Why Blog?

May 28, 2010

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.

  1. Reply

    Whew, I am glad that you explained that–who knew?

  2. Reply

    I, too, miss the days of physical letter-writing. I have a box tucked away with the letters my older brother sent me during the years we were apart before email, about ten years’ worth. It was the only way to communicate, and we loved it. We were always sending letters back and forth over the 550 miles and sharing our lives. With tyhe advent of email, the additions to the box came to an end. I still regret not printing out and saving the emails…

    On the plus side, we still speak to each other in letter-writing-speak: we often have disjointed conversations, answering a question that was asked six months ago, with no preamble. Yet we both understand which question the answer is for!

  3. Reply

    Donna, I’m laughing. I don’t know if you were being sarcastic (in a good way) or just exhausted, either way it struck me as very funny. Thanks for reading, and for writing in!

  4. Reply

    Erika, despite losing the letter writing aspect of your connection with your brother I’m glad that you have connection. I find that I’m not good with telephone conversations and when people stop writing me letters I fall out of touch. Email helped that a bit, but not in any satisfying way. I have boxes and boxes (all organized of course) of letters I wrote to everyone, from friends I met in summer camp and stayed in contact with to exboyfriends. Letters from my mentors are particularly valued. (One of them encouraged me to keep copies of my letters so from high school on I also have those letters and have a “complete” conversation with all these folks.

    I even started writing a book on letterwriting and then bam—email eroded it so quickly. But I am glad I have all those letters.

    Oh, and I have boxes and boxes of mail art too! (And that’s not counting the boxes and boxes I shipped away to various people for their archives!)

    No wonder the postal service is hurting, my stamp purchases are way down!

  5. Reply

    Melly, I’m glad you’re still writing letters and painting them and having fun with it. (I hope I get one someday!). I’m so glad you had a great time with your journaling class! And thanks for the link. I’m hopeful we’ll get some more gouache enthusiasts!!!

    • carol
    • May 28, 2010

    Beautiful post, as literate and visual as anything you do with paint and paper. I do wonder what will happen to the artists who rely on ephermera from the past to create their pages – are we leaving any of our own, or using up what was left for us?

  6. Reply

    Thanks for writing in Carol. You raise a very interesting point—what ephemera are we leaving? I’ve done some interesting things with computer mother boards in the past, but much less seems to generated and saved.

    I think too there is a personal quality about papers that are handwritten and touched so intimately by hands, that even now when we do generate a paper trail, much of that is missing.

    It will be interesting to see what comes (of course we won’t get to really see the great “revival” because we’ll be gone then).

    Make some ephemera today, I say!

    • Caroline
    • May 28, 2010

    The ephemera of our journals is not quite like our letters. I have some from long ago and just to look at the handwriting (another fading art) and the stamps brings back memories and questions. I still write letters from time to time – I just have to do it.

  7. Reply

    I still LOVE getting physical mail. In fact, our dog (a nine month old Corgi with a bark that burst people’s eardrums) signals the arrival of our mail every morning. And, I still run out to get whatever it might be, although increasingly it is usually junk mail or bills. I may have to start sending letters to people, then perhaps I’ll receive some in return!

  8. Reply

    A friend is cleaning out her condo and she just sent me a 5 page single-spaced *typed* letter that I sent her in 1985 when she lived in Venezuela. She had wanted me to keep informing her of what she was missing in our city.

    It was so fun and interesting to read my 1985 voice and situation! And having my own typed letter meant that it goes directly into this month’s journal–a blast from the past!

    I LOVE bloggers who update regularly and often. I can read daily or catch up whenever I’m back from being off the internet (as I am this minute).

    Keep writing!! About everything!

  9. Reply

    Caroline, I’m sorry, you misunderstood my comment about ephemera to Carol—it was all about letters as ephemera. (Though journals are too as you point out). There is something very special about holding handwritten letters for me. Shuffling through the pages. I’d assumed she meant she was using letters to add to her artwork and journal work. But maybe I misunderstood her.

    Anyway, I think letters are very special because they are a reaching out over time and space and connecting. And when they are hand written and covered with lovely stamps (my father traveled a lot and always wrote and I became very interested in postage stamps because of that!) it all seems like holding a little bit of something very special indeed.

    I’m so glad that you keep up the practice. I know my letter writing spurts up every so often, but mostly it’s a handmade card and a note that is 3-panels of the card long, and no longer.

  10. Reply

    Jennifer—I’m so glad your corgi (lucky you to have a corgi—they are adorable, I hope you draw your dog!) lets you know the mail is there.

    Try the letter writing route,but just so you know, I write letters to people who only email me back—it doesn’t always work as we’d hope. But that doesn’t mean we can’t keep working at it!

  11. Reply

    Nita, what a great gift that friend sent back to you. (And I love typed letters too! Any letters. I think they are all better than email.) What a kick to have your 1985 voice!

  12. Reply

    Great post Roz. I’ve been struggling with my ‘reason to blog’, your idea adds another perspective. No more form letters because I don’t find the time to send out an annual holiday card. (Notice I didn’t say ‘can’t’. I could if I chose to.) Every day, every moment, is an opportunity to blog. It’s certainly more dynamic than a form letter. If anyone responds, they will certainly be more likely to receive a timely response.
    I particularly like the notion of being able to expand on larger ideas. That’s probably the biggest loss from the decline of letter writing. That problem is no more.
    My last thought is about privacy. If I’m willing to talk about something in a public space, lets say a bus, or a restaurant, then I think it would be quite alright to blog on the subject. Mentioning that I will be out of the country on such and such a date before I leave, perhaps not so wise. I might as well put a sign on my door: Please come in and take anything you would like. No one will be home for days. 😉

  13. Reply

    I enjoyed reading this post, particularly re: men and letter writing. Before email and online dating there was a dating section in our local freebie newspaper. I took a chance and sent in an ad. To respond to the ad the gentlemen(so to speak) had to send letters to the newspaper where they were batched and forwarded to me in a big thick manila envelope. Seeing their stories in their own handwriting was much more informative than any email could ever be.

    I had fun going on dates with a few of them and shortly after met my (now ex) husband the usual way, through a friend. But I’ll never forget the fun of reading those stacks of letters.

    P.S. I think of your husband whenever I make coffee because my favorite Peets’ coffee blend is called “Major Dickasons” which I shorten to Major Dick and have labeled my coffee jar accordingly. So every morning I see “Major Dick” and think of you and Dick.

  14. Reply

    Gwen, so glad you liked this post. But say it isn’t so, that you don’t love holiday letters. Read my post on holiday letters for a bit of a laugh

    (I found it with the new search engine I installed, she wrote beaming!)

    I agree with the privacy issues on blogging, twittering etc. I think people who let other people know when they are gone are taking a big risk. The people I know who have done that have all had people staying at their homes, either a spouse/significant other who also wasn’t traveling, or a pet sitter. So there was some protection—But I think that twitter and blogs should be on a couple day delay if one is going to talk about being gone without those protections! (An alarm system just isn’t good enough.)

    Thanks for writing in!

  15. Reply

    Jana I love it! I love that you got letters through the local paper for dates. I love it. I totally agree that seeing those letters you received and seeing them tell their stories in their own handwriting was more valuable than email—even if one isn’t a graphologist (sp?) there are things we can tell from handwriting.

    Do you still have those letters? I think they would make an interesting little book. With your answers, comments about dates you had—OR would be fun to use in some fictional way. I think you have a treasure trove in the making.
    (Obviously obscuring their real names.) Maybe next year’s fake journal? An alternate universe where you go on dates with these guys? Or meet them 10 years later and put in sketches of them and their new likes and dislikes.

    I’m just thrilled you wrote about this!

    And I think it’s fabulous that your coffee makes you think of Dick and me every morning!!! (Dick is quite the coffee drinker by the way—he has an espresso machine and is very fussy about the type of coffee he uses and what he does with the whole thing. Sadly it is all lost on me as I have never had a cup of coffee in my life—a sip once and I didn’t like it—too sweet a tooth. I actually wrote my first 30-minute script when I was taking film classes at Film in the Cities, about a woman who didn’t drink coffee, called “The Pepsi Generation.” I still smile when I think about it.

    Thank you for the walk down memory lane!

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