Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Dead Art - Writing Letters

Several days ago, I listened to a young woman on television being interviewed about her quest to get people to write letters. As we all know, letter writing is almost non-existent now. Why take the time to pen a friend or loved one a letter when texting is so much faster? And it doesn’t even cost to make a phone call across the pond anymore – just use Facetime or Skype and you’re not only speaking with family and friends overseas, but you’re seeing them face to face. What a world! Imagine if John and Abigail Adams used Skype – we wouldn’t have that lovely book, My Dearest Friend: Letters of Abigail and John Adams edited by Margaret A. Hogan and C.James Taylor, giving us a feel for daily life in colonial times, for the life of the woman left on the farm while her husband fought for independence, and for our history.

The twenty-something woman on television was making a solid point: She wants to have something tangible to show that she was here, that she lived, touched someone even if it isn’t as big an impact as John and Abigail’s. Her point is that without letters there will be nothing to say, “I was here.” We delete emails and texts, toss birthday cards into the garbage after a few weeks, if we even receive them in hard copy, and barely send a holiday card with a handwritten note anymore. The cards I receive all have family pictures on them and printed signatures – nothing personal. I’m just as guilty though because I don’t even send that. There was a time I sent cards to friends across the world with a personal note, but email is so much easier and the price of stamps has become ridiculous. Actually, I should make mention of one card I did receive this year. Yes, it was a photo of the couple which was lovely to see, but it came with a typed, full page letter of their life over the past year. That was nice. It kept me in touch with a cousin who I normally would not be. And that’s the point of the woman on the television interview. I’m so sorry I don’t know her name, or which show I happened upon while clicking through channels.

When I was cleaning out my mother’s home, after her death, I came upon bags and envelopes stuffed with old letters: mine to my brother away at college. We still can’t figure out how my mother got a hold of those. Probably, he kept them and left them in a drawer in his room, but why would he have brought them home with him to New Jersey from college in Connecticut? Keepsake. Just the point being made in that T.V. interview. I also found letters from me to my parents from when I was travelling in Europe between my junior and senior years of college - no cell phones back then - and letters home from camp (those are hysterical – I hated Girl Scout Camp) and letters from Vietnam, from the boy who grew up across the street. I can’t bear to throw them out. They’re my history. Will someone else care? Who knows.  My kids can throw them out when I’m gone, but I sure hope they read a few before crumpling them into balls and shooting two-pointers in the garbage pail.

Will this post make any of you go back to letter writing? Probably not. But wouldn’t it be nice for your grandchildren to have something, from your voice, to hold in their hands when they’re sixty-five?  

Right here, some of you might be saying “OK, nice post, but where's your exercise advice?” Yes, I am the Literary Leotard so here goes:

If your fingers are a bit gnarly, the knuckles on pointer and middleman a bit bumpy (Remember the song “Where is Thumbkin?”) then stop after penning a sentence or two. Wiggle them. Pretend you’re playing the piano. Have those arthritic digits run scales over the imaginary keyboard. Close and open your fist. Keep those finger joints supple!
Even if you don't have old fingers, think about writing a letter, even a small note on a card, for someone's else's keepsake - or print out a special email. Save it in a pretty box in your closet. One rainy day, in the future, it'll make you smile when you read it again.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still writing letters, printing them out, and putting them in the mail. And there are some letters I write, save, but never send. I suppose they qualify as diary entries rather than correspondence.
    Writing is a much more thoughtful process than texting or instant messaging. Words are chosen more carefully, and thoughts expressed more fully. Microsoft Word has replaced pen and ink, but not much else has changed. It's still a mix of "this is what's going on in my life" and "here's how I feel about it".