The Singular Art of Letter Writing

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Putting an actual pen to paper and communicating your feelings with complete words, sentences, even paragraphs – imagine the possibilities.

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My dear fellow Singularians,

I’m peeved which compels me to share.

Real books – with covers and pages you turn? Newspapers – the ones you pick up from your front step in your pajamas? Letters – written by hand with complete, beautiful words that touch our souls? All are going the way of fish forks and white gloves. Today love and friendship is expressed through tweets, hashtags, Facebook comments and abbreviations that could confound a CIA code cracker.

I am deeply disturbed at how we’ve lost the ability to express ourselves in complete sentences. We’ve forgotten the satisfaction of writing a well-turned phrase and in the process, created distance.

If you agree, read on. If you disagree, please – read on.

Fräulein Felice! I answer one of your letters, then lie in bed in apparent calm, but my heart beats through my entire body and is conscious only of you. I belong to you and that is not strong enough.

This is an excerpt of a letter written by Franz Kafka to the love of his life, his fiancée, Felice Bauer, with whom he tragically parted when he was diagnosed with tuberculosis. This particular letter, one of many, was written on November 11, 1912.

Flash forward 50 years and translate in digital-speak: URMG4EVA, Franz (“You are my girl forever” for those who don’t read “text” and think that “HAY” is something you feed horses rather than “How are You?”)

Sure, you could argue it’s clean and simple, no annoying adjectives, no punctuation … no words. In our attention deficit digital world the deal is to shorten, which is fine if you’re asking your pal to pick you up at the airport at 3 p.m. But what about expressing human emotion? Memories? Anecdotes? Can these precious moments in life be reduced to a few letters or adjectives beyond: “really!” “awesome,” and “totally”?

I propose we bring back letter writing. We put effort into developing our language of feeling. We restore creativity to our missives to tell an old friend how we remember them, a lover how we miss them, a relative how we treasure them.

Letters open windows, and not the kind sold by Microsoft. This is the stuff you put in that shoe box for safe keeping; the stuff, battered and yellowed, that you take out during the joys and the hard times; and what you grab when the house catches fire because they are a beautiful history of your life and those who shared it with you.

It’s true that digital communication can go viral in an instant. But letters, written in our own hand, can’t be captured in a tweet any more than emotions can be captured in a single emoticon – or those written by pen pals that have lasted through marriages, births, wars … until death.

Let’s look at these two friends who captured media attention in 2013.

Audrey Sims of Australia, 83, and her pen pal Norma Frati, 87, of Texas have written more than 3,000 letters to one another since 1939. Over the course of 74 years, their letters chronicled their lives, the wars, and their friendship. Several years ago, the two lifelong pals met for the first time at the Corpus Christi International Airport. When asked by a reporter how she felt about the meeting, Frati, tears rolling, said, “A little overwhelmed.”

And lastly, there is charm. The following letter was sent by an 8-year-old boy to an embattled President Nixon who as a respite read it to his staff:

July 2, 1973

Dear President Nixon,

I heard you were sick with pneumonia.  I just got out of the hospital yesterday with pneumonia and I hope you did not catch it from me. Now you be a good boy and eat your vegetable like I had too!! If you take your medicine and your shots, you’ll be out in 8 days like I was.

Love,

 John W. James

I wonder what will be the legacy of the digital letter-writing age? Will audiences line up to see SWAKU911, perhaps a new Adam Sandler film? Will generations to come download the “Collected Tweets of Trump” on to their e-reader?  Future literary and historical archivists will need to hack through hard drives and smartphones to document the lives of their subjects with authenticity. Then, who among us has saved all that in a ribboned box?  

Will this generation be the last to write letters crafted by hand with writing that carries emotions rather than emoticons?

Will the true stuff of life – passion – be lost to us as well? 

Perhaps my Singularians, the next time you’re sitting in Starbucks, give it a try. Write an old friend. I promise, you will feel the joy and the sounds of scratching pen onto paper … and the beauty of choosing intimacy over expediency. 

Copyright © Marnie Macauley / 2018 Singular Communications, LLC.

Marnie MacauleyAdvice guru Marnie Winston-Macauley — therapist, author, speaker — has been a radio, TV, and syndicated advice columnist and counselor for over 20 years. Witty, wise and totally irreverent with a self-professed loathing for psychobabble, she’s written over 20 books and calendars, along with  hundreds of relationship columns and features for prominent publications.  She has her MS degree from the Columbia University School of Social Work.  In media, her work has garnered her Emmy and Writer’s Guild Best Writing nominations. She is widowed and now living single. For personal advice, you can also find Marnie Macauley on Liveperson.com or on Presto Experts. She invites you to join her on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. 

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