Thursday, July 14, 2011

Personal Letter Writing, a Lost Art?

     As Jane Austin said, “a person who can write a letter with ease, cannot write ill.”
Letter writing as an art form deserves respect but “snail mail” communication, as my kids refer to it is not, it seems to me, a popular way to communicate in our digitized, high speed culture. Personal communication has changed dramatically since the development of the internet through emailing, instant messaging, and YouTube. Cell phones, along with conversing, now enable texting and photography as a quick fix to get information and to stay connected. Receiving a personal letter though the mail doesn’t happen that often; at least not in my life. Personally I still like to get something in the mail and often I will write notes to my two grandsons although they only live about an hour and a half away. What child doesn’t love getting mail in the mailbox from Grandma? When I was young I had pen pals; kids from other states and even other countries. I have pen pals to this day; two of my best women friends exchange cards and letters the old fashioned way. One of these friends hand writes letters, actual pen to paper in cursive.

     My mother and I have exchanged countless letters over the years. We now email but every once in awhile I like to compose a letter and send it so that Mom will have some variety to their morning coffee sessions. Dad can no longer see to read so she reads the sports section to him. A newsy family letter to read aloud is always welcome.     
   When my 2nd born daughter was a little girl, she wrote to her great grandfather on a regular basis.  He appreciated these letters and told her that she was the only great grandchild that ever wrote him. He wrote her back and for awhile sent along gift certificates for JC Penny at Christmas time. I have a collection of letters written by some of my ancestors on my dad’s side of the family.  What a treasure this is to get a glimpse of what life was back then. I have often thought this would be a good resource for someone’s novel. When I was young and ambitious I thought this someone would be me.

     During Victorian times handwritten letters were used for intimate correspondence, and a skill that a Victorian Lady was obligated to cultivate. Paul the Apostle wrote the Epistles which were a series of letters to the Church, and there are other characters in history whose love letters have continued to inspire us today, such as Beethoven’s letter to his “Immortal Beloved”. The exchange of love letters between Robert and Elizabeth Browning are as poetic as the poems they penned.

I am not sure if letter writing is taught in school these days.  When I was a youngster in grade school we were writing letters as part of our English class. There were two distinct categories, the business letter and the friendly letter. Back in those days we stuck to the rules of form which were the return address, date, the inside address, the greeting, the introductory paragraph, the body, the closing, and the signature. God forbid we misspelled or used a comma in the wrong place.

I have often thought of my journals as letters to myself, letters of the most personal kind which prove time after time to be the most freeing and most creative because they delve into the unconscious mind and are not edited by my internal editor on the spot. One does wonder who, if anyone will read these personal entries? Will my journals be found by my grandchildren as they play in the attic someday? That I cannot predict. I don’t think my diaries are as exciting as those in “The Bridges of Madison County”   but read through another’s eyes you just never know.
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