On Letters and Writing

Writing is such a vulnerable and personal thing to share because it is the only way people can ever get a glimpse into your mind and understand how it is that you process the world as you experience it. Even as someone reads a letter you have written, they are in direct communication with your thoughts and heart.

Generally, I prefer to write on actual paper. I used to buy my journals from our nearest bookstore, before it closed for business. I’d select the smoothest pages and take home the journals that were either college-ruled or unlined, and maybe had a beautiful design on the cover.

When I was living with my last boyfriend, I found a journal that his wife started but never finished. She died of cancer when she was about twenty six years old and as I turned the pages, I felt sad that there was no way for me to learn anything about her. All that there was to read was a line making a reference to the devil, and I understood that she blamed him for her illness. I admired the design she selected, because it was red and gold and looked like a book in which a princess would have written her exciting secrets.

E-mail remains a great convenience, but every month I send out several letters to friends. I write to my best friend who has moved out of state. I send her silly cards because she knows that I’ve never been one partial to bright strawberries or clouds or flowers. I write a brief update on who is handsome, minor achievements of the week, and I call her my sugar plum.

I write to my former social studies teacher from junior high because he still doesn’t see the point of Internet and e-mailing and he refuses to learn. I may be one of the few people who understand the teacher hieroglyphics in which he writes the latest details on what’s happening at work and who is married to who and how terrible the situation is with the school district and the profession of teaching.

I write to my prison pen pal. The choice to do so was not easy and I had numerous reservations before I finally wrote my return address at the end of my first letter. We’ve been writing to each other since before the holidays and he has maintained a very respectful tone as well as conveyed a few insecurities. He shares that he doesn’t know why I chose to continue to write, but that he appreciates it and looks forward to all my letters.  He sometimes refers to me as Miss Tabares and always signs off with, “Respectfully, Reggie.”

When the time comes to sit and write a story, my fingers get antsy and my neck gets stiff. I worry that I won’t create the connection that must exist between reader and author. I remember the compliment from a former friend who said, “You’re a great writer because you connect to your readers. You’re not just talking at them.”

But few genuinely great writers ever truly feel that they are any good. In fact, I loathe myself a little whenever I publish on a blog or a website. I roll my eyes at my own words and think, Why in the world would anyone care to read this?

Whatever does become published in a wide open area is going to take on a life of its own. A blog will reach some, but miss others. It will connect the writer to the reader in a way that is briefly intimate, but real nonetheless. Someone will be moved to tears, while others will respond with terse words or indifference, or worse, strongly-worded reactions.

Yet letters will, for a moment, be a close and personal interaction that begins with the first stroke of the pen and moves along as the stamp is affixed, the letter is delivered, and then is promptly pulled part by the eager fingers of the receiver.

Image via Moleskine.com

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