Wednesday, 22 October 2008

Love Letters

I mourn their demise.
Instant, entertaining, sometimes almost unthinking contact by e-mail or mobile phone is useful, but it cannot replace the gentle, measured, thought-filled exchange of letters, on paper, in an envelope. An envelope which says, 'Private - this is between the two of us'. An envelope which may be carried and held and opened again and again, and which could, in the old days, even be kept overnight under the pillow.

I love letters.
I have none from my sons. I have funny and touching cards, lots of e-mails, telephone contact and sometimes we manage to meet. I'm not sure I would recognise their hand-writing. Can they do joined-up writing yet?
My husband and I wrote long and frequent letters before we married, and after his death I re-read those we had kept.
It was not as I remembered. I was more nebulous (Oxford Dictionary: a clouded speck on the cornea, causing defective sight), he was more sensible: 'Where do you think you might have put the shed keys?'
After marriage our roles reversed. There are notes from him saying, 'Remember it's the Feast Day of Saint Ignatius of Antioch?' and from me saying, 'Please get two litres of semi-skimmed while you're at it.'

Old, old letters have resurrected people and times I thought lost forever.
There was a time when I worked in the Middle East. I wrote fairly regularly to my parents. There was no e-mail, and telephone contact was virtually impossible. After their deaths I found all my letters to them, carefully kept in their exotically stamped envelopes.
Reading them brought me face-to-face with myself, forty years ago, a kinder person than I realised, more protective of possibly anxious parents '...the weather is beautifully warm, and the skies are indigo...' when it was actually well over 40 degrees and the vultures were circling in a brassy sky.

It would take me then, as it still takes me now, several days to write a proper letter. Several days of thinking, drafting, altering, softening certain comments which seem hard on reflection, firming up others in an attempt not to obscure.
Love letters - all of them.


pohanginapete said...

There was a campaign recently to encourage people to print their photos rather than leaving them on a hard disk eventually to be lost when it finally crashed. I suppose that's analogous to letters vs email (although prints and photos are vulnerable in ways digital files and emails aren't). Nevertheless, the process of writing by hand seems (to me) hugely different from typing emails — the psychology differs. In that respect, I suppose my analogy between prints/digital files and letters/emails breaks down, because ordering prints from a one-hour lab involves virtually no creativity. At least some emails involve at least some degree of creativity.

But you're right. An email has to be exceptional to compete with even a cursory, hand-written letter. Maybe I should write some.

Relatively Retiring said...

Thank you for your comment with its interesting thoughts on the virtual and the literal. There is still something very direct about a piece of paper in the hand, be it hand-written or printed. Hand-written then gives an additional dimension.

mm said...

I agree with you. Of course I do. Letters are beautiful, leisurely, thoughtful.

Confession time. I have always struggled with them even in pre-email days. Partly bad handwriting, partly that I am somone who edits as she writes, so most letters take at least two attempts as the original would contains far too many crossings out.

The exchanges between you and your husband made me smile and the protective kindness you discovered in your youthful self is very touching.

Lovely post.

Relatively Retiring said...

Thank you, MM. It's really good when you discover you're not quite as bad as you thought.
I confess to word-processing my love letters these days for that very reason - and to avoid wasting paper!
I do hope you're fully recovered.

Anne-Marie said...

I just discovered your blog through Pete. I'm delighted to know you have a blog, since I've always enjoyed your comments on Pete's blog.

I love this post. It used to be such a thrill to receive letters in the mail when I was in my teens and early 20s. These days the only things that arrive through the letterbox are newspapers and bills.

I have a delicious fountain pen with emerald-green-ink cartridges, which I use exclusively to write my journal with. Now you've given me an idea - may be I'll use my pen to write letters.

Relatively Retiring said...

Thank you, Anne Marie - I appreciate your comment. Yes, hand-writing with a special pen on good paper is something of an art form, but the older I become the more I tend to word-process. I need to self-edit a great deal more, and reflect on my words before committing them to paper. I was once a young journalist, like you; ready, able and willing to dash off a thousand words on almost any topic. Now I have the leisure and pleasure of reflection and the lap-top is ideal for that. Print does not diminish the joy of finding a letter on the door mat, but green ink could well enhance it!