I was glad to see a new post by Gawain over at Heaven Tree - I was worried, although callous man that I am, I did not write to inquire as to his condition, instead content to believe he was staring at clouds somewhere far away from a computer, which it turns out, he was.
I feel that, for the most part, I could probably restrict myself to discussing the topics he raises on his blog, and be pretty happy about my small contribution to this whole blogging business. As you can see from the date of the last post, it's been a while since I've managed to stop by Le Voir Dit. For some reason, this place doesn't feel like mine quite yet. Don't know why, but here we are.
Anyway, it does feel the appropriate place to touch on a remark of his about letter writing. I know a lot about writing letters, perhaps more than anyone should know about writing letters, and so I know precisely what Gawain wants when he asks, very gently, "I wonder, would any of you would ever like to write me a long-hand letter?" But rather than bore you with all of my letter writing escapades, I'll bore you with one.
I was in long-distance relationship with a girl during the twilight of letter writing as a medium in which people commonly set down their thoughts to each other. Although many intrepid souls had e-mail accounts those days, we were still in the dark ages (as we all know technology=progress), and as the telephone companies in Canada were still, for the most part, public monopolies, lingering conversations on our days spent working dead end summer jobs and pining for each other's bodies would have quickly exhausted our "saving for visits" accounts.
So we wrote. We had met in Vienna (Think Before Sunrise - similar in some numerous aspects, although the movie came later - did we bump into Richard Linklater at the Staatsoper?), and each of us began on the plane ride home what turned out to be 6 months of wonderful correspondence between the two of us, before the relationship ran out of gas.
I happened to discover (or rediscover) those letters when I was in Calgary last week. Ignoring the often hyperomantic and fatalistic bits of prose (Was that really me?), I really enjoyed rereaded her letters to me. And I think the main reason why I enjoyed it so was due in large part to having none of my own.
Part of the fun of reading old correspondence is reaching into the memorial archive and attempting to reconstruct what it was that set her off on page 3, or what turned her on on page 7. I remember writing all sorts of passionate and very tortured things to her about myself and my life, things that I'd probably rather not read again, not because I'm afraid to reexperience them, but because I suspect they won't be very well-written or insightful.
There's a good reason why so many great men destroy their youthful works. Not that I'm in their pantheon, but who wouldn't kick a rotting fish off a dock rather than leaving it to the cats?
Most of our written conversations to each other come in strings now, long strings of fragmented conversations. E-mail is not a place for essays or erudition. Letters on the other hand, beg for turns of phrase, cadence, and structure. There is something to the unity, the wholeness of the letter that makes it a wonderfully expressive medium. This wholeness has been lost in e-mail, although perhaps has been partly recovered in blogging.
I miss writing letters. Partly because I find writing much more enjoyable than typing - I have much less trouble getting thoughts out through my wrists than than through my fingers.
I also miss the intimacy, the different kinds of paper, the changes in pen colour, the notes on the envelope. I miss all the different ways in which someone can represent themselves to you before a single word has been uttered - The letter in which she told me it was over said it all before I had even opened it.
It is perhaps strange to consider them in this way, but letters are, at their core and in the practices around them, a gift. And now, it seems, a rare gift too. Perhaps this is a good thing, an antidote to the stats-obsessing and monster feeding occupation that is blogging.
I never thought I would find myself saying this again, but I wouldn't mind writing a letter to someone...Gawain?