Just a Few Lines

book art by Karen Viola

There can be plenty of story in just a few lines. ‘Just a few lines,’ is actually the title of my latest work of book art, which grew out of a goal to celebrate my mother’s 80th birthday with her. The work was a surprising and satisfying journey—a journey I didn’t know I needed to take until I was on it. Aren’t those often the best kind?


My first task was to select and cut somewhere around 80 handwritten lines from a large bundle of letters my mother sent to me after I went off to college, then arrange the pieces to form a single poem. I had absolutely no expectations of how or even if a poem would take shape. I just knew I needed to try.


It worked. At least I think so, and my mother does, which is what matters. It turned into a kind of hand-painted, paper tapestry, with horizontal panels folding accordion-style like a window shade. Which by sheer coincidence is exactly as long as my mother is tall when fully open. No joke.


book art by Karen Viola

My mother ‘dashed off’ a few lines to me almost every single day. This was in the 1980s, when long distance communication was a painstakingly deliberate process. Once a week or so, I’d make a fake collect call to a fake person who lived with my parents. Who was never home when I called. My parents would call me right back directly. Imagine, no Verizon wireless family plan. No screen time. Just paper, pens, and ‘posts’ that were real posts that went in real boxes.


As I re-read her letters, some of them just one or two sentences on a small notepad sheet, it occurred to me, a mother of young adult children myself, just how much of a lifeline this ritual had been for her. And how I type words, choose emojis, and grab screen shots of transient instagram stories before they slip into oblivion with the same urgency my mother felt as she rushed to the post office before it closed for the day.


By extracting and comparing small samples that spanned many months of time, a bittersweet essence of long-distance longing and love emerged from the mess on my floor, to quote my mother, like a ‘crystal-clear blue sky,’ after the rain. 


This process made me wonder about the various forms of lifelines we offer, take, and hold as we grow. Or store in boxes in an attic’s dark corner because we aren’t quite prepared to let them go.


Perhaps the question we need to ask is not when to let them go, but how. How to commemorate what we know is already gone, and in doing this, discover connections that remain. Some lifelines are for keeps. For life. Like bright, red ribbons threaded in and out of the edges of our days.


More to come around the bend…


book art by Karen Viola


20 Responses to “Just a Few Lines

  • Colleen
    5 years ago

    To my very best friend, What a beautiful collage of your mom’s letter! You are an amazing artist my friend and I am so glad to be part of your life!

    • Ah thanks so much my BFF and PPF (pen pal forever)… I am sure your letters too will find their way into something new (and blue?) someday! love you xo

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    You express your thoughtful self beautifully, using the creativity and talent you possess in this wonderful tribute to your mother. And I can’t think of anyone more deserving of it than she, a good friend of so many years.
    With much admiration and thanks,
    Carol Gildersleeve

    • Carol, thank you for your lovely comment, it means a lot to me. My mom certainly has a wonderful and talented friend in you… I’ve heard many stories over the years! Much admiration and thanks back at you. 🙂

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    OMG, I am so impressed with this beautiful tribute to your relationship with Mummeth!

    Of course, it’s not surprising because that’s who you are and you always amaze me with your artistry and always have.

    Look forward to seeing it and what a coincidence to have it the same length as her height, that made me chuckle.

    ❤️ Moow

    • Moow, your comment means so much to me, thank-you ❣️❣️❣️ Yeah the matching height thing was an amazing surprise!

  • Barbara Fisher
    5 years ago


    I am totally in awe of you!

    Barbie Fisher

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Dear Karen,

    I cannot imagine a more precious gift – other than yourself – than this beautiful work of art. What a heartfelt tribute to your mom: scraps of messages tied together in a wonderfully colourful and creative unfolding of memories.

    A very special “lifeline” between mother and daughter!

    As your mom’s friend, I know how she will cherish this.

    Joan McDonald

    • Joan, Thank-you! I am grateful for your kind words, and for the friendship you and my mom share. ?

    • Kina Hultin
      5 years ago

      How beautiful, Karen! Since I have neither my mother nor my father with me anymore, your work seems even more important. How lovely to share this with your mom and happy it must have made her! That kind of communication is rare nowadays and create a life pattern that is so precious. Just imagine if you were the recipient and Kina the sender… Thank you for sharing! ?❤️?

      • Ah Kina thank-you so much for commenting, it makes me long for the days when you and I wrote long hand-written letters! miss you xox

  • What a beautiful and moving testament to your mother! My first thought is how BAD I am as a correspondent to my kids. But my second thought is to go ravage that box of letters my mother sent to me, to mine those nuggets of love which, at the time, I took for granted. She’s gone now, making this project almost unbearable. How wise of you to undertake this while you could both appreciate her legacy.

    • I so appreciate your reflective comment. Those nuggets aren’t going anywhere…❤️

  • Anonymous
    5 years ago

    Just dashing off a few lines on my iPad, which will arrive in your inbox in a few minutes! The method may be different from the letters I sent to you in New York, attending Parson’s School of Design, but it’s sent with the same LOVE! Reading through your birthday gift with tears of pride and awe. Thank you for being YOU!! Your devoted Mummeth ❤️?

  • Peter Southam
    5 years ago

    I am speechless,
    and full of love
    to the brim!

    ? Dad

  • Dave Southam
    5 years ago

    Very colourful, very cool!


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