Monday, February 16, 2009
A SHORT HISTORY OF A LETTER WRITER
Three times a week, I drive to the post office to pick up the mail. After I throw away the retail fliers and tuck the letters into my purse, I head back home or to a coffee shop to work some more. But wherever I land, the letters will be read first. In this day of email and Facebook, a letter is a gift I'm always eager to open.
Before I wrote fiction, I was a letter writer. The passion started when I was ten and received a letter from my great-grandmother. She became my first pen pal. A few months later my only friend on the base where we lived moved away. Cheryl was a couple of years older than me and her letters reflected the life of a girl entering high school. They were fascinating and funny. I guess my letters seemed skimpy next to her juicy accounts of her older sister's dating escapades. I was, after all, a sixth grader who saw the world from the seat of my three speed bicycle. What could I tell her that would compare to her new exciting life in Florida?
One day I received a letter from Cheryl that had about a dozen questions. She closed the letter by stating, "Now if you answer all the questions I've sent you, you'll have written a long interesting letter." Cheryl had taught me an important lesson in letter writing. A letter is a window into someone's world.(As a side note, Cheryl ended up in the first class of women to attend and graduate from the Navy Academy in Annapolis.)
My letter writing continued and since we moved a lot, my list of pen pals grew. In college my dad rationed my long distance phone calls to one every two weeks. This was years before cell phones and the Family and Friends plan. Many mornings I started off my day writing home.
I went through a letter writing dry spell after college and lost track of a few important friends. Years later when we moved to Houston, I picked up the habit again. By then I was a young mom, working as a self-employed(lousy) freelance interior decorator. Each morning I wrote letters for two hours. I reconnected with old friends and stayed in touch with more recent ones.
During this time period, I learned how letter writing can not only keep friendships alive, but the simple act could bring people to a more meaningful level. When I learned one of my friend's mother was dying, I wrote to her. I received a letter from her a week later, expressing how touched she was that I'd taken the time. Our letters continued. We visited each other, becoming closer friends. I'm convinced it was because of pen and paper.
Shortly after that, I began to write stories. The time I'd devoted to letter writing was spent developing characters and dreaming up plots. Eventually I got a computer and Internet service. There's no denying it, email has probably helped us stay in touch with each other more than any other device. We can do something and a moment later someone from around the world can know we just did it. The thought of that is amazing to someone, like me, who remembers using a six-cent postage stamp.
Still, I miss the romance of letter writing. The lingering moments when I'm trying to think of the next word rather than dashing off a quick hello via email. I've tried to keep some of that ritual in my life, but these days folks are more likely to get a short note from me than they are to receive a long letter. And I hate admitting this, but sometimes I've taken months(Okay, even a year, but that's because I misplaced it) to answer some of my reader mail. Believe me, that's no reflection on the letter. I never want answering to seem like a chore. So I wait for that right moment when my head is clear and my thoughts are focused on that person. When that happens, I sit in a comfortable chair with pen in hand and begin by writing that rare lovely word--Dear.
Posted by Kimberly at 7:11 AM