When I was eleven years old, my parents informed me that my Christmas gift to my grandmother would be to write her a letter every month for the following year. As an adult now, I can imagine what a wonderful idea that was for a gift.
As an eleven year old then, I hated it.
Also managers of my schedule, my parents designated that I would write these letters on a particular Saturday each month. When that day came around, I found myself seated in an uncomfortable chair at our dining room table, bent over a sheet of blank paper. Like cleaning my room or practicing the piano, writing those letters was a chore, and I approached it as such — a task to be gotten through as quickly as possible.
This approach, of course, made the entire affair even more excruciating.
My recollection is that, while my grandmother greatly appreciated receiving the letters, she did not write back. No correspondence developed — each month was me writing some variation on “How are you? I am fine. Here is what has happened,” and when the twelfth letter was in the mail, that was the end of it.
Having just finished reading David Constantine’s The Letter-Writer, I find myself suddenly fascinated by the notion of writing letters. Email, instant messaging, and text messages are fabulously convenient and I would never give them up, but they leave so much of substance of interpersonal relationships to vanish into the ether.
A bit of googling reveals that I am not alone in this sentiment. There are websites and Twitter accounts devoted to resurrecting letter-writing as a practice. One group has, for the past several years, designated February as “a month of letters”, challenging participants to write and send one letter every day for the whole month, and to respond to any letters they receive. Another offers to assign hand-picked pen pals for each of its members.
I imagine some this collective fascination for letter writing can be attributed to a general flailing-about for things that are “real,” the same impulse that has people going on about their Moleskines and bullet journals and handcrafted artisanal cassette mixtapes. That said, there is something to be said for the notion that just because we can put all of our stuff online and sync it to all of our devices does not mean we should.
Last night, I had a question for my mom regarding logistics for a visit we are planning. It is the sort of topic for which I would normally dash a few lines in a quick email. As I stood there with my phone in hand, though, I realized I did not need an answer immediately. It could wait a few days.
For Christmas, I had gotten a pad of Tomoe River paper. I unwrapped it from its plastic, slid the guide sheet under the first page, and started writing. I opened with my logistical question, went on for a few paragraphs about recent events in my life, and then closed with some general questions for her.
Closings have always been awkward for me, regardless of the format, and this one was no different — in fact, it reminded me of the “I am fine, how are you?” letters of my childhood.
Still, it’s a start, and hopefully it will become easier with practice. As for the next letter, I suppose it is something I just have to start.
Cross-posted on Medium.