The evolution of a letter writer.
About two weeks ago I wrote, "Why Journal?" and it seems fitting in my current introspective, self-organizing aftermath of International Fake Journal Month, to also write about why I blog—in part so people can understand a little bit more about me.
Actually what I'm going to write about today is why I ENJOY blogging—I could post four or five times a day if I didn't watch myself, because I am always going on about stuff and because I'm a letter writer—and that's where it all started for me.
Ask any man I've ever loved (or loved mistakenly) and he will tell you how he was barraged with letters even during slight separations—as if he'd fallen into some pre-World War I England where posts arrived multiple times each day. I simply thought of something and I wrote it down, and I mailed it.
These weren't short notes, but multi-page treatises on topics like the use of toothpaste (frequency and brand selection) in the graduate dorm as relates to sexual attitudes (I can draw connections between just about anything); how the study and composition of poetry mattered in a Reagan world; why wolves and ravens told us something about city boards; or why space junk was always falling in Australia.
In a world where everything matters, everything is interesting. It might seem exhausting, but it wasn't to me; sadly it was to them.
It is perhaps significant that Dick is the only man I've ever loved who has received only notes and postcards from me. Since we started dating we have never had long separations—just continued cohabitation (notes left on the wall) with some brief trips apart (the postcards).
He did of course receive the masterful report on "the History of Root Beer." And he did point out that throughout my college and graduate school experience I never did a writing assignment "as assigned"—and perhaps he is right. I always found a way to write about what I wanted to write about anyway, and perhaps had just written about in a letter to a friend. So an assignment to "compose a sonnet" became a celebration of a professor's skill killing a bee in a classroom seminar (undergraduate); the experience of getting hit on by a chauvinist (in graduate school—chauvinists always think they are giving you a compliment by being patronizing) became another sonnet with an interesting little "will she or won't she" couplet at the end (she did, by the way, because, sometimes, as Woody Allen says, "We need the eggs"); writing about your favorite poet (undergraduate again), became an examination of lyrics by Loudon Wainwright III; and a critical study of "The Mysteries of Udolpho" (graduate school) simply had to include a bibliography on the then (18th century England) popular practice of building fake ruins (a bibliography that swelled, with annotations, to a greater length than the paper itself, and became a life-long passion).
I followed these efforts with an idiosyncratic argument for the emendation of a passage in Shakespeare which involved some interesting detective work sparked by an interest in a local murder, which in turn segued into the analysis of symbols in an obscure Flemish painting, which led me to the study of fakes in general—and that pretty much has kept me entertained, in one way or another (all legal) since then. (Including the writing of a screenplay about an aging art forger—inquiries welcome.)
This is what happens when you are born and raised as a third culture kid and relocated frequently in an age before cell phones and the internet (thank goodness—else I would probably be twittering and dying of apoplexy and have no documentation—and I love documentation). You write letters to old friends, new friends, to family, to past teachers. You want to explain all the stuff you're seeing because it's all so fascinating and interesting—it's just wondrous.
And that's the great thing about blogging. You can still write those "letters" but they reach people to the tenth power, and some might even write back and that's great. Is it impersonal? Nope, the people who really care about me (and who aren't worn out) read as much as they can. And if any of the blog readers get worn out by the volume they can take a breather. You don't even have to know—how perfect is that? No need for your friends to write letters begging off answering your latest because they have 10,000 dogs to spay, are concerned you are grading them for the number of typos in their missive, or they need the time to catch up on viewing past episodes of "Lost."
So the letter writer turned blogger can keep on writing. Without any postal costs. How fantastic and liberating is that? Dickens would have pissed himself!
Which leads me to another related issue: Is letter writing dead? Letter writing that involves discussion and exchange of ideas, not quick quips in an email format with the previous posts stringing along below to taunt you with their typos and malapropisms (I wrote a paper on those too—but bless Sheridan, whose work I adore—I ignored Sheridan and focused on the local politicians).
And were we better off having time to digest the contents of those envelopes which took some time to arrive and had a physicality (paper smell, human scent, ink odor, tactile quality, and even noise—from shuffling the pages)? Does immediate connection cause a loss of remembrance and yearning for other? Does immediate connection cause us to respond to all things in a harried fashion and miss the clear sharp jewels buried in the heap, coming from unlikely sources?
Don't get me wrong. I love technology, live by it, live with it. And I enjoy blogging. But I do miss those days when every afternoon 5 or 10 fat missives fell out of my mailbox (the physical one standing next to my house door). Storage problems of course are minimized now. I feel sad, however, that someday the current and next generations will be as vague on the nature and use of a "letter" as they are on vaccinations.