I have good friends who don’t call me on the phone. They don’t text, email, Twitter, blog or Facebook. One of them does not own a computer nor does she know how to use one. We exchange letters on either good stationery or paper that needs to be used up, crammed into unmatched envelopes along with photos, articles, art invitations and birthday cards. The letters and envelopes are often adorned with stickers, drawings, fancy tape and the most colorful stamps the post office sells. My grandfather’s envelopes were adorned with tobacco stains from the constant chaw he kept in his mouth.
Writing letters is my habit from the time when I first wrote to my grandparents, then to boyfriends, to my son away at summer camp and even to my parents when long distance calls were expensive and when I needed to stay on neutral ground with them. In fact, one advantage of letters is that you can end the “conversation” on your own terms when you know the recipient tends to extend phone calls beyond your ability to tolerate them.
Letters are writing. My friends and I use paragraphs and spell check own work. We start and end them gracefully and try to make them interesting, as if we were the reader. We mentally edit them before committing ink to paper – what needs to be said? what can be left out? (I have to admit that when pressed for time I use Open Office which is easy to edit.) It has been said that letter-writing is a lost art. The business letters we learned to write in high school were ever so artful about asking for a job without seeming desperate and which forced us to enumerate our accomplishments when in reality we had none.
Since letters are not a face-to-face exchange, you can’t express emotion except through words so the emotions of sadness, happiness, frustration, uncertainty and tentative feelings of new love are conveyed through what you write. Sometimes we have to read between the lines, like looking through opaque glass to see the color and movement of the person behind it. Would-be writers who have never written letters have missed the opportunity to learn some pretty necessary writing skills.
My oldest friend, in terms of years, would wither away if she did not receive regular letters. She is into her eighties now and sometimes repeats her stories and news. Like me, she is an artist, a lover of books and words, ideas and history. We share the trials of our migrations from summer home to winter home and back again and the ordeal of packing up studios. Our letters get lost in the migratory pattern sometimes and may not show up for months. One of my letters to her crossed several state lines and two countries at least twice, marked and labeled almost beyond recognition. I just included it with my next letter to her -old news is still news..
Someday in the near future I will return to her the hundreds of letters she has written to me. She loves to re-read letters, especially her own I think. I will return my dead brother’s letters to his children as well so that they can know another side of their father, the one who was a writer. I wouldn’t mind having some of my love letters back if anyone knows where they are.