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.