Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Writing the letter you never send


I’m fascinated with letters. As much as we communicate today, we don’t take the time to write a letter.
Before texting or emails or tweets or even cell phones, we used to write letters. It wasn’t that long ago.
Now when I would write a letter it was different from my parents. Much of the proper form had been lost with me, so I just wrote what ever came to my mind. But letter writing does not have spell-check or a delete button, so before you put pen to paper, you have to have some idea what you are going to write. You could write in pencil and allow for erasing, but who wants a letter written in pencil?
I was taught cursive writing in school, but never formal writing. Our family had a book on the different styles of writing and I would refer to it when writing a business letter, but I never learned how to write those mysteries of life that only written words can say.
Ken Burns did a good job in the “Civil War” series to show how people expressed themselves in letters. There are always stories about soldiers waiting for letters from home to keep in touch. There were certain rules to this game and it required some thought. A soldier could not give away secrets about location or mission and the family didn’t want to worry a son about his mother’s illness.
Some letters were poetic about the seasons and descriptive of occasions and activities. Some letters were more personal.
Even the “love letters” had enough mystery to them to allow the reader to read between the lines. This technique required thought and process before the ink dried. The words had to express the feelings without being misconstrued by the reader. For it would take some time to get a response hoping the meaning was clear.
To put an emotional thought onto paper and mailed was no guarantee of a reply. Even using a special pen or parchment paper and scented envelopes did not guarantee an understanding at the other end. Sometimes an explanation was requested in a following letter and another response. Sometimes this slow back and forth readings lost the original thought.
The reader could use the permanent ink as evidence or could become a fire starter. There are probably land fills full of mistaken ideas that were never sent.
The doctor says to write down your thoughts and it will organize your beliefs. The doctor doesn’t tell you to mail your writings.
The fear that someday you will come face-to-face with the reader can hesitate the mailing. So what do you get when you write the letter but do not send it?
The anticipation of opening an envelope and relishing in every word, every stroke of the pen knowing the writer took the time to sit down and prepare each sentence with the reader in mind has been lost in technology. Our microwave mentality has us comment and send without a second thought.
So I’ll open my email and see no post. I check my social media sites and see nothing of importance or relevance.
And at five o’clock I will walk to the mailbox and hope there is a letter in there amongst the bills and junk mail.


Art said...

wonderfully said.

TripleG said...

Those Civil War letters are so well-written and eloquent, it is an embarrassment to us. Conversely, newspaper accounts are much more readable today; for a long time they were ridiculously wordy and usually mostly made up for effect.