statistics, expectations — get in the way of listening to my body. And I'm not trying to be some yogi here. I've hurt myself plenty of times because I pushed myself too far. I've snapped my ACL, rolled ankles, and broken bones. If anything, it was distance running that has taught me how to run shorter runs better.


Lost Songs: A Conversation with My Father

Brett Rawson

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My dad and I co-wrote a song together for the first time in March of 2015. Seeing the song come to life from the penciled pages of his handwritten notebook made me curious about the process, specifically in the earlier days of his songwriting. When I brought up the idea of being featured on Handwritten, he knew exactly what he wanted to share.  Below is the conversation with my dad, Dale Butler, folk singer-songwriter and local celebrity of Leamington, Ontario.  

CARLY: Where did you find these pieces of handwritten work? 
DALE: I was cleaning up the basement and found them in a folder.  One of them is a finished song that is handwritten, but most of them are a bunch of started and unfinished songs, a dog’s breakfast really. These were written on shopping bags that date back to 1977.  

I was working up north at a camp at the time, so I probably got it from the liquor store. I thought it was nice paper that I could cut up into pages.  I didn’t have paper with me so I used what I could find. You have to get creative sometimes.  I’ve written on envelopes, napkins, things I find in the glove box, business cards, gum wrappers or packages, and I’ve even written songs on cigarette boxes (even though I don’t smoke).

This piece of paper here is from when I was in Florida in 1980.  It’s a paper shopping bag that I found at my parents place there.  It’s dated Friday April 11th, 1980.  I was down at the water and I got writing about a fisherman.  It’s a poem, not a song. I never ended up putting it to music but I kept it all these years. I wrote a thing here, “spoken words should be written words.” 

This is a neat line, “no matter where you put them, in view or out of sight, they’ll turn to each other and start another fight.” I have no idea what that was about.  It must have been about my parents arguing, or my brothers, or my brother and dad because they used to argue about everything.  Some of this stuff is pretty amazing.  “Till love saves the day, love is stronger than any man, love can take you by the hand, love can conquer any land.” 
When you get looking at these scraps of paper, it’s funny what you write, because a lot of times things that are said are never documented.  If you don’t write it down there’s a good chance it will be lost.

CARLY: I notice that you always use pencil.  Why is that? 
DALE: I write with pencil because I have trouble spelling and because you’re always rewriting. With a pencil it’s easy to erase and fix it.  When you write with ink, you have to scratch it out and put the other word beside it.  
CARLY: Don’t you ever worry that you’ll erase something good? 
DALE: No.  If it were good it wouldn’t have gotten erased.  I have lots of things that are partly written. I found a few lines in this pile that I think are going to become a song that I want to finish. They’re kind of like lost songs that are going to come back to life some day.  Some of it might just be one good line I wrote a long time ago that I think I could work with.  
CARLY: When did you first start writing & what inspired you to write?

DALE: My next-door neighbor Dan and I started writing songs in 1972.  We would always listen to music by Gordon Lightfoot, Seals and Crofts and James Taylor and we decided to try and write our own.  I remember one particular song that Dan had started on a piece of paper that he left sitting on a stereo. I saw it, read it and told him how good it was. After finding out he was about to throw it away, I offered to take it home to work on it and it later became the song Sea Captain. Once I started songwriting, I couldn’t stop. The quest then became the next song and wondering if my songwriting was going to get better. 

CARLY: Back then, if someone found these papers, how would you have felt? Do you have any songwriting advice?
DALE: Sometimes you’re embarrassed by what you write because it’s so personal and the fear is that others will maybe have the wrong interpretation of what you have written.  It could be totally different than what you think you wrote.  
I think when you first start you have lots to say, but you worry.  As you get older, you are a little bit smarter with the use of words because you’ve done it quite a bit, and you can say just as much with less.  It’s about picking the right words and the ability to convey what you wanted, with less. 
Basically you need to start writing something.  It can be anything.  When you read it over again sometimes the words move you and other times they don’t.  If it doesn’t you just set it aside and move on to something else.  You can always come back to it 20 or 30 years later. I’m looking at this stuff that’s quite old and I’m realizing in this moment that it might have another life.  I’ve written 99 songs in my lifetime, maybe these handwritten lyrics on scraps of paper from the 70’s and 80’s that I’ve saved after all these years, will help me reach my 100th song this year. 

Seventy Years Ago Today

Brett Rawson

By Carly Butler

It was while moving my grandfather into a retirement home that we stumbled upon 110 love letters written from my grandmother to my grandfather just after WWII. They were dated January to July of 1946, and they were tucked away in the back of a cupboard next to a slew of VHS tapes of recorded British sitcoms. My Grama had been gone for over 10 years at this point. She died when I was 13.

When we first found the letters, they were simply a precious family memento  an heirloom that we’d keep in a drawer the few years that followed their discovery. It wasn’t until 2012 that I found myself in front of the RMS Queen Mary docked in Long Beach, California, the ship that my Grama sailed on in 1946 towards her new life, that an idea started to form. I would move to England from January to July of 2013 to retrace my Grama's steps.  I would knock on the door of the house she wrote the letters from, I would visit the places she visited and I would write home to my love, just as she did.

The journey of retracing my Grama’s letters 67 years later changed my life. It has led me to this exact moment, drafting up my first entry for this column on Handwritten. If someone were to have told me that a bundle of love letters would change the course of my life, bring incredible people into my path, be the foundation of a love that I have with the perfect man for me, and create a connection to my Grama, someone who left this world almost 20 years ago, I’m not sure I would have believed it.  

What I've come to realize is that my gratitude for having these letters is far beyond the grand gesture or epic journey. The most meaningful part of having found my Grama’s letters is that they give me a window into a life-story of an incredible woman who walked before me. Her handwritten words allow me to get to know her as a 26 year-old women embarking on a major life decision, leaving behind everything she knew, putting her faith in love and living life the way it’s meant to be lived. Her words bring me strength when I feel weak, courage when I feel scared, belief when I am in doubt, and chutzpah to live the life of my dream, seventy years later. 

Her first letter, shared below for the first time, is dated January 17, 1946, just over seventy years ago today.


January 17, 1946

My Darling, 

I haven't written before because I knew it wouldn't be any use as the letter would get there before you. Darling, I miss you terribly, much more than I ever did before, now I am only living for the day when I get my papers to sail. Right until I got your telegram Tuesday morning, I thought and lived in the hope that you would walk in once more for a few stolen hours, but after I got the telegram I knew you had gone. Thanks for sending it, darling, it was sweet of you, if I hadn't of got it I might still be thinking you would come.

I hope you had a good sailing darling and it wasn't too rough (or does that make you laugh) anyway the main important thing is that you got there safely. P.G. Everything back here is very much the same, I started work back again today at Samuel’s, I couldn't stay at home doing nothing any longer the time just seem to drag. 

I wrote and asked for the address of the Canadian wives club and I've got it now, they meet every first Monday in the month and the next meeting is on Feb 4th so I'm going to go and learn some more about Canada and Canadian cooking (Ha! Ha! That's not funny). 

It's a funny thing darling but you know all the time you were here we never heard our song once, well both last night and the night before I heard someone singing it on the AFN, they must know just how I feel. Every time I go in our room, I nearly start crying and it's worse when I go to bed, the moon is still shining on our bed just like it was that last night you were here. 

On Tuesday night I went to the Odeon and saw "Love Letters" it was a lovely film and reminded me so much of how letters brought us together. I'm going to Oxford on Saturday for the weekend to take Vera back her things, anyway it will make a change for me, I'm going to take my camera and take some snaps to send to you. That reminds me I bought a smashing photo album the other day and I've put in all my snaps but there is still a lot of room, so I'm ready for all the snaps you are going to send me. Now all I want is a scrapbook. 

One of the women in the shop today asked me what I would like for a wedding present so I guess we are still collecting 'em. While I am writing this Dixie is walking all over the room, so you can just imagine. mmmm. I have an answer Danny's letter yet but I will soon, I have written to everybody else. Well darling I guess that's about all for now except that I love you and I won't feel like a whole person again until we are together for good. P.G. 

Half of me is with you, well cheerio darling, God Bless You and All the Luck in the world to you, Au revoir. All my love forever your ever loving wife, 


I love you – in x’s
P.S. Give my love to the family. Love Rene. 

The Materials Matter

Brett Rawson


I am often asked, “What are you going to do with all of those?” in regards to my ever-amassing collection of notebooks.

The tone people adopt when they ask me registers as an accusation, or a warning that they’re going to turn me in to the reality show Hoarders’ producers and stage a televised intervention. True, the amount of notebooks I’ve accumulated makes moving daunting (the journals, both blank and filled-in, take up at least four standard file boxes, and are heavy). But these bound batches of scribbles mean the world to me. Because it isn’t just the words that matter — the content ranging from teen angst to amateur poetry to higher ed revelations — but the format. The tangibility. The way the words look on the page. The way my handwriting sometimes forms tight serpentine ribbons or grows looser and larger when tipsy or tired or both.

The materials matter; even the notebook choice tells a story. Moving chronologically, my notebooks upgrade in quality from flimsy composition notebooks (Harriet the Spy-grade Meads) or one-subject college ruled notebooks I also used for high school Trig, to those ubiquitous ribboned moleskines, or Germany’s analogue, the Leuchtturm, or even the notebook in which I composed this draft—a Stamford Notebook Co. lizard embossed cobalt beauty handbound in England.

The medium change means a few things: 1) I moved up one ladder rung in the service industry and could afford nicer products, 2) I was starting to take myself seriously as a writer, and each double-digit-$ notebook was an investment in that continued pursuit 3) other people were taking me seriously as a writer, and gifting me nice notebooks for holidays 4) I realized the paper quality, brightness, and thickness, all contributed to the actual look of the text.

I began to appreciate the aesthetic of each individual journal entry, independent of the actual written content. 

My Telescope is Pointed in a Different Direction

Brett Rawson


As a kid, I preferred to cruise in crowds and tell stories in front of audiences. I didn't like to read or write. By eighth grade, I had left both far behind: my reading and writing levels were three years behind me. I remember my mother used to turn on the microwave timer for thirty minutes, pleading me to read, if not just look at, any book. I'd say of course, she'd walk away, and fifteen minutes later, I'd approach the microwave, and press five buttons one second apart, mimicking the end of the thirty minute session, and with not so much as a be back later, I'd be running down the street toward a cul-de-sac of activity.

But in between two rice paddies, around the age of twenty two, I discovered the wild noise and absurd worlds that existed inside me. By simply putting thoughts to paper, new universes of ideas came flowing forth. Each night, as I sank into these stories, I found a sense of relief in a new kind of silence: writing by hand. In the beginning, most were about the everyday, but I recall many faraway thoughts. I ran after each, even if it meant brushing up against a vanishing point. I didn't always make it back to where I began, but I also realized that wasn't the point. I was supposed to be, or perhaps get, lost. 

A decade later, my closet is the only one complaining about my now daily practice. The process itself is about processing, and during stretches of time when I am not handwriting enough, I feel the difference in my mind. The distraction, echoes, and pressures. They build up if I don't clean things out. There is continuity is all the connections: these kraft brown journals. I have a few that exhibit some decorations, but those are specifically journals I keep to write about writing. When I open up these covers, I walk inside an open. And in that undisclosed place, nothing has to make sense. 

Didn't we just discover a new planet? We're always discovering new planets. My telescope is just pointed in a different direction.


Brett Rawson

Sarah Madges is a handwriter living in Brooklyn. Her handwriting has appeared in numerous composition notebooks, a handful of three-subject college ruled notebooks, and a whole host of moleskines. She also works with typed words, which have appeared in places like the Village Voice, Killing the Angel, and various abandoned blog platforms. 

300 Mg

Brett Rawson

Wellbutrin blues dose high dose low so close. closet blues
keep shoes rubber made walking. white round scribbles. Avoid
avoids. Walk away stomp shoes bouncing soles black.
colorful hyphen split open particles purged beads of feel
betters scattering scattered. Extend the release of. You might
experience. May include. Talk to your doctor.
Peristaltic magic make me whole soul bouncing.
Internal tremors shake off just wellbutrin blues.
Swallow swallows swallowed shallow breathing blue-
Ing. Better better better better. Walk out old life
matinee movie — much brighter than you
remembered.  Glittering goldly sweetly scrim of
saccharine. Put it on peristaltic. Old life moth balls
closet blues forget forgot. Swallowing a white room
quiet white noise machine drown out therapy
drown out but what about tell me about talk
about I. Scratch pad for scars give coat for bag
rattling. Bouncing in bag walking out old life.
Ticking rattler reminder not quite not quite. Quit.

Sarah Madges is a handwriter living in Brooklyn. Her handwriting has appeared in numerous composition notebooks, a handful of three-subject college ruled notebooks, and a whole host of moleskines. She also works with typed words, which have appeared in places like the Village Voice, Killing the Angel, and various abandoned blog platforms.