When was the last time you wrote a letter? That is, when was the last time you wrote to someone on crisp white paper, or on lilac or pale yellow, whatever attracts, or perfumed if you like, whatever takes your fancy . . .?
Imagine this: a pen that touches the tactile spirit, which is soothing to have and to hold; a sheet of paper with a little give underneath (laid on another sheet perhaps, or over card instead of laid barely on the wooden board of the desk). Imagine this: the wooden board of the desk itself; or, imagine invisible grease-marks of fingers on paper, causing ghost-scratched writing as the ink refuses to take.
In our computer dependencies, we forget about the minor significant trials of actual writing. The analogue writer crafts with cursive care: it’s written into the words. These words here, read as they are by you in the now, in their original form, are inked in a small blue notebook under a sudden light. Authenticity is of primary concern.
Notebooks are one thing, but letters are another. I have a stack of dusty envelopes on my bedside table. They’re variously coloured, variously impressed with love and other dreams. They’re twenty years old, or more. I forget. They sit and wait. They hold me and ‘us’ within their pages. They crackle at the edges: not just with the papery age but with the magic of a twenty-year-long breath held in. They wait. One day I’ll gently unfold them again.
When was the last time you wrote a letter to someone? I can’t remember myself. This is a shame. Perhaps you’re of a younger generation who has never written a physical letter to anyone at all.
Letters are more than just what the words actually say: they contain the knowledge that someone has taken time to think of you, to craft for you, to carefully put down what they want to say, knowing that it needs thought first (else the scribbling out and other corrections render it incomprehensible). Technology often takes this thought away.
Letters contain the possibility that the writer may have left the words on the desk, settling or waiting, just waiting, before the envelope is sealed. Letters mean a trip out of the house, to the box that swallows and saves the words for a while. Letters wait in the belly of the kindly beast, which protects them from the rain and wind, till someone comes to collect them (amongst the detritus of other modern mailings).
Letters soak up all the waiting and the waiting, all the travelling, wending their way to your hand. Letters are love on crisp white paper, lilac or pale yellow if you prefer; or, once, when letters flew, they were the thinnest airmail paper, lighter than the air, folded over to form their own protective skins.
Imagine this: receive an envelope that does not fill the mind with the dread of ‘what could this unforeseen, unasked-for object be?’ Letters from the bank, or from the offices of the tax collectors or the like, come in neatly styled fonts; they land with anonymous but ominous weight at your palm. Imagine that a letter has your name described in real uneven ink; that there is the trace of fingerprints on its envelope, the faintness of some perfume on its skin; the seal is partly lifted, and you know that someone has touched the tip of their tongue to the gum. There is a trace of someone real held in your palm.
Imagine this: you unfold a sheet of paper, several maybe, and someone who loves you dearly tells you this in words, which don’t always sit neatly shelved on the lines; they offer you themselves in little inked-in illustrations or pencil-coloured pictures; they whisper in the gaps between the written words; there’s more than a trace of them on the paper they’ve touched when leaned upon, written on, folded. Imagine this.
When was the last time you wrote a letter . . .?