This one’s a little different. Read it on Scribd below. (Also, please ignore the footnotes at the bottom of this post.)
I love letters. This is a fact you may have known, but in case you were unaware, well, there you go. Writing almost every day for my blogathon project has been fantastic in many ways, but one unfortunate side effect is that I’ve been unable to take the time to write the letters to friends I’ve been meaning to write. Molly, Julianne, Tom–there are many people who I want to sit down and pen letters to, and I will, but probably not until this blogathon is finished.
Sorry. A man’s gotta do what a man’s gotta do.
Before I go on, let me set the scene for you. It’s a warm summer night in Walla Walla, and since our studio apartment is on the third floor of our three-story building, it’s a little warmer to boot. The apartment is quiet right now–surprisingly, R is also writing a letter–so apart from the sounds of our pens scratching paper, we’re making very little sound. Instead, the air is filled with the rhythmic pulse of crickets wafting in the open windows.
In short, it’s one of the best conditions for summer letter-writing I could ask for. I wouldn’t turn down a mint julep to accompany the scribing, but even without, it’s pretty damn pleasant.
I’m writing tonight because, well, I wanted to write a letter. Even though this will end up reaching the same audience, writing these words in ink feels worlds apart from typing them, enough so that it scratches that itch. Far be it from me to denounce technology, but I’ve found, time and time again, that the experience of writing a letter has absolutely no digital substitute. Email, though it may be the letter’s digital analogue, has absolutely nothing on the letter-writing experience.
I maintain that the letter is the most intimate form of written communication. It’s why I cherish the letters I exchange with the people I care about.1slight redundancy: I only exchange letters with people I care about. And since this is kinda a letter but also a blog post, let me share with you some reasons why the letter is the
best most intimate form of written communication.
#1: Total Creative Freedom
Emails, Facebook messages, texts–they all look the same. Cell phone software developers and Facebook programmers developed unified styles for the presentation of conversations, carefully crafted to match the brand’s UI guidelines. Email might be in a different color or a different font, but even then, there’s only so much you can do.
And, y’know, that makes sense. I get it. Conversations are representations within the system on those platforms–they have to fit within a larger environment of information.
But on the page? I can do WHATEVER I DAMN WELL PLEASE.
I can go perpendicular.
I can hop from side to side.
I can pepper my words with illustrations (see Fig. A), footnotes 2or, even sillier, footnotes within footnotes (yes, I went there), or embellishments (which I don’t feel like exemplifying, but you get my drift).
The page gives me total creative freedom, which allows me to make my letters truly mine.
This is something you just don’t get in any other form of written correspondence. True, there’s room for individual voice in word choice and grammatical quirks, but really, on the internet, everyone sounds more or less the same.
But in a letter?
This letter–like all the letters I write–allows me to be me. It allows me to be myself in a way no other medium does. As a result, I feel a stronger emotional connection with every letter I write.
#2: It Requires Trust
Instant messengers just wouldn’t work if you couldn’t look back at least a message or two to see what you’d said. Email chains quote the contents of the previous message. With the exception of Snapchat3I talk to only a single person on Snapchat. The service terrifies me slightly and makes me feel old., almost every digital correspondence you send is saved somewhere for you to see.
But when you’re done with a letter, you seal it in an envelope and mail it. Unless it’s a love letter to your future spouse or evidence to be used in a trial, you’ll likely never see it again. You can’t change it, you can’t take it back, and you can’t even read what you wrote 4unless you make a copy of your letters, but who does that? Maintaining a conversation via handwritten letters requires a considerable amount of trust.
At least twice in my life, I’ve confessed my feelings for people via letter, primarily because of the one-way finality of post. For folks who are shy or afraid of saying something, handwritten letters provide an intimate yet non-immediate medium, plus a powerful force of inertia. Sealing that envelope and putting it in the mailbox is something you can’t just Ctrl+Z out of. Once you’ve done that, short of crawling through the Postal Service’s mail bins5DON’T DO THIS., you can’t take it back, and you can’t even see how you worded things.
Relinquishing that control feels important to me, for some reason.
#3: It’s Sensual
Surely, I’m not the only one to notice this.6yes. yes I am.
Writing a letter is a sensual delight. You feel the paper softly give as your pen glides across. Every space between words brushes your wrist. Depending on the pen, you might even catch a whiff, metallic and dark, of the ink.
The sound of a period. CLICK. Or an em dash–JIT. Each word is its own symphony of sounds and feels, and sometimes, I imagine I could just close my eyes and tell which words were being written just by the sounds of the letters.
I’m not saying I get off on it. But come on, you have to admit: writing a letter is sexy.
Writing a letter, for me, isn’t just about conveying info in an outdated way ’cause I’m too cool for technology–it’s a very specific experience all of its own. It’s intimate, an act of shared vulnerability. In a world of mediated connections, sometimes it’s worth the hassle to feel something raw.