To the letter

Jeff Rindels

Photo By Bryce Benson

Jeff Rindels followed his heart from Iowa to Grass Valley. When things didn’t work out he found himself a bit lost, caught up in a lifestyle he wanted to change, living in Nevada City, Californ-I-A. At 30, he’s in Chico and back in school working on his master’s in fine arts. The self-proclaimed “rascal” wants to teach people to paint. Painting is his passion, but he already earned a bachelor’s degree in communication—something he’s done quite a bit of in his world travels. Over the years Rindels found that many of his friends were too busy to return letters, so he’s come up with a way to help initiate communication. Last week he spent five days sitting under the shade of a draping tree near Chico State’s Free Speech Area writing letters for anyone who asked. Passersby could dictate to Rindels the letter they wanted. He punched away on his typewriter, which sat atop two milk crates, then he’d hand them their letter in an envelope with postage.

Why did you move to California?

A woman.

Why a typewriter instead of a laptop?

I think a typewritten letter holds more potency then an e-mail. E-mail is ephemeral, whereas you can hold a letter in your hand and the marks on the page have a tangible quality. I also like the fact that a letter has to make a physical journey to reach you.

You spent a week out at this spot behind the Free Speech Area. It sounds like some sort of religious or spiritual fasting. How many letters did you write?

That’s funny you mention religion because Monday, Tuesday and Friday there were guys shouting the Word and on another day a more quiet group of believers set up a table near me. But I outlasted them all. I think I typed about 18 letters.

Where else have you done this? How many letters do you have saved?

I’ve typed letters all over—places like Iowa, the Netherlands, Colorado and Wisconsin. I have saved very little, since a lot of times I didn’t have carbon paper with me.

How does an experience like this make you feel? What did you learn?

Solitude, silence and slowness along with intimate encounters and connections. I learned it’s OK to put yourself out there, to be aware and vulnerable at the same time.

What kinds of things did people open up to you about?

Being drunk at the bar, missing their friends and [being] angry about the budget cuts.

What did you hope to accomplish?

I wanted the participants to accomplish something: to be curious and courageous enough to ask me what I was up to, and to sit down with me to write and communicate with their friends and families.