I haven’t taken the time to go back and do an actual tally, but take my word for it ... we’ve been getting more than the normal number of letters to the editor lately. For the past couple months, I think.
Maybe it’s an effect of people sheltering in place ... maybe there’s the little extra time one needs to contemplate and frame and compose a letter (wouldn’t explain those that are pretty plainly dashed off in the heat of a moment). Maybe it’s because we’re at the conjuncture of so many issues.
I don’t know, but I like it.
A dozen or more years ago, as social media was still developing, email was the big thing. I loved it and hated it -- it meant a massive reduction in letters.
(Interrupting here for a note to young people: A “letter” was something you wrote to communicate with someone. Let’s say you went to summer camp ... at some point, you might want to let your dad and mom know that you were safe, the alligators hadn’t gotten you yet, you made a friend or two, the food was great. You would take a piece of paper and use a pen or pencil to write those things down. You might have even used “cursive,” which is a flowing, loopy sort of writing that is faster than printing. You might have sent love letters to someone you admired. Or you might have written to some friend you went to school with. Printing or writing on paper, mailed in an envelope with a postage stamp. A letter.)
Being a writer and an editor and someone who likes to stay in touch with relatives and friends, email was a kick in the shins. All of a sudden, we weren’t writing letters much. We sent a lot of email notes. There’s a difference between a letter and a note.
It also struck me: what are we leaving behind for history sake? Emails might have stayed in your computer until your computer crashed and you lost everything (which sure happened a lot back then). But emails were just notes. They didn’t describe the life of our times.
But here’s where I meant to be going, and without being funny: we all ought to take a little time, now and then, to write someone a real letter. Write like your mom wrote, or your grandmother. Tell about what is happening in your household, write about what you’ve heard from loved ones. Write about your aspirations, and if you’re melancholy, write a little about that, too. Tell a funny story. Describe something you saw or repeat some juicy gossip.
I’ve got a great example. My old dad recently died. We went back to clean up stuff and sorted through tons of the things he never would throw away. Among them were boxes that contained old letters. In that collection, are all sorts of letters he received from people ... most during WWII. Old friends at home, new friends who’d shipped out, girl friends (yikes, my dad had girlfriends). And a special bunch of letters, bundled together with string: the letters that his mom, my grandma, wrote to him every Sunday from the farm in southeast Nebraska.
What’s a farm woman in 1944 write about? The weather first of all. Nothing is more crucial to a dryland farm and they had just wrapped up several years of dust and drought. Then she’d write about what she knew about his brothers -- one was also in the Navy, aboard a ship most of the time; one was in the Merchant Marines; the other was still a kid back on the farm.
She wrote about church and family. And she wrote about what she was doing on the farm. Where there had been six of them doing farm work, now there were three. Grandma filled in – she helped shock corn, she drove a team and cut alfalfa, she helped put up fence ... she wrote a whole page about how she sold some of her geese that year and netted $99 ... a small fortune for them.
I understand my family a lot better now. I wish I had read these letters while they were all still alive.
I’m just advocating for letter writing. Write to someone you love, or hate, or want to argue with. Write to the editor. Leave a record behind for someone to find. Write about your times to help people in the future understand how things were.
How do you write about your times? You just start writing like you were having a conversation with someone ...
(Interrupting here for a note to us all... there used to be this thing we did called a “conversation” ...)
Ugh: I love this one:
-- “Out of all the inventions in the past 100 years, the most remarkable would be the dry erase board.”