Two weeks ago today I had a most graceful moment with a flight of metal steps. The result is that I’ve been stuck at home in an enormous air cast ever since. No work, minimal time on my feet. I thought I’d be so much better with my time at home, but really I’ve done so very little. Probably because I can’t get around very well, but honestly. I’ve watched so much TV. So much. And I’ve read a few books. I thought I’d write more, but I spent a lot of time thinking about writing, not actually writing. And I realized how I first started writing. It was that form of communication, long since set aside. Letter writing. I had a pen pal. And then I remembered one of my favorite poems.
As a little girl I spent summers in the Adirondacks. Because I spent so much time there, I made friends with some kids that lived there year round. But it started with one girl. She was funny and energetic and had long, thick blond hair. I thought she was the best thing ever (she still is). I don’t remember if it was that first summer, or some summer after, but we began writing letters. My mom took me to the card store and let me pick out two packs of stationery, just for my letters, not anyone else’s. It was hot pink, I think, sort of in the Lisa Frank style. Who knows, it very well may have been Lisa Frank stationery, which would have made it that much more exciting. And we wrote letters for years. Even when we became teenage aliens and our parents had to limit our phone time to monthly calls because of long distance charges, we still wrote letters. At some point they petered out, but we still manage to keep in touch, mostly due to Facebook. But part of me wishes we still wrote letters.
There is something about a letter that is magical. The anticipation, the surprise, the unknown. And the contents of letters, this language that we use to convey emotion and thoughts and desires. Several years ago I got to meet my grandparents as young loves and sweethearts through their letters. As the last of 13 grandchildren, my grandparents were already in their later years when I spent the most time with them. I have wonderful memories, but they weren’t the same grandparents my cousins had. Meeting them at a young age through letters was heart warming and heart breaking at the same time. It gave me a whole knew frame for who they were. And I wonder, if the letters to my childhood friend in the Adirondacks survived time and moving and life, what would they reveal about us?
Even with email, and texts, and social networks, I’m still terrible about keeping in touch with people who aren’t a part of my daily life. I am guilty of not making the time. I have entire conversations with people in my mind as I wind down at the end of the day. But I can’t tell you the last time those thoughts reached the person they were meant for. Perhaps I should take out a pen and some paper when that happens. Would it be strange to start sending letters again in this digital time? Maybe if I start writing letters again, I’ll be moved to really write again. Maybe not though. But it can’t hurt to try.
If you’re interested, find a copy of Carolyn Kizer’s The Way We Write Letters. “But don’t go home tomorrow. Write me instead from the meadow. Turn on the poem & the light.”