On What is Apparently a Dying Art

I’ve spent the last few days writing letters.

Although I’ve done a good job keeping myself going, in the past it’s been hard for me to write many at the same time (or even within a few weeks of each other).  Not much really changes in my life, and so in terms of letter-writing, I feel that I’m often repeating myself.  And I hate repetition.

And the truth is that this déjà vu is an actual fact.  Much of what I have to say concerning my life is repeated from letter to letter because I’m often writing to people who are, possibly not surprisingly, equally concerned with the goings on in my life.  And so the litany of this happened and that happened and we’re planning for this to happen, but if it doesn’t, then that will happen instead.  And Oh!  Oh!  If only this would happen, then we could do that!

Enough of that.

Suffice to say that it didn’t always used to be this way.

I’ve always loved writing letters.

I don’t remember when I wrote my first serious letters, either to friends or family (as usual, my mom probably has a better idea than I do), but I know that the first time I really took to writing letters as a matter of course was after my Governor’s School experience.

[The Governor’s School is (was?) a state-run program in Virginia where a certain number of students from each school are invited, after being nominated by teachers, to attend during the summer between their junior and senior years.  It’s a month long.  Students live in dorms on campus for the whole month and are strongly encouraged not to leave during that time – I left once to attend an awards ceremony for a playwriting camp I was attending earlier that summer.  As you might expect, especially if you had similar experiences with camps or in undergrad, friendships developed fast and furiously.

Those of you in the know might recognize the Governor’s School as the direct inspiration for the school Cory attends in THE DREAM THIEF.  The real version wasn’t quite so absurd, but a number of the events and people are drawn from that well of nostalgia.]

I started writing to people I’d met at Governor’s School almost immediately upon my return.  Misha, Daisy, Chris, Wendi, all of them (plus more I don’t recall) received letters from me.

What were these letters about?  Hell if I know.

At that point I believed that letters were best used as an expression of one’s state of mind at the time, including thoughts, dreams, desires, etc., and so they necessarily included nearly no personal information about me.

Okay, clearly that’s not true.  There was lots of personal information, but nothing about my day-to-day life as I lived it.  The letters were like journal entries, compact exercises in creativity that I hoped the recipient would find interesting, but wasn’t confident that they would.  I was writing – as I do in all other genres – what I was convinced I would find interesting.

Not all of those letterati relationships survived.  Most died after a few missives back and forth.  In the face of this, and considering that I wasn’t confident that my writing was interesting, I strove to write in an interesting manner.  I would write by hand and fill the borders will doodles.  I’d try and create my own typography (without a typewriter, naturally).  The page was the canvas, the ink the paint, and the words they formed were sometimes left out of the equation all together BECAUSE if what I’ve written is FUN to READ, then what matters what it says?

Don’t answer that.

Today I don’t write letters with quite that much abandon.  They serve more of a purpose of communicating with friends long unseen, though I still put a struggle into making each letter unique, trying to tackle new topics.

I guess the question is “Why, though, do you do this?”

The Answer: I find letters magical.  Often when I received them in the past, I would open them, unfold the letter, then refold it and put it aside, a treat to be savored like a chocolate or a good book.  There’s an indefinable difference between what’s contained in a letter and what is in an e-mail, and I think that it largely has to do with the time-intensive process that is a letter vs. the instantaneous delivery of an e-mail.  And, I’ll admit it, I like things that take their time.

I like things that take effort.

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