Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Long live the letter

There is nothing as pleasurable than opening your letterbox and finding hidden amongst the junk mail and the bills, an envelope with a pretty stamp, containing a hand written note from a friend.

But how often has that happened to you lately?

The advent of email and instant contact seems to have made the hand written letter a thing of the past, which to me is a great shame. For what can beat the elegance and warmth of a written note? The feeling that someone has gone to the trouble of picking up a pen, choosing a card or some paper and jotted down their thoughts?

I am a huge fan of the humble letter. I am also a huge fan of elegant stationery and pretty postage stamps, so this morning's little rant was triggered by the Paradoxical Cat's posting on New Zealand Post's latest stamp releases, the A to Z. (I brought an entire sheet, and will buy more!)

I write letters, I enjoy writing letters and I especially enjoy receiving them. That doesn't happen often, but lights up my day when it does. It's amazing how when you write someone a letter, they email you back! (Little hint people - paper & stamp, paper & stamp.)

This little rant is going somewhere, promise.

How many great relationships in history have been brought to our attention through correspondence? Letters have given us a glimpse past the public personas and into the inner thoughts of many historical and literary figures. George Bernard Shaw, Ronald Reagan, Toss Woollaston to name a few. There are letters to the editor, business correspondence, letters of friendship, political letters, love letters.

Biographers have found far more insights into people from their private letters than they could ever through public record.

Once upon a time the art of penmanship and personal expression through letter writing was highly valued. Now, it is a fading art.

Correspondence has changed with the electronic age. Undoubtedly it has increased contact, which is a great thing. We text. We'll fling off a short email without thought, and even long and carefully constructed letters via email. But how much do we value it? Does it actually exist? All is virtual. How many of you back-up your email? How many people have off-site storage of email correspondence? Sure, your server will store it for a certain amount of time, but what if disaster strikes and your beloved computer dies?

I worry for the plight of historians and biographers of the future. What will they have to construct a picture of a person. Facebook? That is a public persona, and again, virtual. Blog pages? Again public, a taste of an individual, but is it really the real deal? Will it be permanently stored for posterity? I know this is a question the folk at the Alexander Turnbull Library and such institutions all over the world are asking.

Are we risking losing this vital part of who we are?

So, there you go. Why not every now and again, pull out a pen, a fabulous card or piece of stationery, and write a real letter, a tangible, hold it in your hand, arrived in your letterbox letter, and make someone's day.

As a lovely card sent by a friend said - hearing from you is like sunshine with a stamp.


The Paradoxical Cat said...

It's all so true, I am not going to comment here. I'll write you a letter instead!



Hugh Macmillan said...

We mustn't forget the epistolary novel.
I filled my Parker with black ink and began a daily journal. I had quite forgotten about writer's cramp. The handwritten journal did not last long.
A friend who does not like using electronic mail writes to us from the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on thin blue airmail paper. Her writing is so bad that it takes two or three days to decipher.
Do you practice calligraphy?

Vanda Symon said...

Ah, yes, another confession, calligraphy too, although not in the strictest discipline of the word. My kids call it Mum's fancy writing. I also love doing illuminated letters, but with this whole novel writing business, it's yet another thing put on the back burner for when I have some time.

Writers cramp would be something alien to most people today. I read somewhere that high school students were struggling with the process of actually writing exams because they were unaccustomed to hand writing for any length of time!

Tania Roxborogh said...

Back in the eighties, I remember writing a poem (a very bad poem) about the importance the letter box had become to me. These were the days pre; email and text and cheap phone calls.

I relied, nay, needed, to send and receive the letter from those I had/have loved.

in fact, I remember sending an accusitory 'Garfield' post card to an ex in Britian complaining of his last of communication only to get a terse reply from the mother who informed me that the whole time her 19 yr old son was in New Zealand, she didn't once receive a missive. - doh!

Still, I have kept all letters received and requested to many that those I've sent be sent back (gladly, I'm sure).

they are tucked away in the ceiling in our house in Auckland along with my grandfather's diaries - God forbid a fire.

I keep telling the whanau that they should get me stamps and stationery for birthday/chrissy prezzies but no one listens to me. And, I'm so dang harrassed and because it's not my love language (now, be quiet!), I'm not very good at it.

Still, it is nice to get more than the bill in the post - take the royalty cheque for various publishers for one!

Tania Roxborogh
Who may or may not be a blogger but just can't work out this blogging thing!