“The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters.” -Lewis Carroll
I don’t know why the thought hit me there and then, perhaps because it was a sleepless night and that’s when you sometimes get crazy ideas, or perhaps it was the moon that made me think of all the other people staring at it by themselves in that minute. It doesn’t matter but suddenly I figured I needed to read authors letters, preferably letters they had written to each other. It was an impulse which automatically had me checking the iPhone to see what “letter” books I should try to find.
I used to write a lot of letters. I used to write long letters to my friends. I used to write long e-mails to people. I used to write long (maybe unwanted) e-mails to strangers I met on the internet that later became good friends.
Then Twitter, Facebook and iPhone happened and suddenly you’re talking to people through character limits and pictures of smiling cats and you’re not just talking to them but to the entire bloody earth.
And have you noticed how everyone is too busy to turn around? So you shy away from e-mailing or writing a letter because you don’t want to put the obligation of a long letter on the shoulder of your friends who drift further and further away. And I’ve got a life too. It’s my fault that all correspondence is scarce and happens mostly through media everyone can join in on but is quite impersonal (social media does have it’s good points though). It lacks energy and it lacks intimacy.
I went to the library in my sleepless haze this morning, quickly returned whooping 27 children’s books, most of which I’ve read about 10 times by now and then I proceeded to borrow two “letter” books I found randomly.
One is the Selected Letters of Jack Kerouac and the other is Letters of Rainer Maria Rilke. I’m not too fond of Jack Kerouac’s books (sorry if I’m blaspheming) but I’d love to have been his penpall. He describes things with such energy and at the times he doesn’t seem to be patting the cat the right way he is blatantly honest, angry or he is telling his friends what great character they have.
I’ve only read a few of Kerouac’s letters so far. He wrote to friends and family and just about anyone it seems. In one letter he claims that he could write a 5000 word letter every day to the person if it weren’t for the heavy manuscripts lying, waiting, on his table.
There is such life in these letters, and I’ve only read a few so far!
The issue of official versus non-official has put a strain on letter writing I guess. You write an email and you never know where it’s going to end up. Your iCloud might get hacked and suddenly you have your boobs exposed on sites with triple x’s in the url. But I’m also pretty sure Jack Kerouac didn’t expect that over 50 years after he wrote some of his letters a woman from Iceland would be reading them after a sleepless night.
We really should take the time though to write letters or longer more thought provoking emails. It doesn’t matter if the return letter/email doesn’t arrive until three months later because there is something in letters that you can’t get anywhere else. There is something profound and interesting in exchanging ideas, events or just descriptions of the little things that you found interesting during the day, or the week.
Who knew that non-fiction could be this exciting? I didn’t and until I get more letters in my mailbox (at this time it’s full of political brochures I never read!) or my inbox blinks with something other than ad’s for magazines, penis enhancers or clothes, I will have to read the letters of Rilke and Kerouac. And if I don’t get a letter from you, or an e-mail, then I guess I’ll have to search for Victoria Wolfs letters. In fact I’ll do that even though you’ll send me a letter.
So drop me a line, inform me that the art of letter writing isn’t dead and that you exchange a lot of deep, meaningful letters with other people. Write me and tell me if the sky is blue at your end of the line, or has it turned dark? Did you see an interesting person at the supermarket? If you don’t have my e-mail (I’m sure it’s lying around here somewhere) then tweet me and I’ll give it to you. And it doesn’t matter if you’re a stranger. It just makes it more fun.
And to my lovely friends who still do write letters on occasions I love you for it however long it is between letters, remember that! I’ll leave you with Jack Kerouac’s from his letter to Neal Cassidy written on September 5th 1948 in Selected Letters edited by Ann Charters:
“Well come on, man, do I have to urge you to write me another letter? I’m getting lonesome for word from you in your own words.” (p. 162)
I wrote this yesterday and it turns out that after a good night’s sleep this doesn’t sound the least bit silly. Coincidentally I got a letter (and a beautiful picture) in the mailbox from a friend this morning which made my day completely and it just made me more determined to post this.
Also I have now changed the url of my wordpress.com blog to 3yglo.wordpress.com. I hope this doesn’t frack things up too much.