Speaking Through Letters

Blogs are so different than books.  When you write a book, it may be several years between conception and reception.  The response to a blog ranges from hours to days, and I am grateful for the greater immediacy in the feedback.  There is even a community, however attenuated, that emerges.  I love that, too.  Even so, writing can be a lonely business.

When I write essays, it often feels like I am reaching into a large, open space that is almost devoid of human life.  And I find myself wishing there were someone real, someone specific, to receive and respond to my words.  When Franny or my friend, David, is around, I sometimes ask: “May I read this to you?”  I love reading to people, adults as well as children.

But, of course, most of the time there is no one around when I write and even if they were, I’d ask them to leave because I need the quiet and the privacy to marshal my thoughts.  To give room for images and feelings to turn themselves into words and thoughts, and to have those thoughts creep into consciousness.

There is one form of writing that brings together the intimacy of reading aloud and the privacy of a journal: letter writing.  It has been a long time since I’ve written letters — ever since email emerged — but I remember it.  I remember writing a letter to someone important, then sending it off, knowing that it would take two or three days to be received and, even if my friend or lover wrote back immediately, there would be another three days to bring their thoughts back to me.  That meant six days of anticipation and suspense, especially if I had confided something very personal.  Whole scenarios would play out in my mind.  The extended time heightened everything.

There is nothing like this intensity in the exchange of emails or texts — or, for that matter, in the essays I send out through my blog.  So I have been searching for a way back to those letters or at least, to the intimate experience they brought.  In my experimentation, I have discovered that writing letters, even to imaginary people, brings me closer.  And, if I have a real person I’m writing to — a grandchild or a close friend, for example — I’m almost there.

There are big topics I want to write about, like what it takes to be a man in our current society, how to live a moral life, and how to face old age, but I have grown tired of talking into the void that essays call forth.  So I have begun to experiment with “letters” that speak through my relationships with my children, grandchildren, brother, sister, and friends, and let me speak in a more personal voice.  Often it’s not solely or even precisely the persons I name in the letter—my brother, my son.  Rather the feeling of speaking to them allows me to speak to similar others—parents, children, siblings … you get the point.  I hope it works for you, too.

As you’ll soon see, the first letter, speaks to, and through, my wishes for my grandsons.  I want them to grow into good men.



8 thoughts on “Speaking Through Letters”

  1. Thank you for inspiring me to take the time to sit and write a personal “essay,” fold the paper, insert into an envelope, lick the edges, address and stamp, and proudly put it on my mailbox. The sense of a worthy ritual gives me hopeful anticipation of connection, a tradition mostly lost. Warms the heart to think of all the stories told and to be told.


  2. I agree with him… There is something about the physical act of putting a pen in your hand and transferring your thoughts and feelings onto the paper… Kind of like morning pages…. That pulls ideas, thoughts, feelings out of your head that writing an email just can’t convey but I have to admit what we lose in the anticipation of the response in a letter form from another person we gain in being able to continue our train of thought back and forth….. Does that make sense?

    We have definitely lost something very important with the advent of the new technology of email… Speed in communication is not always good… Well thought out responses sometimes get tossed aside with the quick responses emails provide….I think we have become more isolated instead of connected because it’s so easy to quickly jot out a response in a text or an email…

    I like his thoughts.. Thank you.. I’m still puzzling over my antagonistic view of MF continued use of the Church’s Latin and reference to Christianity… Personally I would rather hear spirituality instead of a dogma regardless of whether it’s Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, etc… I’ve written in MP about my attitude and no answers have come to me… Why am I against a superior being? That’s rhetorical I suppose…?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Being a person caught up in the period when letter writing was the norm and then switching to emails, I have mixed thoughts about the two processes. When corresponding with friends or family, I far prefer to use email. It is immediate and I do not have to worry about penmanship or getting phrases sorted while writing. I have to admit that I do tend to review and revise personal emails several times before sending them. On the other hand, I hate getting birthday cards or get well cards lifted from a commercial site. It feels as if the sender could not be bothered to go to a store, write a short personal comment and then put on a stamp and mail the letter. So mixed feelings here.
    In all cases, I appreciate your blogs whether they are personal or political. Writing well seems to have gone out of style, and, content aside, it is a pleasure to read your well written and thought out messages.


    1. I understand your ambivalence, Mitch. I taught myself to type when i was 16 and have depended on typing for all of my writing since then. I have loved email ever since it was required by a new organization we formed in the 1990’s. But i have always felt the calming influence of letters and pen and paper.

      As to the words I write, I try hard and you are very, very kind.


  4. Barry, since my daughter left for graduate school back east, I’ve picked up letter writing and send her one every week or two. It’s really been a delightful practice. I start journalling early in the morning, and then reflect on the intersection between what’s up for me and her life. Then I draft a letter, and then handwrite it out on stationary I bought for the purpose. As much as anything else, I enjoy this practice of thinking about her. And I enjoy the reflection and writing that has resulted for me. Enjoy.


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