Thursday, April 14, 2011
L is for Letters
Who writes them anymore? Going to your computer to see who's emailed you is not the same as nipping out in your dressing gown to find out who's written to you. Opening letters with a morning cup of tea is/was the most comforting of rituals. I used to answer mine straight away.
I was a compulsive letter writer. After the death of my mother (who kept 27 years worth of my letters in pillow cases) I didn't know what to do with this time and the thoughts that were in my head that needed conveying to someone.
A daily journal didn't work for me. And writing to people who don't reply is soul destroying. Emails are a bit trite and Facebook too frivolous. (I've been reprimanded for writing emails too long. 'I don't read long emails' one recipient informed me.)
A handwritten letter contains much more than the message the words convey. The handwriting itself conveys information about the writer: mood, character, health, and even wealth. There's nothing nicer than reading something on luxury paper, written with an expensive pen and real ink. The choice of coloured inks and the thickness of pen nibs gave more information about the writer. (I went through a phase of using only green ink.) But often, the most telling of letters are those written on whatever was to hand at the time the urge to communicate took you. I have one written on a paper bag.
Important documents were always handwritten. Birth, death and marriage certificates, wills and job applications. 'Please apply in writing', a job advertisement would say. If you typed it they'd assume your handwriting was illegible. You must be a messy person. They'd definitely attempt to read your character from your style.
Handwriting a letter means you have to think clearly and boldly go where your thoughts take you, because there's no delete button. To have something in writing gave it official status.
And what about the stamps? My interest in travel and geography came about from collecting stamps and having pen-friends all around the world. I guess the equivalent is social networking via computer, but those miniature works of art that you lick and stick are missing.
The franking machine that denotes the time and place a letter was posted had to be across the stamp for me to be satisfied. My imagination worked overtime and pictured the writer walking to a post box to post this object directly to me... not filtered through wires and networks and megabytes. A hand to hand procedure, like a relay race. Personal.
Every now and then I receive a card with a handwritten message inside. Precious.
But very, very rarely do I ever receive a handwritten letter. I wonder if people bother to read mine, or whether, because they're not written in short sound bytes, they're just skimmed and binned. How are historians of the future to find their primary sources?
For anyone who enjoys a good quality piece of paper and a real pen, here is a website you might find interesting. http://www.apenchantforpaper.blogspot.com/
And if you just long to read a handwritten letter, look up http://www.lettersofnote.com/
for letters from famous and infamous characters. Poignant and illuminating.