Tuesday, August 17, 2010

The Ancient Art of Letter Writing

I used to write long old fashioned letters by hand. Of course, when I first went to boarding school, at age 11, there was required letter home writing time. I vaguely remember this being Sunday, probably during interminable rest hour, certainly always the moment my Sunday headache set in. But in High School there was no time set aside and one wrote if one wanted to. I spent my free library times pouring out endless volumes of words, writing to each of my parents separately, to many friends scattered around the world, and sometimes to a cousin.

I think I was a pretty good letter writer. I could fill all four sides of the big long folded graph paper (I don't know how to describe it, you can't get it here in the US). I had plenty to complain about. My letters were desperately long and filled with sappy drama and emotion and longing.

I stumbled upon a stack of these letters the other day. I actually have them in a fancy leather trunk in my entry way. I glanced over them and felt sad at this lost 'art'. But not too sad. In many ways blogging is more difficult and therefore better. Whereas anyone can fill up four sides of paper with moaning and complaint in under an hour, blogging, good blogging (which I'm not pretending this is) should be focused, directed at an audience more difficult to define, and therefore have some unifying theme and purpose. Of course, the Internet is littered with long rambling letter like blog posts (some of them are by me) which say essentially nothing. But it is also full of excellent writing available for free, without the hassle of the United States Post Office, which, in Binghamton, is a hassle that defines the word hassle. Mailing a letter in Sikasso, Mali was easier.

Its not as if, in this technologically defined age, we've stopped communicating or lost anything, really. We've just redirected our efforts.


Annie Patterson Rothgeb said...

This is much needed encouragement to reopen my dusty blog while I have a few days off. Thanks!

Kat said...

I used to write letters to friends I'd met at Diocesan teen events when I was in high school. We girls would devour the letters as soon as they arrived and ignore all unimportant things, like geometry homework, to write the reply so that it went out in the next day's mail. The few guys that wrote regularly were much less dedicated about it, but I still estimate that I was receiving and responding to an average of 4 or 5 letters a week. The mail was much slower in the mid 80's than it is today, too. Now, I exchange emails with my mother every couple days, but that is the closest I come to my old ways. I need a stamp exactly once a month, to mail the rent check, when I used to use the bulk of my allowance to buy stamps and stationery. The only thing that I really miss about those days is the thrill of going to the mailbox, and there being something in it other than advertisements. The thrill I get when my favorite blogger has posted something new is similar, but not quite the same.

Anonymous said...

A thought-provoking post, but I do have to say that I think letter writing has its place as an art that is more genuine and delivers a certain quality. Take this into consideration: The Things Unsaid Project (www.thingsunsaidproject.wordpress.com). A co-worker directed it to me a few weeks back and, while it's not necessarily a novel idea (there are other sites with similar missions), the creators insist on handwritten letters. I think looking at someone's actually handwriting, their color pen, etc brings an artistic quality that Times New Roman 12 just can't do.