Monday, September 6, 2010
I was driving down our country road on our way to the city for some errand. My teenage daughter was in the passenger seat and I was thinking..."great!This is the perfect time to catch up, tune in to her world and have a nice conversation!" I thought I had a captive audience. No one else was in the car, just the two of us...beep, beep. I glanced over. Thumbs are flying over a cell phone keyboard as discreetly as she possibly could manage. I paused mid-sentence....thinking, "OK, she's telling whoever it is that she is not available to 'talk'. " I continued the (one-sided) conversation....beep, beep, thumbs are flying. I reluctantly turned on the radio, the white flag of surrender was raised.
Have you noticed lately how increasingly difficult it is to carry on a meaningful conversation with anyone these days? Of course this dilemma is not limited to the art of conversation but has also trickled down to the printed word as well. A steady diet of Wuz up? Can u come 2 my house l8r? text messages, Instant messages, emails, and tweets offer users with the simple push of a button, instant gratification with little, if any forethought. But are these new technical forms the next quantum leap forward in quality communication? Or are they leading people away from the meditative solitude necessary in penning a simple letter--historically one of the greatest literary forms of all times .
But why write? Why is writing a letter so radically different than our steady diet of electronic communication? I believe there is a very mental aspect to writing that is missing from the easy, transient, spontaneous utterances which make up the electronic communications of our day. In contrast, lettered thoughts expressed on paper are perhaps more true to the heart than even spoken ones. The mental component necessary for writing requires time and thoughtful contemplation. It mandates that the author slows his pace a bit, to carefully reflect on how to best convey what is on his mind and heart. Irene Briggs Da Boll puts it well, "True, it slows one down to write it--and to read it. But in our so-called civilizations, stream-lined to the point of self-destruction by the feather weight touch of a finger to a push button, we need to be slowed down." Writing requires thinking and thinking takes time.
What about the physical aspect of letter writing that is actually a sort of individualistic art form in itself? There is a physical connection made by the sending of a genuine, tangible, hold-in-your-hand, letter to a beloved receiver. The sensation of words running through a fountain pen onto the crisp paper is matchless. Emails, which even when printed off and mailed, are still cold, bloodless , lifeless, in their typed uniformity and monotony. Most emails disappear like a electronic vapor, but a letter can be held, felt, saved, treasured and re-read. When I open my banker box of old letters , I find an odd medley of different shapes and colors of envelopes, unique stationary, simple to elaborate scripts of handwritten addresses (none of those laser -jetted addresses peeking out of plastic windowed envelopes!), and stamps of limitless assortments . Many of my beloved correspondents seal their letters carefully with wax and use elaborate seals of endless varieties. The backs of their envelopes are perhaps more telling, as they adorn the back side of the envelope with quaint, charming quotes, sometimes passages from literature, sometimes poems that they have written themselves. By this, even those countless, faceless, handlers of our mail are given a treat as they perhaps scan the letter before depositing it in its next leg of the journey from writer to sender. Letter writing is indeed, physical.
But most importantly, letter writing is an emotional force. Have you ever written a love letter? I remember the time in my life when my future husband and I had a 3 year long courtship of letter writing. We sent letter after letter , being separated by half a continent. I pondered each and every word, I dreamed, I mused on his undiluted sentiments. There was longing, yearning, there was emotion! Between letters there was time to contemplate, savor, digest.Then a response was penned, and on and on this went. But outside of the love letter world, there is a world of emotions out there. Who doesn't want to be heard and understood? Alexandra Stoddard puts it this way, "letter writing is the height of true communication among human beings, especially among friends." She goes on to describe receiving one such letter,
"What a treat to receive a letter from a friend! Eighteenth century revived! When I do find one, I hold my treasure tightly and wait until I have a quiet moment alone before I open it. I hate to dilute the anticipation of someone's thoughts and feelings by facing them when I'm distracted. Someone has taken time to focus on me, even if only for a moment. I feel touched and want to savor the all-too rare experience." (Gift of a Letter p.18,19)
Friendships are deepened by the emotional link which letter writing befits. Letters from the heart are warm and full of the emotions of one's soul.
Why write? Why ever not!