The desk in the corner of her office is dedicated solely to the nearly forgotten art of writing letters.
She jokes: “I inherited the correspondence gene from my mother. My sister got the holiday knickknack gene.”
Two drawers are filled with cards and envelopes neatly waiting their turn. The center drawer hosts stamps, stickers, funny Post-it notes; and another drawer is something like a treasure chest of found objects — anything flat and funny and curious — that she might drop into the envelope along with a hand-written note.
It’s a busy spot, this desk.
She says: “(I guess) part of what I’ve been doing my whole life is finding small ways to change the world. Because I’m not a Ghandi. I’m not Martin Luther King. I don’t have it in me to change the world in big ways. It’s not part of my task. But there are small ways I can do that. And there are small ways everyone can do that to make a difference to the world.”
Birthdays, anniversaries, thank you notes, even to girlfriends she sees on a regular basis; letters to “dear great-aunt Helen” and cousin Bob, and a few pen-pal-like correspondences; she sends out a dozen letters each week (personally subsidizing the U.S. Post Office, she quips).
“(Letters let people) know that someone else gives a (darn) about them. What’s the Boys and Girls Club about? What’s mentoring about? That someone gives a (darn) and is willing to invest in someone else.
“A thank-you note is part of the same continuum.”
In her formal — but former — work life, Joy Kopp is in the communications business. In many ways, her letter-writing is an extension of this skill.
Joy has a portfolio full of the many ways she can translate undeveloped concepts, technical jargon and complicated theories into simple, coherent ideas. Sometimes her eloquence has to do with her work — explaining software projects or directing project teams or producing training. Other times, the same gift of communication is directed toward deepening the relationship with family and friends.
“It’s (all) about not being afraid to express an idea. It’s about finding ways to express something with clarity so it resonates with someone else.”
The thing about Joy’s letter-writing these days is that she does it within a context she never imagined she’d be in: In 2009, she was laid off; she is unemployed, and has been for almost three years.
Joy describes those years as a rollercoaster of emotions — from grief to denial, from anger to depression. (See sidebar.)
“The sharp points that I have been impaled on these last 2 › years have been very cutting. It was not pleasant. Am I dead? No. Has the experience made me better? No. It’s been agonizing and hurtful. I don’t want to say I’m a stronger person (because) I always have been.”
Looking for a job was a Maytag-like cycle of despair/excitement about a job prospect/never hearing back. It was a time of rejection and doubt, feeling like she was never doing the right things, wasn’t trying hard enough, wasn’t young enough.
“There’s barely space to breathe. You don’t have time to breathe. Anyway, you shouldn’t be breathing because you should be doing a lot of other things while looking for a job.
“A washing machine going around and around. (She says to herself): ‘Are you dizzy now? Let’s get out’”
After two and a half years, Joy gave up. What she gave up was the relentless job search — and what she found was a sense of peacefulness.
“Where I’m at today is to be comfortable on a new level; to be able to say (as my husband tells me): ‘It’s okay. If we were going to starve, we would have by now.’”
It’s not that she didn’t know this already, but the realization took on new importance:
“I get by with a little help from my friends. That’s important. Maybe this experience has reminded me of all the things I’ve always known. Now I put aside the distractions and return to what I’ve always known.
“Relax, breathe, love, live in the moment — because life is short and it’s getting shorter. It’s short when you’re 20; you just don’t know it then.”
She found time to volunteer, to write even more letters, to spend time with friends.
“This latest experience has given me freedom to see this being ‘untethered’ as a gift. My job (now) is to define that open-endedness.”
With that in mind, she’s tackling a project with her self-employed husband; she’s also working whole-heartedly on a book about her father. She’s never written a book before. The manuscript is based on a series of thank you notes that Joy wrote to her father, Kenn Kopp, before he died in January 2005.
“(After he died), a thousand words oozed off the ends of my fingertips...”
The letters are a window into his life — and his daughter’s — that weave together lessons bestowed and bequeathed, from grandparents to father to daughter.
“(The book) is not about me. It’s not about my father. It’s about saying thank you”
And more and more, Joy’s life has been about those thank yous. As she has shared the manuscript with friends and family, Joy has been heart-warmed by their response.
“(It seems like this manuscript has helped them) to find a new route through the maze of being alive that works for (them) — to be connected.
“If that’s all I can do, then I win. I helped change the world. In a little way.”
And so, after years of knocking on all kinds of doors, looking for employment — Joy’s life circles back around to the quiet little desk where she writes, to a part of life that is so important to her.
“Most of the letters fall into a black hole — like my job applications. I don’t get a birthday card back, or a letter back. It’s like my job hunt: ‘Dammit. I’m not going to do this anymore; I’m not sending out any more resumes.’ And then I do it anyway.
“(But writing my letters) makes me feel good. And I know there’s a response on the other end — I know there is.
“(It’s like) you’re constantly knocking on doors, looking for that door that will open.
“Being connected to people on a personal and intimate level of love is no different. It’s knocking on the door of someone’s heart and walking through that door when they open it.”
Know someone living “from the heart”? Idaho Statesman photojournalist Katherine Jones spotlights someone in the Treasure Valley who influences our lives not only by what they do, but how and why they do it. Do you know someone we should know? Call 377-6414 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.