Stephen Elliot over at The Rumpus got me thinking about letters again. He’s started a new subscription service called “Letters in the Mail” where for $5 a month, he’ll ask writers to write an actual letter on paper, and send it to the subscribers. It’s a cool idea, and although I haven’t signed up yet, I’m thinking about it.
But in the meantime, I’ve resolved to write more letters this year. I have a long one started to my oldest writing friend, the one for whom I’ve got a whole folder, down in the basement filing cabinet, stuffed with the letters we wrote one another. Our friendship was made through the mail, since we’ve never, in the 20 years we’ve known one another, lived in the same place. Somehow though, the quality of our email correspondence has never matched up to the quality of the letters we used to write one another. It could be because our lives have both changed, in many many ways, but I think, somehow, the medium is also involved.
The whole beginning of the letter to my friend Deb is an examination of how odd it is, after the immediacy of email, to write a letter I know she won’t see until sometime next week. I like the roominess of that. I like that there’s space in a letter to explore something that’s bothering you, or interesting you, or compelling you right now but without the expectation that someone is going to respond this afternoon. You’re not writing it to get a response, to get an immediate answer, but rather, trying to get a sense of the contours of the country, and then sending that impression to someone you love for safekeeping.
In my 20s, from a ferry travelling between France and Ireland, two friends and I put a note in the wine bottle we’d just emptied and threw it overboard. We made up a story about being taken hostage by pirates, and months later, we all got postcards from an Englishwoman, who found our bottle, and who hoped we’d secured our freedom by then. It was charming.
That’s how the mail seems these days. The internet used to feel like putting a message in a bottle, but the internet now is so busy and popular and full of traffic and Twitter and Blogs and noise that it no longer seems that way. The mail though. No one is sending things through the mail. Perhaps it’s picking up some lost cachet …
We’ll see how it goes. I have a short list of people to whom I plan to start writing letters again. The Post Office is in trouble, so maybe we should all start sending one another letters, and postcards again. Who doesn’t like to get real mail from an actual person?