Letter Writing

featherquillLooking through rosy glasses back a hundred years or more there’s something magical or certainly romantic about the old method of communication. The scene: lovers separated by circumstance have no method other than the post by which to interact. Sitting at a wooden desk, candles flickering from drafts blowing between log chinking the letter writer sits with quill, or later, pen and ink well. The pen would have been a slender wood handle with a detachable metal tip that is split. Inside the split between the two thin prongs which together form the writing tip enough ink is trapped to scratch out a few letters after which the tip had to be dipped in the well.

Paper was expensive requiring clear thoughts prior to setting ink to paper. Perhaps a walk down the country lane, lover’s letter in hand would help formulate the reply.

What appeals to me so much is the time and skill applied. Perhaps after the first couple of paragraphs the writer might rise to pace a bit in thought and, cabin growing cold, replenish the fire. From the outer dark come owl hoots, perhaps the scream of a fox. In the stable next door knicker and stamp sleepy horses… and always from the desk the soft scratch of metal on paper.

These letters displayed a facility with language, an adroitness at expressing thought that many contemporary adults do not apply to personal communication.

From John Meacham’s American Lion, below is an excerpt from Emily Donaldson to her husband Andrew Donaldson (part of Andrew Jackson’s extended family). In a precursor of my own woes about modern emails, she laments he doesn’t write frequently or fully enough. She ends with his constant presence in her mind:

Although your letters are like angel’s visits, few and far between, yet when they do come, you hardly say “how do you do” and goodbye. Do let me know everything that passes, how you get along and what you employ yourself about and if you think much about us. You are never absent from my thoughts, when I lay down it is only to think of you. And when I sleep I dream of you.

Once written the old fashioned letter might’ve taken weeks to arrive. But when the recipient took the fat envelope in his or her hands and felt it’s weight, the heart lept with anticipation at the communication and sentiment contained within.

Though scratching a long letter on parchment by candlelight has romantic appeal, I much prefer typing.  In fact I dislike handwriting.  Email is instant and I love sending and receiving photos.  Much as I enjoy the craft of letter writing, I have few people with whom to share this passion.    But I cannot know who is around the next bend…

4 thoughts on “Letter Writing

  1. This is a favorite subject of mine! As always, with your amazing prose, you captured my thoughts better than I could myself. You have that nack!
    I don’t mind hand writing, but obviously the personal computer is the writer’s friend. But how I despise the very idea of that “Dragon” tool where you just talk into your computer. Why? Because, call me crazy, but I believe the written word comes from a different part of your brain than speech. At least it sure does in me. It is a muse? I don’t know, but even my friends say that the difference between me speaking and me writing is very noticable.
    What is going to be worse? The loss of those personal letters and diaries or the loss of books? (I wouldn’t think anyone reading this has a Kindle?) Both are such priceless parts of the human experience.
    Marc, speaking with you is always a good experience. You’re smart, intelligent and passionate and that equals good conversation. But your writing! Your writing, I think, comes from that strange, hard-to-know place in your soul where writing comes from. You have a real gift my friend – let’s hope circumstances allow you to give us more of your gift.

  2. Diane, interesting view that speech and writing come from different parts of the brain. I’m sure that’s true. I happen to be skilled at both but cleaning house… not so motivated.

    Whether books, letters or diaries, I think the loss is the depth of thought that goes into reading substantive material, the self-analysis and revelation for letters and diaries. What we are relinquishing is quality in the form of depth. Fluff and Facebook bullshit supersedes true connection.

  3. Diane expressed my sentiments, as well. You have a gift in written expression that can take me many places–from the romantic anticipation of receiving a long awaited letter to the exhaustion of spending 4 hours digging the truck out of a mudhole. I see and feel them both.

    I, too, lament the loss of personal communication through writing. I miss the excitement of having each paragraph unfold, wondering which streets of thought I’ll be meandering. Each communication is like a new gift to unwrap….as if it’s Christmas or a birthday. It says, “I picked out these thoughts, special, to share with you.” Can’t imagine why more people aren’t interested in giving or receiving such simple pleasures.

    1. Chelsea, thanks for the kind words. It’s nice to know my writing impacts someone. And here, between you and Diane, is a grouping of kindred spirits I’ve hoped for, and written of, in The Tribal Lodge.

      Like you, I don’t understand why the excitement and fulfillment of letter writing doesn’t effect more people. But if I had to guess, the ones less affected tend to be surface dwellers while those with our sensibilities swim deeper waters. Again, thank you for your support.

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