Letter to Self
The TALE: Tehachapi Art, Literature and Entertainment
December 31, 2022
Letter writing, once the optimal form of communication across the miles, from street to street, city to city, state to state, and country to country around the world, has been diminished to short texts, quick emails and TikTok antics. Such a shame really, as letter writing was quite the accomplished art in its time.
When I was a child, I faithfully wrote letters and thank yous to my grandparents who sent birthday cards with a dollar bill slipped inside. When I turned 8 or so, my letters changed from printing to cursive and I would labor over making the swirls and curves clear enough to be read. It was a challenge. Did you know today they have eliminated teaching cursive to a whole generation of children? That seems astounding to me, that cursive is not considered a worthy rite of passage and necessity in the 21st century.
As a child my parents also spoke the tricky language of "pig Latin" in front of us, keeping things like Christmas presents and surprise activities a secret. In today's world I guess parents will have no need for a secret language. They can use the flow, sway and curve of pen on paper and their children will be none the wiser, even if the paper is left carelessly in full view. Will old letters written in cursive eventually seem magical?
"The Art of Letter Writing '' penned by Benjamin Franklin in the 18th century was a highly regarded and needful guide in its time. Franklin was a great supporter of written communication and felt strongly that the preparation of a letter should be taken seriously. The perfect words expressing both information and emotions were of utmost importance, along with beautiful penmanship. Would he have been disappointed in how quickly the letter has disappeared?
To be honest, my penmanship is lacking these days, due to an increasing battle with swollen and sore finger joints. I'm afraid, to the dismay of some very beloved cousins, I have bowed to messaging online instead of sending a pen and paper version of my greetings. My last messages to them weighed upon me greatly as I pushed send. And it made me think about the long history of letter writing.
There are some really great reads out there involving real letters. "100 Letters that Changed the World" by Colin Salter is an eye opening start. From letters inscribed on stone tablets telling about life in ancient Rome, to love letters from notables like Henry Vll, notes concerning Peter Rabbit and urgent messages from the Titanic, history can be experienced through centuries worth of letters. They have become capsules of moments that have revealed secrets, inspired nations and entertained societies.
"If You Find This Letter" by Hannah Bencher is her memoir of leaving letters all over New York City to strangers, saying hi, encouraging the discouraged and reaching out to the lonely. After over 400 letters, she started a website that encourages others to reach out with notes and letters also, to people in need of being validated that someone has seen them. Bencher says reaching out to others was personally life changing, and she wanted to encourage others to share in this precious gift. The written word is powerful.
Both "Letters from the Lighthouse" by Emma Carroll and "Letter of a Woman Homesteader" by Elinor Pruitt Stewart are historical novels that use letters to document history. Carroll writes about the London blitz in 1941 where children are taken to the Devon shores for safety, and shared letters travel back and forth, as the horror of war rages. Stewart deals with an even earlier time, homesteading on the American frontier, and shows a series of letters that journal one woman's battle with prairie life as she fights hard to live and survive. The letters she writes hold all the challenges suspended in time for others to experience vicariously through her.
Matthew Quick uses letters to tell his story "We are the Light." There is a tragedy. A mass shooting occurs and Lucas becomes a widower. Through letters to his therapist, he moves through his grief into the light, and heartbreak slowly heals for both him and his community. Again the power of letters prevail.
Putting thoughts on paper is therapeutic, so I have an idea. Why not write letters to ourselves as we approach a new fresh year? I am going to write one. I will excuse my own handwriting. I will think about the year ahead and dream. I will carve out some hopes and goals and where I'd like to see myself in a year. I will put my letter in an envelope and address it to myself. Then place it in a box of Christmas decorations being packed up. When I open the box in December 2023, 12 months will have passed and a new holiday season will be in progress, rooms to make festive again and me a year older. I will stop first and read the message to myself and see how my dreams, hopes and goals panned out, while pondering the surprises that came my way. In this process, maybe I will become more aware and encouraged in my own journey. As Hannah Bencher says in her book above, everyone could use a good letter from time to time! I'm going to use my best words.
Happy New Year to you all!
Good Books. Good reading.
*Midge Lyn'dee is a fictional character used for the purpose of entertainment though the reviews are real and sincere.