I love Proper Letters. On stationery, whether it’s plain, stolen from an hotel, or Sanrio, leaking kitties and wabbits in its wake, trawling glitter irritatingly from the first pull-apart of the envelope.
I love them. I love to receive them. I love to write them. But…I suck at sending them. I’m in the middle of a letter to a dear friend. We text, Whatsapp, email aplenty, but she went to a festival about which I wanted to hear and so I said, hey, write me a letter. She did. It’s fantastic. Full of the details and observations and feelings that get left out of emails all too often; coherent, instead of in little blocks of text or tweet which give you a fraction of the story, but never a beginning, middle and end.
Ten days ago I started a reply to her. Actually, I started one before that, but I scrapped it because I suddenly realised it was utterly illegible. This is a slight problem with being me, and, whilst having to force myself to have cause to pick up a pen, lack of practice with a writing implement is not the problem: I have always had awful, awfully scrawly handwriting. I quite like it, but it’s not exactly useful to others. Anyway, this reply. I got so far in the letter-writing protocol, replying to her letter, discussing minutiae, and then I went to get to my news, my story, the thing I was writing a letter for…and then I thought, eh, but I’ve got that interview tomorrow, so I’ll wait and then I’ll write about that. And then I went to that interview, mentioned in an earlier blog post, and thought, hey, I’ll wait until I hear back, and then I can write again and then it’ll be much more interesting, and it’ll be a letter I need to write.
And that’s true.
But here’s the thing. The letter I would’ve written instead of putting it off assuming I’d be more newsworthy tomorrow would also have been a letter I needed to write. The secret to physical letters is that it’s impossible to write a boring one, or a bad one. You can try, even, but it’ll still have a quirk, a sense of you, some kind of intrinsic value inside it. Over the years and years of receiving letters from my grandmothers, both of whom were great believers in written communication, I learnt that even the smallest comment on, say, what biscuits were in the tin, or how the council flowers were going outside could be amusing, enjoyable, or just worth hearing. I was never sad to receive any of those letters, because of what they were in themselves.
I did Postcrossing for a while, and found it greatly enjoyable – it is a wonderful thing, truly, to get post from strangers thus – but postcards different from letters, and there was always something else I hoped for, but didn’t get. Postcards are usually about themselves. About the picture on the front, the place they were bought or sent from. I love and appreciate all postcards, but a letter…that has to make a different effort. That’s about the person writing it, that’s the starting point, not something or somewhere.
The hardest thing with letters is that they don’t just arrive immediately. They don’t drop onto the mat in the blink of an eye, and you can’t get a reply that night, either. But that cane be nice, too. Sometimes you want to talk, and then breathe, and go and do something else for the evening, think about other things. Letters can take things off your mind for a while – not necessarily bad ones, just the jumble of stuff you keep there in case you need to relate it, or all the things you’ve meaning to tell someone, hopefully the person you’ve written the letter to, at length.
I suppose the point in here is that we should write the letter. Finish the letter. Post the letter. Always send the letter. Don’t wait to finish the letter. Just write another one.
One of my grandmothers, the one that’s no longer with me, wrote letters for everything, to everyone. For almost no reason, for all the possible reasons, from birthdays to Tuesdays, to saw-this-and-thought-of-you, she’d write aplenty. She never waited to send the letter. For her, post was still magical: although she missed being able to post a letter to London in the morning and have it arrive with the evening post, she still found it quite something that she could write to Cardiff on Tuesday and I’d be reading it by Wednesday. I wished I’d written to her more than I did, now. But I always waited to send the letter, always hoped it’d be more interesting if I just wrote another page tomorrow. I have stacks of post from her, accrued over the years. I’d have a lot less if she hadn’t bothered, if she’d thought she should wait. I wouldn’t have the little things. Those little things, those records of the people she met, the thoughts she had, those survive her, and matter to me.
Don’t wait to send the letter. Just write another one.