In this time of email and texting, we forget the power and gravitas of the humble, hand-written letter. It used to take time to send and receive a mail. For that reason, a bit more effort was involved in the crafting of letter. Letters, the ancestor to that speedier youth email, still had a light, conversational tone. Some letters would be drafted and then rewritten, but more often than not, a letter was written out and then mailed. The delete key was unavailable. What you wrote took you down the page. The causal speaking through words to a specific reader — an audience — gave writing a singular focus.
When composing formal types of writing, such as the essay, story, or poem, the author takes the time to contrive the stories and images or adds a great deal of logic to a formal argument. Like the continental railroad, grammar is perfectly laid down, form hammered into place, thoughts transverse logically down the page. In contrast, a letter allows the writer to meander, wander, and tangent, driving the back roads of subject to subject. And in contrast to the journal or memoir, there is a definite audience for the writer. The person receiving the letter provides you with a context. Your tone writing, the words you choose, the anecdotes selected for your friend would be one way, for your parents another, and yet a fan mail to a famous person another way.
In my life, letter writing has taken on a special place. After I met a Japanese girl at a Neuschwanstein Castle in Bavaria, she and I became pen pals. Each month I would anticipate the arrival of a letter. I’d walk out to the mailbox, peek inside, longing to see a letter. Then when it arrived, there was such joy in touching the paper with the floral pattern. I’d observe the twirl of her elegant handwriting, looking over each word. Soon, I would dash off a reply. Then the whole process would continue again and I would patiently have to wait for the next letter. Eight years passed in this way until we met again. Then we fell in love and married.
Never underestimate the power of the written word and especially the importance of the hand written letter.
Try this just for fun: write a letter to an eminent human. What would you tell someone, like Alexander the Great, Cleopatra, Shakespeare, Einstein, Marilyn Monroe, or Gandhi about your day or life? Feel free to write someone who is alive and send the letter. Who knows, but maybe Michael Jordan, Malala Yousafzai, Mick Jagger, Larry King, Oprah Winfrey, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Barack Obama, or Nicki Minaj will write back to you. Feel free to select anyone you like, be it a long-lost teacher or coach, a relative or parent. People love to receive letters and especially in this time of email and zipping social media, a letter offers a special amiability.