A quick sketch of me, done by my Grandfather when I was five
Let's imagine what "the collected letters of so and so" would look like if email, texting, and social media had existed for hundreds of years.
The Emails and Text Messages of Vincent Van Gogh
met awesum prosty. she feeds me.
theo. yo. crap... ear still jacked up - c u soon
Select Emails from Jane Austen
met this really cute guy. lol. think he lives over the way. gonna tryn c if i can get new frock. am writing new story, i think it sucks. try to call on you l8r!
b in bath in 2 wks. you cum ova?
Communications of the Borghia Family
dam pregnancy mite screw up anulment plan
cesare. i hav sum poisin in a ring - will giv it a try?
Yes, this would be laughable. These would not be the somber, the mundane, the poignant, and the sometimes piercing insights we now get from collected letters of various people. There would be no striving to connect emotionally with the recipient of the letter, no one would have bothered to finesse their script, to draft and re-draft a beautifully written and coherent missive. It was almost a craft, and now it's dying out, literally. People are losing the ability to write anything beyond absolute basics, and it's often done with a complete lack of grammar, and a lot of bizarre and unintelligible (to me) abbreviations. It lowers communication skills to that of a poorly educated small child. It makes me very droopy and irritated. Here's a real excerpt from the book Dear Theo, Van Gogh's letters to his brother to illustrate my point:
I got a deeper insight into my own heart and also into that of others. By and by I began to love my fellow-men again, myself included, and more and more my heart and soul revived, that for a time through all kinds of great misery had been withered, blighted, and stricken. And the more I turned to reality and mingled with people, the more I felt new life reviving in me, until at last I met her.
It also makes me feel sad that many people, particularly younger ones, have not ever experienced a real letter. Pages full of exquisite food eaten, a provocative book read, how the breeze smells coming off the ocean right at dusk. These kinds of letters.
My box of letters and cards is no bigger than a shoebox, with room to spare. I know this type of possession is exactly the kind many minimalists rid themselves of, but mine is small enough, and precious enough, to keep. It's of no value to anyone but me, but I derive great pleasure from it. I appreciate looking at artwork that someone chose while they were thinking of me, wondering if I would love it, or knowing it was perfect. I am a word child (any Iris Murdoch fans here?) and I savour every morsel of prose in those letters. Of the wishes to me on my sixteenth birthday, the anxious but proud tone of my grandparents on the eve of my trip to Europe alone, my last birthday before I traveled nearly 800 miles away, to where I knew almost no one, to live and learn, and eventually love, marry, and become a mother. My mother's constant acknowledgement of my love for the outdoors, evidenced by pictures of fantastic tree houses, gardens, weeds, or the sky. To me, this box isn't a box filled with old papers. It's a box filled with the voices of people who loved me even as I was a wee clot of blood inside my mother. It's the calls of my little sisters on hideous Lisa Frank stationary. The chatter across oceans as friends in far away places. This box means a lot to me.
A card, also sketched by my Grandfather while in Japan
When my Grandpapa, an artist, sends me a card with a sketch of his on the front, I find it amazing and delightful to receive such a thing. It sets me to thinking, as I look at the inky details of some horticultural garden in Japan, dated just a few months before my birth. I wonder how he felt about becoming a grandfather. Did he ever imagine that he'd be sending his granddaughter a copy of this little drawing for her birthday thirty years later?
The last birthday card I received from my family before I flew the coop
When I was writing this post I found a card given to me by a then-new friend, dated more than a decade ago. That friend is now one of my closest friends, our firstborn daughters are exactly one week apart, we have traveled (and continue to) much of this marriage, motherhood, morality journey together. The card instantly brought back the hours upon hours we sat in the leaded glass windowseat of my rented room and talked until we were hoarse, building this friendship.
I'm not a perfect writer (I do edit - but still make mistakes!) and I do like email, I even occasionally tweet and text, but they don't replace the humble letter or card. It doesn't provide the same type of connection unless you choose to use it that way, and most people don't. It's often just a means of conveying the necessary, which often, to my mind, leaves out the beautiful, the harsh, the fun, the sorrow. I "get" the convenience of e-cards, emails, and texting, I just hate to see it crowd out what I consider to be a more sophisticated and fuller form of communication.
How do you feel about the death of letter writing?