About a week ago, my dear friend Brynn asked me to write her a letter of recommendation. She is applying for the Peace Corps.
I had a great time writing that letter. It brought to life all of the things that I love about Brynn, and I felt like I had her in the room beside me as I wrote. When I finished, I thought- “I wish I could do that for everyone I love.” Then I thought, “I can!”
I’ve decided to experiment with my own version of letters of recommendation here on this website. Why not? I have nothing else I have to do, and writing about the people I love makes me feel so good. I’ve done so several times here already, with my sister, my dad, and Drew. And every time I write about someone I love, and share it with the world, my heart swells a little bit. Plus, writing descriptively about people in my life is good literary practice for me, in terms of developing colorful, believable characters.
So beginning today, I am going to be sharing stories with you about the people I love, as well as writing about the sights, sounds, tastes, and dreams that inspire me. If you don’t want to read about people you may not know, skip ahead. I think I’ll title these pieces by the name of the person I’m writing about.
The letter below is more formal than the others will be, I think. I’m sharing with you precisely what I’ve offered to the Peace Corps as my letter of recommendation for Brynn. Since she inspired this new direction in my writing, I felt it was only appropriate to share with you what I love about her. In the future, these may be more free flowing, and generally, shorter.
Lots of love to you all!
In October of 2003, I was twenty-three years old, and living on a beach in Thailand. I was with my sister, and we were convinced that we had found our own little Shangri-la. The beach was remote, the sand was white, and this tiny cove was hemmed in by rolling hills of jungle, accessible only by brightly bedecked long-tail boats that were draped with colorful ribbons and bouquets of flowers to ward off evil spirits. At night, after the sun had set and the moon had risen, a breeze would blow through the tops of the palms, and something would stir in my heart. That beach has left an indelible impression on me ever since, and I have returned many times to taste its magic.
One reason that beach is so special to me is because it is where I first met Brynn Utela. My sister and I were lounging on the sand one day, soaking the sun into our skin and hearts. A girl approached and squatted next to us, squinting into the sun and watching the waves. She introduced herself laughingly, explaining that some British friends of ours had sent her over, telling her we were also from Seattle. Many things surprised me about her sudden appearance, not the least of which was the fact that she was the only other American on the beach, and that she happened to be from our home town, also. Later we would find out that we had grown up only fifteen minutes apart, though it took a chance meeting on a tiny beach in Thailand to bring us together.
As her enthusiasm woke us up from our afternoon sun sleepiness, I was struck my her energy, and distracted by the gorgeous tattoo on her back. She was smiling and enthusiastic, and when she turned to say hello to my sister I saw it. It ran down the entire length of her back, and it was an image of a tree, the Tree of Life, I supposed. Heavenly figures knelt down at its roots, worshipping, and high in its branches, the moon peaked through. It had every color of the rainbow in it, and the branches of the tree climbed over Brynn’s shoulders and wrapped around her hips. It took my breath away. I had to look at it for a long, long time before I was satisfied, and then, for weeks afterward whenever I would see it, I would make her stop again and let me examine its beautiful lines, its exquisite detail. It was all the more astounding once I found out that she herself had designed it. Since then, I have been privileged to see much of her art (and to proudly hang her sketches and paintings on my walls), and I have seen variations of those heavenly figures in many of her drawings. They seem to be her muse, these silently worshipping creatures, and I love them as much as if they were real friends.
Brynn is one of those astounding people who seems to do everything well. She designs jaw-dropping sculptures; she paints colorful canvases with immaculate grace; she pots plants and brings them to enviable, thriving life; she whips up miraculous vegetarian meals at the drop of a hat; and her dedication and success as a student never ceases to amaze me. Brynn is a talented athlete, excelling at every sport she tries. In the summers, she runs, climbs, and swims, returning after her workouts flushed and laughing. In the winter she drives up to the mountains and snowboards, often every weekend, and manages to stay healthy and fit when so many other people are languishing in front of a television. She lived in the apartment downstairs from me this last year, and it always made me smile to see her bounce into my living room after a tough workout at the gym, in cotton shorts and high, striped seventies socks. Her muscles were always toned and her skin glowing. She is in admirable physical health.
One of the first dreams I knew Brynn to cherish was of one day starting her own community-focused record store and art gallery. She had it all visualized way back when, knowing the type of location she would like, the areas she would display local artists’ work, the music she would play on the speakers, and of course the albums that would fill the shop. When she moved to Seattle several years back, and became my downstairs neighbor, she was accepted as an intern at our local non-commercial radio station, KEXP. KEXP is a big deal in Seattle, and has come to worldwide acclaim for its innovation and excellence for alternative and global music. Receiving an internship at KEXP is an admirable feat, but it didn’t surprise me a wink that Brynn was chosen. Her knowledge of music is vast, and is only outdone by her passion for it. And of course it isn’t surprising at all that she can play… and sing! She plays guitar, bass, organ, and keyboards, and she does audio recording and engineering to boot. Her deep, growling voice is a joy to listen to, a burst of confidence and soul coming from such a petite, compact body.
Another one of Brynn’s long-time dreams has been to teach children. I have always said (and thought) that Brynn would be a divine teacher. She is a rare breed, a breath of shockingly cool, refreshing air. She is strikingly original in her art, her conversation, and her vibrant approach to life, and as far as children are concerned, most importantly perhaps, she is real. There is a fire in her that animates her every word, her every gesture, the way that she walks, and sits, and breathes. She once read me some slam poetry that had been tucked away in a box under her bed, and her performance blew my mind. She paced, and she jumped, and she pounded her fist in her palm. She laughed and she cried, and she shouted in joy at the climax. It is not a cliché to say that her performance took my breath away- it really did. I assumed that a well-seasoned, famous slam poet had written it, and that Brynn was just delivering an excellent presentation. What shocked me even more was finding out that Brynn herself had written every word. It was provocative in a way that jolts you and instantly makes you look at the world differently. It was about the youth of our generation, and it was raw, searing, and dead-on. Watching her perform that left me with tears in my eyes, and I knew she would blow her peers away when she performed it that night in class. This was while she was studying to become a teacher, and I still remember thinking how blessed any child would be to have a teacher like that. A teacher like that makes you sit up straight in your seat, riveted, and pay attention. A teacher like that is shockingly original, and children respond so beautifully to what is positive, and what is real. Brynn is gorgeously positive, and she is undeniably real.
When I think of Brynn (and I often do), I find that my mind compares her to a rainbow. She has so many tastes, colors, and flavors. One day she is a retro-styled young hipster, in boots and a leather jacket, and later that evening she is the epitome of a fashionable woman, in a classy wrap and vintage heels. Her apartment is an experience in and of itself, and I love sitting on her soft couch and looking at her bookshelves, which are filled with works by Faulkner, Nietzche, Kant, Camus, Hesse, Artaud, Dostoevsky, Joyce, and Chekhov. Much of the riveting art on the walls is of her own creation, and opening her refrigerator, I find my belly growling as I see organic peanut butter, bags of nuts and seeds, and fresh spinach, blueberries and carrots from her parent’s garden. Usually, there is also some mouthwatering concoction she has just whipped up, a delicious combination of tofu and quinoa with lots of brightly colored vegetables. She cooks with herbs and spices, and tells me that most dishes can be saved with a bit of cumin, and a dash of curry.
In the six years that I have known Brynn, she has continued to travel all over the globe, a passion that she has satisfied for many years. When she wasn’t in Seattle, she was in Bellingham or Santa Cruz, surfing or studying, or reading philosophy and molding clay into charming antique stereos or beautiful pots for her flowers. When she wasn’t in the States, she was in India, learning yoga, or Italy, living on the beach. Sometimes I would check in and find out that she was in Brazil, Argentina, Guatemala, Nepal, Cambodia, or Thailand. She picks up languages quickly, and I was amazed to find her nearly fluent in Spanish when she last returned from South America.
Brynn is an asset to any group, circle, or organization she joins. I had the pleasure of being her boss at the Pike Brewing Company in downtown Seattle for over a year when she first moved to the city. That was a very happy period for me, because not only did Brynn become my downstairs neighbor, she became my co-worker. I was not the least bit surprised to find that day after day, her sales were always at the top. It also didn’t surprise me to go through the stacks of comment cards we received from customers, and find that she was easily the most popular waitress in the pub, getting rave reviews and personal notes on a regular basis. People loved her. I would often walk out of the office and see Brynn crouched down at a table, conversing earnestly with the customers, who had smiles on their faces and seemed to be utterly pleased. She educated them on ales and lagers, the complexity of the brewing process, and which brew would go best with which meal. She was well versed in the entire menu in a very short time, selling oysters, and clams, and salmon to very satisfied customers, and pleasing the owners equally with her knack for quality service and an ability to make money. She is a very practical girl, thriving in endeavors to make money, but she does it in a way that is of benefit to everyone involved. Brynn’s tables always left with smiles on their faces, and made it a point to hand in their glowing reviews at the front desk, or to a manager.
I could write a novel about Brynn. I am an aspiring author myself, and she is absolutely perfect material for a character. She is so colorful, and intelligent, and vibrant. However, as this is merely a letter of recommendation, I will say that in any and every capacity I have ever known Brynn- whether as a waitress, an artist, a traveler, a musician, an athlete, a nanny, or a friend- she has excelled unequivocally. I love to introduce to her to my other friends, because she brightens up any party and tends to take your breath away. She is an asset to any organization she joins because she puts her heart and soul into whatever she does. Brynn is one of the most passionate people I know, wringing every drop she can out of life. She blows my mind with her drive and her energy, her uniqueness of spirit, and her inherent beauty. I hope that you will consider her for the Peace Corps. She would be an invaluable asset to you!