Letter

Blogathon Post #8: Letters

Throughout the month of August, I'm aiming to write 25 blog posts. This is post #8 of 25. Find them all in the "blogathon 2014" category.

This one’s a little different. Read it on Scribd below. (Also, please ignore the footnotes at the bottom of this post.)

Dear Blog,

I love letters. This is a fact you may have known, but in case you were unaware, well, there you go. Writing almost every day for my blogathon project has been fantastic in many ways, but one unfortunate side effect is that I’ve been unable to take the time to write the letters to friends I’ve been meaning to write. Molly, Julianne, Tom–there are many people who I want to sit down and pen letters to, and I will, but probably not until this blogathon is finished.

Sorry. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.

Before I go on, let me set the scene for you. It’s a warm summer night in Walla Walla, and since our studio apartment is on the third floor of our three-story building, it’s a little warmer to boot. The apartment is quiet right now–surprisingly, R is also writing a letter–so apart from the sounds of our pens scratching paper, we’re making very little sound. Instead, the air is filled with the rhythmic pulse of crickets wafting in the open windows.

In short, it’s one of the best conditions for summer letter-writing I could ask for. I wouldn’t turn down a mint julep to accompany the scribing, but even without, it’s pretty damn pleasant.

I’m writing tonight because, well, I wanted to write a letter. Even though this will end up reaching the same audience, writing these words in ink feels worlds apart from typing them, enough so that it scratches that itch. Far be it from me to denounce technology, but I’ve found, time and time again, that the experience of writing a letter has absolutely no digital substitute. Email, though it may be the letter’s digital analogue, has absolutely nothing on the letter-writing experience.

I maintain that the letter is the most intimate form of written communication. It’s why I cherish the letters I exchange with the people I care about.1slight redundancy: I only exchange letters with people I care about. And since this is kinda a letter but also a blog post, let me share with you some reasons why the letter is the best most intimate form of written communication.

#1: Total Creative Freedom

Emails, Facebook messages, texts–they all look the same. Cell phone software developers and Facebook programmers developed unified styles for the presentation of conversations, carefully crafted to match the brand’s UI guidelines. Email might be in a different color or a different font, but even then, there’s only so much you can do.

And, y’know, that makes sense. I get it. Conversations are representations within the system on those platforms–they have to fit within a larger environment of information.

But on the page? I can do WHATEVER I DAMN WELL PLEASE.

I can go perpendicular.

I can hop from side to side.

Figure A

I can pepper my words with illustrations (see Fig. A), footnotes 2or, even sillier, footnotes within footnotes (yes, I went there), or embellishments (which I don’t feel like exemplifying, but you get my drift).

The page gives me total creative freedom, which allows me to make my letters truly mine.

This is something you just don’t get in any other form of written correspondence. True, there’s room for individual voice in word choice and grammatical quirks, but really, on the internet, everyone sounds more or less the same.

But in a letter?

DUDE.

This letter–like all the letters I write–allows me to be me. It allows me to be myself in a way no other medium does. As a result, I feel a stronger emotional connection with every letter I write.

#2: It Requires Trust

Instant messengers just wouldn’t work if you couldn’t look back at least a message or two to see what you’d said. Email chains quote the contents of the previous message. With the exception of Snapchat3I talk to only a single person on Snapchat. The service terrifies me slightly and makes me feel old., almost every digital correspondence you send is saved somewhere for you to see.

But when you’re done with a letter, you seal it in an envelope and mail it. Unless it’s a love letter to your future spouse or evidence to be used in a trial, you’ll likely never see it again. You can’t change it, you can’t take it back, and you can’t even read what you wrote 4unless you make a copy of your letters, but who does that? Maintaining a conversation via handwritten letters requires a considerable amount of trust.

At least twice in my life, I’ve confessed my feelings for people via letter, primarily because of the one-way finality of post. For folks who are shy or afraid of saying something, handwritten letters provide an intimate yet non-immediate medium, plus a powerful force of inertia. Sealing that envelope and putting it in the mailbox is something you can’t just Ctrl+Z out of. Once you’ve done that, short of crawling through the Postal Service’s mail bins5DON’T DO THIS., you can’t take it back, and you can’t even see how you worded things.

Relinquishing that control feels important to me, for some reason.

#3: It’s Sensual

Surely, I’m not the only one to notice this.6yes. yes I am.

Writing a letter is a sensual delight. You feel the paper softly give as your pen glides across. Every space between words brushes your wrist. Depending on the pen, you might even catch a whiff, metallic and dark, of the ink.

The sound of a period. CLICK. Or an em dash–JIT. Each word is its own symphony of sounds and feels, and sometimes, I imagine I could just close my eyes and tell which words were being written just by the sounds of the letters.

I’m not saying I get off on it. But come on, you have to admit: writing a letter is sexy.

The Point

Writing a letter, for me, isn’t just about conveying info in an outdated way ’cause I’m too cool for technology–it’s a very specific experience all of its own. It’s intimate, an act of shared vulnerability. In a world of mediated connections, sometimes it’s worth the hassle to feel something raw.

-S

Footnotes   [ + ]

1. slight redundancy: I only exchange letters with people I care about.
2. or, even sillier, footnotes within footnotes (yes, I went there)
3. I talk to only a single person on Snapchat. The service terrifies me slightly and makes me feel old.
4. unless you make a copy of your letters, but who does that?
5. DON’T DO THIS.
6. yes. yes I am.

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3 Comments

  1. Helen

    I’ve yet to read the “letter” more thoroughly, but I couldn’t help commenting that this post has reminded me of how much I’ve missed writing letters. Perhaps I should gather my courage and ask around if there’s anyone willing to receive snail mail from me…

  2. I’ve never had the best grip on my pen either; in high school, I realized that my grip was not the textbook-perfect grip, and it caused me a great deal of concern. On occasion, like when I was taking long standardized tests, I’d get a painful blister where the pencil sat in the crook of my thumb, but other than that, it never became a big deal.

    I actually don’t do anything to offset my silly grip. Part of that, though, is due to my pen–I have a favorite pen that I use which makes marks without requiring a ton of pressure. That way, I’m not bearing down on it too hard, even if my fingers are in an unusual arrangement. I know there are also grips that you can purchase at office supply stores that provide some cushion for your writing utensils. Perhaps they’ll help?

    But other than that, the best I can recommend is to find a writing position that works for you, and to take breaks every so often to stretch your fingers and wrists. I hardly ever write letters on flat tables anymore; instead, I clip my stationery to a clipboard and work on them while curled up on the couch or in bed. That puts the page at a much different angle, which I find more comfortable for writing.

    Thanks for the comment! I hope you can find some relief for your hand cramps.

  3. Rosanna

    Great post! I love the envelop. :) I’ve noticed so much of what I do ends up being typed now (up to and including math homework; thank goodness for LaTeX!), that I get ridiculous hand cramps whenever I write for very long. It sucks. I also have pretty terrible posture? grip? what’s the right word? and my hand looks gnarled whenever I pick up a writing utensil. :( If I could fix that, I might be able to avoid some of the cramps. Right now, my strategy is to use a pen or pencil that has a wide barrel so that my hand can’t curl up so tightly. What’s your secret?

    Umm, also, doesn’t Sting have a song about trying to intercept some FEELINGSMAIL? Found it; “Big Lie, Small World,” and I wouldn’t recommend the tactics he resorts to, either, lol!

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