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Dept. of Letter Writing

An Old Skill, An Ancient Art Fading Into the Past

I've been writing a letter to a friend for the past two days, and I'm annoyed with myself at how difficult, how truly difficult it seems to be for me to write a letter.

I used to write a great many letters. I look into my computer files and see scores of them, to relatives, to friends. And those are just the ones I've saved since having a computer, in the 1990s and certainly not all of them. I once wrote letters regularly. I used to love writing them, and I used to love receiving them.* But all those things they say, all those things the old folks says, about telephones and emails and posts and the fast-fast-fast life we lead must be right, because I find myself incapable of sticking to it.

It's hard to know how to begin without sounding puerile or pretentious. It's hard to know what to say - what will be interesting to the person at the other end, what will they want to hear about vs. what they'd pull out their eyes rather than see ... should it be light, should it be full of surface news that's fun to read, should it be some vast and deep invitation to weighty long-term communication? Should it be some mix of these things, and if so, what ratios should I use?

I must write more letters, because I suspect I'll only become adept at them again with practice.

*here's the asterisk. It's because these lyrics from Arcade Fire's "We Used to Wait" speak to me about letters: 
It seems strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
But what's stranger still
Is how something so small can keep you alive

And because I love the song, I think I'll let you see it, here:

This entry was originally posted at http://kaffyr.dreamwidth.org/226645.html?mode=reply, where there are currently comment count unavailable comments. You can comment there or here; I watch both.


Jun. 27th, 2012 02:31 am (UTC)
I love the story of how you and your friend communicated! It seems so natural for friends to develop little codes and in-jokes, and to be able to maintain that communication does, as you say, allow for far more than just the words.

I, too, have had friends where letters take a certain form, or where it seems fun (or almost necessary) to add little things: pictures, or stickers, or hand-decorated pages, things written in the margin, or long PSs that may be longer than the original body of the letter.
But letters - I have a big box of letters people have sent me since I was about 15 or so, and re-reading them occasionally is really amazing. It's not only the content, but the handwriting, everything.

This. So very much this. I have a packet of letters, given to me by my mother, written by my great grandfather, back in about 1895 or so. He wrote them to my great-grandmother when they were courting, and he was a young minister in training. During the space of one year, he wrote her several times a week; I don't have nearly all of them, and I still have more than 50 of them. The language he uses is ardent, articulate, poetic, funny and, ultimately, moving. And if he had not written them, all of that would have been lost. Even handling those old letters, looking at his lovely penmanship, and the fading colors of the paper helps bring me closer to a man who died long before I was born.
Jun. 29th, 2012 07:22 pm (UTC)
I have a packet of letters, given to me by my mother, written by my great grandfather, back in about 1895 or so.

As a bit of a family historian, I am now dead jealous... ;-)
Jun. 29th, 2012 07:53 pm (UTC)
Heh. My mother has said to me more than once that I should put my fiction writing skills to work on behalf of our family history and turn those letters into a story. I've told her that I would need a long time to think about that, since they are intensely personal.
Jun. 30th, 2012 07:11 am (UTC)
Just to have them in the family is a lovely thing, though! My Dad has a lettercard (it's like several postcards all joined together) from his Nan to his Grandad, sent during WWII when they went to visit their future daughter-in-law (my Granny) in Devon for the first time - and even though it's short, it's a lovely little picture of the time (they aren't allowed to say train times in it, because of the war) and also of her reaction, as a Londoner, getting to stay in Devonshire, and go to the sea. But apart from that my family either didn't write letters, or they were much too prone to throwing them out!

And turning fact into fiction, especially in a context like that is hard - although I can see why your Mum would want you to try. ;-) I'm meaning to try some writing up of what I have at some point, but only as non-fiction. (Although, I confess, I have been known to use occasional instances in DW historical fic! And family history names get put in my stories quite frequently.)