Monday, March 17, 2008

The Epistolary Approach

What ever happened to...the letter? You know...those pieces of paper hand-decorated with the most intimate of thoughts, sometimes the most carefully sculpted deceptions, often dipped in the sincerest of emotion and accented with a splash of sarcasm or a good bit of humor.

Take this little bit, for instance...

But with all this I am a weak man and a fool; weak, that I should be caught in the midst of my grave purposes by the gilded dust of a butterfly's wing.

From a letter written by Elisha Kane to Maggie Fox, c. 1853

Not that everyone needs to fill their letters with poetry and mush, but there is something infinitely more personal to a hand-written note, something so deeply connected. The writing itself is often lovely to behold. With the advent of computers, email, and the effortless keyboard, however, it's a wonder that any of us can remember how to sign our names to the mortgage payment! Aside from beautiful penmanship, there are the other elements of this life that only a letter can bring, bits that simply cannot seep through the computer screen. The feel of the paper in your hands. The scent of the writer--perhaps a little chocolate, or lilac, or something muskier. The sound of the envelope giving way to whatever device you choose to extricate the precious contents from their protector. The marks of its journey--stains and stamps and smudges. A letter gives you the whole sensual experience.

I'm scolding myself as well. About a year ago, I started a pen-pal relationship with a fellow writer who was looking for a pen pal via SCBWI's discussion boards. Absolutely! I love to write letters. Of course when the whole job kerfuffle began, I lost all sense of time and space and pretty much evaporated from the correspondence pool. (Sorry, Christine...hope you got my letter a few weeks ago!)

I have spent most of my life staring wistfully at mailboxes, praying for some little treasure (these days that would include a book contract!) to open and savor with a cup of tea. When I lived in Ireland, I ached for letters from friends and family across the pond, but the crippling can't-write-a-letteritis had already seized a generation and left my poor mail slot empty and unfulfilled. What dejection! The letter carrier whistling as he skipped right past my lonely old letter slot. May as well stuff it full of wool to keep the cold wind out!

It is so rare to find something other than bills or crappy invitations to steal my identity in that precious box standing guard at the end of my driveway. No matter how much I talk about it, however, I still need to do more to perpetuate the art of letter-writing. So...I've got my fountain pen and my stacks of interesting papers, and a proper "thank you" is on its way to a generous friend who loaned me her couch for a few nights...


  1. You're so right, Mary Ann. The art of letter writing has practically vanished. From the time I was 13 until I went away to college, my cousin Carol (who lives in England) and I exchanged letters. I always loved her letters and looked forward to them. She wrote beautifully and had a wonderful sense of humor. During the summer, my college friends and I exchanged letters, too, and sometimes we inserted little things -- photos, a tea bag, a sprig of some herb one of us had grown in our garden.

    I still have many of my mom and dad's letters and when I reread them, I can hear their voices again in my head. Their faces swim up in my mind's eye. I treasure those letters. Email is like footsteps in the sand -- there one day, then gone the next.

  2. Oh, I also miss letters. I have boxes of long long letters my sister and I exchanged when I moved away and my children were young. We kept them and then swapped them back with each other so we'd have a journal of sorts. I can go back there and read the nitty grittiest details of my life and emotions. So much of my life has evaporated into thin air since then because I haven't taken the time to journal or write letters.

    There is nothing like a handwritten letter!

  3. Here's hoping you soon get an acceptance letter!

  4. I agree. I also am the worst at sending hand written notes. I have a few folks I need to communicate a special "thank you" to. Thanks for the gentle reminder!


  5. So true! Remember in like jr high and high school when you'd write a letter to your friend and pass it bt classes? Now they just text each other. Sigh. I used to save and collect those letters!

  6. Holy cow, Deena! The texting! The texting! It's a shame that it's all LOL, BFF, etc. At least if it was actual words, we could say they were expanding their vocab! (no bonus points for creative abbreviations!)

    WW--glad to help out!

    Joyce, thanks for those well wishes...still waiting...still hoping!

    Stella and Joyce, I save a lot of my letters too. I still have several missives from dear friends in Ireland; some of those letters are 20 years old now! Absolute treasures. It brings back so much when I read through those old notes.

  7. Funny I just came to your blog and read this - my daughter (who is 15) actually wrote a friend of hers a letter today and we are to put in the mail in the morning. She doesn't have text ability and just got her cell phone recently - her father and I have been hesitant to get them one - and funny thing is the 13yo boy is the one on the phone more than she is - lol but again no text ability on either of their phones

    I miss receiving letters and to an extent writing them but with my carpal tunnel syndrome, makes it hard to really enjoy writing the letters any more.

    That is a sign of aging and being reliable on the computer way too much, but so goes my life since the computer is my livelihood.

    Nice to see this wonderful post - see you all in the postings - E :)


Thanks to spammers, this blog is moderated, so don't be alarmed if your comment doesn't appear right away. Thanks for stopping by!