Remember when people sent actual letters? On paper? They had to know how to craft sentences and piece them together in aesthetically pleasing ways. They spent all day–hell, maybe all week–stitching together their thoughts because they had to make them good. Whatever they were going to say was going to take days or even weeks to arrive at its intended target’s doorstop, and the reader would’ve been looking forward to these thoughts for a long time, and you did not want to disappoint.
And besides that, after everyone died, the letters would remain unless they were lost to fire or flood or ritual sacrifice of some kind. Even the literature of dead writers who have their works published into the annals of our history end up with said works (on which they toiled away for years and years) still end up in anthologies next to letters they wrote during their lives. They were that important, that sacred.
Letters allowed a writer to say things without interruption. The writer could craft an entire story of thoughts and feelings and summary without someone interjecting or questioning, without expecting an immediate response at all. The writer could purge her soul, thoughts, stream of consciousness onto the blessed purity of the page, knowing there would be a reprieve, a delay in response resolution. Sometimes that is all we crave, that space between the purge and the resolution.
And maybe that’s the real problem these days. When things can be sent so quickly and responses demanded just as immediately, the messages somewhat lose their meaning. Easy come, easy go. Because let’s face it, these days, no one takes the time to write letters. Everyone is in a hurry, everyone can have a thought and send it near-simultaneously to whomever they please. Just stepped in dogshit? You can tell the world about it via text or Tweet or Instagram or Facebook or Whatthefuckever. And it can all be deleted and lost in an instant. Denied. Delayed. Validated. Shunned. The options are endlessly maddening.
But, I have this friend. He has always known how much I like old things. He knew maybe I’d been born in the wrong decade, or maybe that I’d lived too many decades already. We used to go antiquing together, and talk about different time periods. Sometimes we’d go to museums and we’d just wander and stare, wander and stare, without really having to talk too much. It was like that. That kind of friendship.
And he’d bought a box of old things someone had no use for anymore. Then one day, he had no use for them, either. So he gave them to me. And in this box, were letters and letters and letters. All from the era of World War II.
“Maybe you could read them and write a story. I bet they’re really interesting,” he said.
“Did you know any of these people?”
“No. But look, don’t they just look like they’d be interesting?”
They do look interesting. But I haven’t opened any of them yet. Maybe I’m afraid I’ll be too envious of the simplicity of life before the internet. Maybe I’m afraid of the drop in my gut when I compare those letters to my own terse, unthought-out texts. Maybe I’ll be ashamed of the sloth Convenience has hammered me into. I used to have actual thoughts. I used to be able to write letters. I used to be able to sit, patiently, waiting for the thoughts and feelings to come. The ingredients for a good letter.
I used to write letters.