The Case of the Missing Letters

Does anyone else miss the dying art of letter writing?

I certainly do. Of course, technology is great. I wonder how I got through college without an iPad, iPhone and iPod. That was 20 years ago and the Internet was just getting started. It was minimalist to say the least, and not in that sexy, stripped-down way. It was list servers and email, which I rarely checked since the nearest computer with an Internet connection was halfway across campus. And besides, only about 2 people were emailing me at best and only on rare occasion.

I admit I do enjoy the efficiency of texting. Sometimes you just have a quick question or need to let someone know something and you may not want to call them because you don’t have time for a long conversation. Texts are remarkable that way.

However, texts are taking the place of emails, as we’ve become too lazy to write lengthy discourse. Twitter doesn’t help either. It can be cute and funny and stress-relieving to shoot off 140 characters about a song or a book or a joke or how you’re feeling about your asshole neighbor, etc. Obviously that’s different from texting since it’s to a world-wide audience, and I wonder if the few followers I do have even read my truncated spiels.

So, about those letters. I love paper. I love pens. I love putting pen to paper. I love the feel of paper in my hand, the smell of it. “Back in the day,” letters were all we had. In elementary school I penned quite a few unsent love letters to my crushes, imploring them that if they only got to know me they would be enraptured immediately (: . I wrote plenty of notes (the nonromantic word for letters) to my friends where we would write back and forth on the same paper (texting without technology!). Of course, all was done cloak and dagger style as teachers loved nothing more than to see a student squirm if he or she confiscated a note and read it aloud or, as one male teacher liked to do, pin notes on his bulletin board.

As I grew older, letters were exchanged with my more literate/romantic boyfriends (ones that did not like writing letters were put aside in the “just a date” or “friends” category). There wasn’t a vast line-up of serious suitors, but a few who I were in love with that thrilled me with their confessions of love for me on paper. And since my feelings were there but awkward or difficult for me to communicate in speech, writing a letter to my love was the best way to handle that.

And, sorry, but scrolling through texts or searching through emails or Facebook messages has zero percent of the romance of opening up a letter and reading the words that were written – by hand- has.

People – fictional and real – fascinate me. More than that, people in love really captivate me. Two writers that I’m obsessed with are Anais Nin and Henry Miller. Another example of soulmates (see post below), they were friends who loved the written word and were in many ways each other’s muse. So, of course, I am endeared with A Literate Passion: Letters of Anais Nin & Henry Miller. At first their discourse is an exchange of constructive criticism and encouragement about each other’s writing. We get to see their relationship evolve from admiration to a passionate life-long love affair, cooling to a friendship in their older years. Of course, it helps that the people writing the letters write beautiful prose and both know how to write a highly articulate turn of phrase.

How about this excerpt from one of Miller’s letters to Nin:

August 14, 1932

Anais:

Don’t expect me to be sane anymore. Don’t let’s be sensible. It was a marriage at Louveciennes—you can’t dispute it. I came away with pieces of you sticking to me; I am walking about, swimming, in an ocean of blood, your Andalusian blood, distilled and poisonous. Everything I do and say and think relates back to the marriage. I saw you as the mistress of your home, a Moor with a heavy face, a negress with a white body, eyes all over your skin, woman, woman, woman. I can’t see how I can go on living away from you—these intermissions are death. How did it seem to you when Hugo came back? Was I still there? I can’t picture you moving about with him as you did with me. Legs closed. Frailty. Sweet, treacherous acquiescence. Bird docility. You became a woman with me. I was almost terrified by it. You are not just thirty years old—you are a thousand years old. 

[…]

I say this is a wild dream—but it is this dream I want to realize. Life and literature combined, love the dynamo, you with your chameleon’s soul giving me a thousand loves, being anchored always in no matter what storm, home wherever we are. In the mornings, continuing where we left off. Resurrection after resurrection. You asserting yourself, getting the rich varied life you desire; and the more you assert yourself the more you want me, need me. Your voice getting hoarser, deeper, your eyes blacker, your blood thicker, your body fuller. A voluptuous servility and tyrannical necessity. More cruel now than before—consciously, wilfully cruel. The insatiable delight of experience.

HVM

Absolutely captivating.

Not only are letters themselves a treasure, but something about the waiting is sensual. Currently, sending a letter through the post usually takes about 2 – 3 days (which seems like a lifetime to some because of the speed of technology). 100 or 200 years ago, the wait could have been agony; sending a heated letter to your lover about how desperate you were for his or her love and then having to wait… It had to make receiving the response even sweeter.

I’d like to bring the tradition of the letter back. Hopefully I get a response.