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.

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Soulmates?

Johnny & June - definitely soulmates.

Johnny & June – as depicted in film and in real life – were definitely soulmates.

My good friend E and I had a running discussion that lasted for several years about whether soulmates actually existed. I believe they do, she believes they do not.

When she and I met I was single and she was -and still is – married. We taught together at the same school. During one “ice-breaker” activity on the first inservice day, we had to share what our favorite book was. She and I both answered Catcher in the Rye. From that point on, I knew we were meant to be friends for life.

I don’t remember exactly how the subject of soulmates came up, but I would imagine that I was waxing poetically about how I desired to meet mine: The One, someone I couldn’t live without, someone who was connected to me by our souls. Not missing a beat she said, “There is no such thing as a soulmate.”

I was shocked. My friend ,who felt the same way as me about one of the most resounding and memorable characters in literature (Holden was innocent, kind, confused, cynical and ultimately romantic), actually didn’t believe in soulmates? How is that even possible?

She explained, after I forced my mouth closed, “that there is not one single person out there for everybody.” She continued to say you meet people by chance. If you find qualities you like in that person and find them attractive, then there you go. There was no mystical universe plotting and planning our love lives.

Yes, dear reader, I do agree, in a world with billions of people, there may be more than one person suited for us, one that we connect with on a higher level. And most likely we can have more than one soulmate. It could be a friend or a lover. Here’s one definition of soulmate from Merriam-Webster:

Definition of SOULMATE

1: a person who is perfectly suited to another in temperament

2: a person who strongly resembles another in attitudes or beliefs <ideological soul mates>

Now, a less academic definition from Urban Dictionary:

A soulmate is someone you have a very deep connection. It is not always easy explained. It is a meeting of mind, heart, body and soul on the highest of levels. Communication is at its easiest, as they understand you perfectly, and accept you completely with no judgments.

E’s husband is a lovely man – smart, funny, successful, athletic, has a great taste in music, is complimentary and kind – but he is not E’s soulmate. I would suspect this is why she doesn’t believe in them (nor does he, by the way). They have a normal, imperfect, functioning marriage with three beautiful children. Are they right for each other? They seem to be just fine. I don’t know if there was ever any fire or passion in their relationship, but they both have very “chill” temperaments, so I don’t know if they are those kind of people. Not that they aren’t intelligent and deep, because they are, but they don’t necessarily have that fire in their soul – at least not when it comes to love. I would say they are comfortable.

Soulmate love is not a comfortable kind of love. In fact, it can be quite difficult. Because soulmates are very alike in very many ways. So, if there is something you don’t like about yourself, that quality will probably annoy the hell out of you in the other person. He knows how to push your buttons, and you know how to push his. But of course it is also amazingly beautiful because you feel connected, you feel that someone finally gets you and you can talk and talk for hours. You’re best friends. There is passion. There is someone who believes in you and you believe in him right back. He or she is the missing puzzle piece in your life.

I included the picture from Walk the Line because, well, I love that movie, and because Johnny Cash and June Carter are a great example of soulmates. Both were musical, passionate, talented, stubborn and completely and whole-heartedly in love. Everything was bigger with them. So, there were years of difficulties, but they stayed together and understood one another and were deeply in love. They were best friends. They respected one another and wrote songs together and performed together. They were cut from the same cloth. They were partners in crime.

A passionate-best friend-amazing lover-intellectual equal-cheerleader-inspirer-muse-type relationship isn’t what everyone aspires for. And that’s okay. But I have experienced a soulmate relationship. Sadly, for a million different reasons, it ended. Happily, we’re still friends. Incidentally, I was a teenager when we dated and had no clue about a lot of things. Life is certainly a great teacher and I didn’t realize what I had until….well, you know the rest. So, I know what I want and I know what my soul craves. While I don’t agree with E’s stance on soulmates, I do hope she’s right about there being more than one person out there for everyone.