Friday, June 11, 2010

Bloggers - Are you my new pen pals?

I write a damn good letter.  I just have to put that out there.

Back in the day, I used to buy special stationery, chosen specifically for the intended recipient.   I would mull over the contents of the letter for days, finally writing AN OUTLINE (!!!) to guide me as I wrote, and man, did I write.  Page after page of carefully crafted prose, words upon words upon words.  Always made sure to include a small bit of humor, a few heartfelt anecdotes, and the luckiest recipients got hand-drawn illustrations in the margins - little cartoons of all that I'd gotten up to that week, or winding vines painted in watercolor.



Yes, I was a complete nerd. And I can imagine receiving one of these intensely crafted mini-novels might have been a little...overwhelming.

I had a friend scan & email me a letter this week - one she'd found in her archives, one that was vintage NilsenLife, actually, way before I even imagined a NilsenLife.  I'd photocopied pictures of me and a boyfriend, and mused at length about what the relationship meant (before digressing to discuss a recent trip to Paris, and plans for post-grad life as an English major.)

Got me thinking.

There really aren't any letters like this being written anymore.  At least, not by my peeps.  Not even by me.

You come across old books in a used book shop - entire books devoted to the correspondence between one dry old Victorian botanist and his mentor.   Sometimes I think about these sort of books as I fire off the 493rd email of the day - what if someone were to collect all the emails I send?  What if I become outrageously famous for.... I dunno, my chocolate chip cookies, say, and someday someone wants to piece together my Early Years.  Really?  All these million emails I send will serve to give someone a picture of who I was, way back in the early part of the century?

It's a little sobering.

I will say this:  I'm pretty wordy in my writing, even still.  In a society driven to shorten to 140 characters or less, I continue to get hung up trying to use my big words on Twitter.  I continue to send over-long emails asking a whole series of questions, and cover all manner of Big Ideas.  But instead of waiting anxiously to see if you got a return envelope in the mail that day - or the next, or the next - all you have to do is make the smallest 'click!' on the margin to check one of your many virtual inboxes.

In a way, it's instant gratification.  In a way, for those letter writers among us, something's been lost.  The craft of the letter - gone.

Maybe the blog is the new letter? 

********
I have more - much more - to say about this.  I might need to take you down memory lane tomorrow, to tell you all about the searing heart-on-sleeve letters my poor husband used to get in his mail cubby.

10 comments:

Cheryl said...

Oh! I want a Kirsten letter! With pictures! How fun!

Considering I have thank you notes - from X's party in March - still sitting here waiting to be sent, I think I'm a big fail at the letter writing thing.

Varda said...

Kirsten, Wow this post rings a timely bell for me! Going through my Mother's (and late Father's) things as I downsize her yet again, I have come upon box after box of saved correspondence. I actually liberated some contents from one box (she is NOT going to look in them) - old letters I had sent home from college and beyond. Boy, did I ever write long and heartfelt (and meandering and deeply embarrassing) letters. I love this gem from 17 year old me: "Listening to a lot of Phil Ochs right now - and I am feeling so sad, and mad at him for killing himself." I just had to laugh out loud and try to remember being that young and earnest.

I totally agree that blogging is the substitute for the letter writing impulse. What an awesome insight.

p.s. - (see I write P.S.es to comments, just like in letters) thanks for listing me in your blog roll. You know you are my people, too.

Dana @ Bungalow'56 said...

I love receiving letters, but alas they do not come. The family letter sent at Christmas from friends seems to be dwindling too. Everyone is up to date, what with facebook and email, think people almost feel the letter would be out of date by the time it arrived. But i still love receiving them.
Dana

Aging Mommy said...

Letter writing is indeed a lost art. I was never as prolific as you appear to have been but I used to love writing letters. I agree, email, skype, texting, FB twitter have all served to eliminate it.

I read recently about a local scheme whereby children unite with a penpal in a home for the elderly. A lot of these people are not computer literate so getting a letter every week from a child brightens their world. I think it is a lovely scheme. I would like my daughter to do something like that when she is old enough

prashant said...

With pictures! How fun!
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dutchmuse said...

they there chica,

i always loved your letters and have kept many of them! i just need to figure out where i put them, but indeed they were always amazing. i still remember how you once wrote that we were star-crossed lovers. bummer we still are. what's up with us?

love,
your star-crossed amiga

p.s. how about a doodle on your blog? just a thought! for old time's sake :-)

hezro said...

I was also a prolific letter writer...it might have something to do with the fact that I grew up overseas. Remember sending your pen pals school pictures and laboring on exactly the right things to say on the back?! The other day I found some pictures that I'd sent to a friend (and asked her to return, which she apparently did - sweet friend) and I had to laugh at the things I wrote. I was very negative about every picture of myself. Of course, my thirty-five year old self notes that it seems rather transparent to degrade how I looked but then go to all the effort of mailing it to that person and asking her to return it!! And for the record, if I knew then what I know now, I would NOT have had a single negative thing to say about those pictures. :)

Varda said...

Still thinking about this post, and wanted to add that the other way bloggers are like pen pals is the whole "friends from far away" aspect to it. I now have mutual reader relationships with wonderful women in California, Texas, Baltimore (ahem), France, England, South Africa, Turkey, and I don't even know where all else. I feel like if I ever start traveling again (boy, do I miss travel) I will now have friends all over the world to see, and how cool is that?

diane said...

i read an article in O magazine by an author shares a similar kind of woe about folks using kindles--and how the electronic books just don't cut it--particularly can't compete against the history of a dog-earred, musty smelling, notes on the side of the text books that even if they aren't collectible books--are cherished treasures. he's got a point.

Keda said...

how wonderful! I slightly missed the letter writing era, although my mom has every letter to Santa Claus and TV character I ever wrote.

Much the same as you though, I twitter, but find it exasperating. I never play the game 'describe me in one word or one sentence' because anyone who thinks i can sum them up in a word or sentence thinks way to little of themselves. Anyone who thinks they can sum ME up in one word or sentence does not know me well enough to try.

I am a speacher, a paragrapher and most people never listen to everything I have to say or explain. But that's ok. Talking, writing, or being in anyway linguistical is what makes me tic. It's not about them. It's about me.

And I am glad to know that someone else out there 'suffers' from the same hobby.

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