Friday, March 11, 2016

I'm Not a Writer. But, I Write.

Nobody writes anymore. We tap out 140 characters on Twitter. We post funny sayings and scatter birthday wishes around Facebook.  We scratch out a few lines in a thank you card or a text message. We don't really write, though.

Which is kind of odd when when you think about it. I don't know about you, but when I get an actual letter in the mail, I am as "giddy as a drunken man" to quote Mr. Dickens. I reschedule whatever I may have planned in order to locate a letter opener (yes, I still have one). If I can't find it immediately, any knife, pair of scissors or fingernail file will do. Carefully I'll slice open the envelope; gently remove the precious paper cargo as if it were a page from the Books of Kells; gingerly unfold the stationery with baited breath ready to absorb the contents. The subject matter is less important that the fact that this person just took valuable time out of their day to think about me and put words on paper.

I'm not talking about business letters, here. You get that, right? I talking writing of a personal nature. To family and friends and people you care about. I'm talking big sentiments with nouns and verbs and adjectives (no abbreviations allowed) that reach into the other person's mind if not their very soul. These kinds of letters don't have to be novels or even short stories. They can be a paragraph or a few pages. They should, however, be considered and contemplated. They should take some effort. It's okay to re-write a few bits here and there. If fact, consider that prerequisite to a good letter.

A long time ago I used to write letters. Lots of them if memory serves. Then I stopped. Don't know why. Inspiration got overshadowed by something less thrilling, perhaps. Time spent scribbling got shifted to time spent rehearsing. Not that either of those things are acceptable excuses, but whatever the reason(s) my letter writing became more, shall we say, sporadic. I only started writing letters again a few years ago. I picked up the keyboard to write letters to my daughter. [My previous posts address that little miracle.] My thinking was that if I could write her a letter on a special occasion here and there I would be able to subtlety sneak in some information about myself that she might find interesting. Maybe even useful. Or at least, she might get to know me better through my written words and not just my spoken ones. Honestly, I sometimes talk way to much and writing is a good filter. With any luck, I hope she has had a laugh or two while reading my little missives. She certainly has discovered that I have absolutely no regard for grammar or punctuation.

Should you choose to begin your letter writing adventure, start with letters to friends. Those are easy. Just start writing to a buddy to see how their doing. Crack a few jokes. Ask a few personal questions. Give them a couple of updates about your own life. I guarantee you will get an immediate response and, hopefully, a letter in return. Now, I am fully aware that some of you kinda do this already. At Christmastime. You know who you are. Imma let you slide even though you are cheating a Little bit.

The most elegant form of letter writing is, of course, the love letter. One needn't be a poet to write a good love letter. If the meaning is truthful and heartfelt, the person you are writing to will think it poetry. If sincere, the words will come. Just throw in a couple complements and some flower references and you are golden! (Spray a little perfume with some rose top notes on the envelope for good measure. Rose lingers. Viola!)

If you are not going to heed my advice and start writing letters, then at the very least -- start a blog.  Write something. Even if no one ever reads it. Write. Not all the time, just once in a while. Give yourself the  chance, even the permission, to be vulnerable, to spout off, to express yourself.

Here's the thing (pardon me while I step up on this soapbox for a minute), as I see it, our  society has developed a terrible avoidance to speaking from the heart. Oh, we can rattle off an uneducated or ignorant opinion faster that you say "Donald Trump's a racist asshole." But to share a real piece of our heart is much harder. We have come to think of anything even close to sentimentality as bad, uncool, silly, unbelievable. From movies to personal relationships, we shun the sentimental in favor of "being honest." Plain, blunt, often coarse talk has smothered our ability to cry at movies, our longing to sigh at songs, or our need to whisper in our lover's ear. But in order for a love letter (any letter, really) to be truly effective, the writer must let down their own guard. They must be emotionally available. A person who writes, must openly make themselves vulnerable to the person to whom they are writing. You must risk something of yourself to make the connection. No one can do that in a tweet a post or a meme.

There is also a very personal je ne sais quoi about signing your name to something. Especially, something other than a tax return or a credit card receipt in a restaurant. Even when I print out a letter written in Word, I will sign my name. With an actual pen. Your signature on a letter is the equivalent of a politician endorsing a commercial. It's you saying, "Yup, I wrote this and mean every word." This flies directly in the face of most social media that is hidden behind bogus screen names and false identities. There we hide our meanness behind anonymity. With letter writing we wave our heart around like a white flag hoping the person reading it will take up the order to parley.

I know a few people are real writers. I mean, pros. For reals. Gifted, creative friends who can expertly craft a movie script, weave together a story for book or magazine, invent a beautiful poem. I'm not suggesting that we all suddenly add another hyphen to our credentials and I would never insult my highly talented friends by comparing my own work to theirs. However, I do think there is value in the process of writing. You don't have to be a writer to write a letter. You just have to have something important or nice to say - to someone else.

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