Monday, April 23, 2012

Correspondence

In Praise of Things Still Done by Hand 

Dictionaries describe correspondence as a communication by exchange of letters, the letters themselves, or any instance of similarity, analogy or agreement. Wikipedia describes it as “non-concurrent, remote communication between people, including letters, email, newsgroups, internet forums, [and] blogs.” Sigh. As a lifelong sender, receiver and lover of letters, I fully understand that this most imperiled of outdated activities involves two people writing at different times in different places, but those words “non-concurrent” and “remote” make corresponding sound about as deeply enriching a process as paying your bills online.  That said, I daily contribute my share to the debris of words floating through cyberspace.  I suppose any communication nowadays is better than none at all. Furthermore, I am not here to bury technology but to praise all things still done by hand.

From Brazil with Love
The handwritten letter is a lost art. That suits me fine, as the only remaining practitioners are serious about what they do and damn good at it. This morning I have two letters on my desk in need of a reply. One is from Brazil, one from South Dakota. Both arrived with what modern parlance and habits would render as “attachments,” but in this case included miniature artworks made by my correspondents and sent with their letters as part of the package. Here are my words, they seemed to say, but here as well is something tangible made by my hands for you to hold in yours, made specifically for the occasion of this letter.  And it struck me that having these little unexpected unsolicited objects tumble out of the unfolded sheets, as if tearing open an envelope and finding the sheets themselves were not delight enough, did indeed make the letter an occasion of sorts, an event even.

Unexpected Delight
Finding a letter in my mailbox – or, oh indescribable joy, a package! – is one of those things that can still cause me to squeal and clap my hands like a child.  One of those things I know will be so deliciously fun, I play cat and mouse with it, attempt delayed gratification, and eventually allow myself to be overcome by my own curiosity and appetite.  But once I sit down with a letter – often choosing a special time and place to do so, as if to do honor to the experience with my full and best attention, I enter into a conversation with its sender that feels anything but remote or non-concurrent. In fact, as I read their words written in their own hand, I am transported right back to the moment and setting of its composition. I find myself thinking along with the writer as they set down their thoughts, enjoying the journey of their words as they fill the page not knowing what will happen next. And in the case of these two letter writers to whom I owe replies, I have never heard them actually speak, but I can honestly say I have now heard their voices, their inner voices, the ones they use only with themselves. And I can sense them as physical beings also. Perhaps I am overly impressed by simple realities that others have long since accepted and become insensate to, but it still blows my mind to think that I am here in another time zone, in another country even, holding in my hands something touched by someone so far away. That a letter can be dropped into one slot and appear via another slot connecting people who have never met face to face. It feels as if I am shaking hands with them across the miles, with the letter as our intermediary.  It feels like a small miracle every time.

Miracle in a Mailbox 
When I read a beautifully and thoughtfully crafted letter, I think of the great history of letterwriting, once the only way to connect people over long distances, once as much a vital information resource as a social exercise. Soldiers at war had only the occasional letter from home to know there still was a home. Great thinkers countries apart formed intellectual friendships through correspondence and provided what we now cherish as highly personal accounts of the times and places in which they lived. Letters of introduction, letters of safe conduct, even postcards and thank you notes - correspondence is a necessary part of the preserved literature and history of all cultures. It may not reveal all that was going on, but it does show how people were thinking and feeling, often in ways not available outside such a private medium. Implicit in the creation of a letter is the intention not just to convey something but preserve it, to set it down in such a way as to make it worth holding onto, going back to, for years to come. 
A Life in Letters
For me, replying to a beautifully and thoughtfully crafted letter requires me to meet the correspondent on common ground, and give as good as I got. I try to send the sort of letter I myself would love to receive, and almost hate to leave my hands. Choice of paper and ink and what little unexpected and unsolicited items will be tucked inside to surprise and delight the recipient is just as important as the content, over which I have far less control. As I follow the journey that the expression of my thoughts takes down the page, I imagine that the next time this way is traveled there will be two travelers on the journey together, making everything familiar by being shared, and everything new with their different perspectives and experience. And on that day although I’m alone, I’ll feel someone take my hand.

 Correspondence

Special thanks to Crissant and Patti, the two magnificent correspondents to whom I dedicate this post.

24 comments:

  1. What a beautiful post!
    I wish I took more time for the handwritten letter,
    but as you can imagine, a 5 year old barely gives me time to paint...! : )
    I couldn't help but think of this track while reading this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5lQThvBdYhY
    Hope all's well and your enjoying the Spring in your new found paradise...!

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  2. Hey thanks for the link - it really does fit well with my post, but then again you can never go wrong with a Johnny Cash song! I don't have as much time for letters as I'd like either, but it is one of those activities worth carving out time for, and then you wonder, why don't I do more of this? Oh yeh, because life keeps getting in the way....

    All the best to you both!

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  3. Touched and honored Gabriella! You do great service to the great and dying art of the handwritten correspondence and I'm so glad we are able to weave our friendship together across the time zones and the miles, both through the intangibility of cyberspace and the savored pages we hold in our hands. There's just nothing like a letter arriving in the mailbox! Thanks so much!

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  4. No, thank you Patti for being an inspiration for this post! I've been a bit distracted lately as you well know, and was having a hard time coming up with a topic with which to break my long Blogger silence, and there was your beautiful letter trying to give me a clue if only I'd pay attention! Speaking of which, expect a reply soon!

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  5. Have you signed up for this?: http://therumpus.net/letters/

    Interesting, fun, and a little weird. Worth the 5 bucks a month just to confront all the strangeness about it.

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    1. Intriguing...I guess there are a lot of weird folks out there who still dig letters!

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  6. Magic in my mailbox. I too love to receive letters. And parcels. More magic.

    Playing in the blogosphere has enriched my life in just that way. I have one of your photographs on my wall. I purchased two more for a dear friend who has one at home and one in her workspace.

    Email from dear people still matters but a hand-written or created treat? Deep breath time.

    I so love your posts and your images and the glimpses into your world. Thank you. Lots.

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    1. EC, I guess you are one of the reasons why I may be a champion of the handmade and the human touch but I am never going to grumble too loudly about technology as the enemy - it's all about balance, really, about making use of all the tools at hand, be they in your hand or under your keyboard-tapping fingertips. The danger is in exclusion, not inclusion, in abuse or misuse of various media. If Blogger allowed me to meet you and that resulted in your having a small tangible part of who I am in your home, then long live Blogger! But I still think of social media as a facilitator for deeper connections, not the be-all and end-all. To not make use of such things would be unwise - to go no further is simply a waste.

      All the best to you, my friend, and thanks.

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  7. Beautiful tribute to the handwritten letter, i recognize the joy and delight, the finding the right time and place to read it, the trip into time and space where the here and now fades.
    Is it a human thing to see the beauty of things when they are threatened or get lost, collectors stand up, handwritten letters from times long gone are selled on the internet, admired for the beautiful calligraphy, the color of paper and ink, the feeling of holding someone's thoughts. We seem to be a melancholic race.
    But in case of the handwritten letter, i think you are right something valuable gets lost, it is in these (small) pleasures pure happiness can be found. Simple and straight from one soul to another without commercial influences.

    Wishing you well and glad to read another of your lovely posts, love, Renilde

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    1. Renilde, you make a great point I hadn't thought of - that we as human beings never appreciate or try to save what means the most until it is gone! I think of animals that have to be almost extinct, down to a precious few, before someone stands up and makes efforts to protect the species. We look so hard for the "next best thing" we forget the value of what is already here, what defines us and enriches us.

      Very glad you liked this post. Many thanks for your comment!

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  8. So true. The joy of handwriting is not any longer in this world of technology!
    In the world of doing things so quickly..
    This is really a shame!!

    A beautiful tribute to the old time...
    With love from Greece (can send this now)! Monika

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    1. Monika, I knew you would be a kindred spirit regarding handwritten letters in the old style! I hope all is well with you in Greece. Sending you my love.

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  9. TT/G - great to see you back on the airwaves - can one say that about blog posts? So true about hand written letters, cards etc - they just have that added touch of the energy of the hand of the person who 'created' the communication. Fiona and I visited an exhibition in Canberra called Handwritten - and the message that came through to me from the exhibition of the letters and note books and handwritten books was that they had people imbedded in them not machines. One sadness I have is that I love pens and ink and have a great Lamy fountain pen collect (the colourful modern types) and I just scrawl - but I guess it is personal scrawl. Go well. B

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    1. Barry, it's good to be back on the air, as you say! Your scrawl made me laugh - I too have penmanship that has only managed from youth to maturity to evolve from utterly to nearly illegible! But it is MY scrawl, and I am there in every imperfect loop and flourish!

      To play devil's advocate, I do think there are people who manage to impart enough human energy to an email or post so that their personalities do shine through the generic font - I think of you and Fiona whose online presence came across with such unique and direct personal style that when we met in person you proved to be exactly as I expected! - but it's a rare occurrence. Most online communications read as if they could have been written by anyone - or anything.

      Thanks for you comment!

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  10. I love this post Gabriella, it is so true, the value of a handwrote letter.. is a true tresoure, some things need still the human touch, I can fell warm in such a things...

    it is also so that we never give away handwrited letters because we feel that, if we done this we make a lack of respect towards the person who wrote the letter, so we can not give away books too, and picture, and so on..

    really love this post very well done

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    1. Thank you so much dear Laura, I knew you would understand! You are so right - I can easily delete emails, but it is very difficult to throw away letters - I have kept letters that have lasted longer than the friendships did! Much love to you.

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  11. Hey G,
    I absolutely love this latest post of yours. I agree there's something special about receiving a handwritten letter... esp. in these times. You've once again inspired me... thanks.

    ~Douglas

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  12. Aw shucks, D, happy to be of service! Have I started something here? It would be way cool to know that this little post of mine provoked an increase in the number of handwritten letters being sent out. I guess among my good blogfriends letters aren't as lost an art as I feared - possibly just temporarily mislaid. Hope things are going well with you!

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  13. Your post is extremely true. I do not have much to add, because your perception of this "lost art" is very close to what I have in mind.
    I hope always keep that habit on, and I hope write to you many times over.
    Sweet hug and thank you, dear Gabriella!

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    1. Crissant - my letter to you is now in the hands of the postal service and we shall see how long it takes to arrive in Brazil. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it! You are a dear dear friend. Much love to you.

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  14. This is a classic G - the subject, the heartfelt truths within your words, the photographs and the gifts within the gift. I love to get letters and send them occasionally; and I thought you described deliciously that postponement of joy, the increasing tension between wanting to tear it open and knowing you'll enjoy it so much more with a cup of tea. Love it!

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  15. Many thanks, F - not surprised you're simpatico. You especially understand the tactile pleasures of paper, ink, the little "extras" that take the sheets of a letter (or book!) from mere conveyers of information to a world-within-world experience! And I definitely know how you feel about shopping for the materials! I'll be thinking of you when I'm in NYC next week!

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  16. Gabriella,
    your description of these facts, so familiar,
    are so rich, that I felt at your side all the time,
    especially to find the items in the mailbox ...
    I love every feeling that you awakens in your reports!
    I wish you be very happy, in 'all your houses'
    a huge hug
    baci

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    1. Dear Denise - you remind me that I'm late in visiting your recent posts! I am happy that you understand and enjoy my descriptions. It means so much to me. Mille grazie, cara.

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