Writing letters

I did something a little unusual the weekend before last. I wrote a letter by hand and then actually posted it. I don’t often do that any more and I like sitting down and spending time writing something by hand for someone else. The tricky bit, as it happened, was remembering to post the bugger. It was another 6 days before I remembered to buy stamps and pop it in a letter box. Never mind my organisational failures, however, that actually highlights another thing I like about creating and sending physical things to people – they each have their own idiosyncratic journey through space and time.

I am well practiced in the art of conversational writing to people – I have been composing and sending rambly emails for years; I kept a personal journal for ages that I occasionally still add to and of course I write this blog. My tone is generally chatty and even when I am the only person carrying the conversation, I no longer find this uncomfortable. As long as I’m sure the other person won’t feel overwhelmed by a long rambly message it is all fine by me.

Unlike email or having a conversation via social media though, letter writing and sending may require a consideration of when the other person is likely to recieve the letter. You cannot assume it will be instantaneous. Will, for example, it arrive after you have already seen them and shared all the news you spent time carefully writing about it a letter? Or will a letter share a snapshot of what is in your mind at writing, only to sit at the bottom of a handbag for 6 days before finally being posted, only to miss the Saturday post, hence have to wait until Monday’s collection and not arrive until Tuesday a full 9 days after originally being written? (Not accounting for any delays or failures in the post system.)

There again, another thing to consider about letter sending. There seems to be some fragility of the connection, an unusually contingent quality to this mode of communication. What if the letter is lost and never seen again? I would very rarely make a copy of a personal letter before sending it. Those words are, quite literally, gone forever once I’ve committed my letter to the postal system. I won’t have an electronic copy I can go back over to remind myself of what I’ve written. They are cast away into the world, no longer my property in any sense. If they never find their destination, what then? Nothing can be done.

Hand written letters seem to be strangely fleeting entities for the writer, yet somehow more substantial and tangible than an electronic communication for the recipient. I think one of the nicest things about sending a letter is the anticipation that it will arrive, physically, on someone’s doormat and they will be able to pick it up, experience it physically and read it. I love sending postcards and am prone to sending ones (from my unreasonably large collection) from home, with no particular reason except a whim of mine. To make a physical connection with someone. I think that is reason enough.

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