Thursday, August 11, 2011

On John Simon's Obituary for the Art of Letter Writing

I just read John Simon's Requiem for the Longhand Missive, and though I would like to respond to him by personal letter, I'm doing it by blog post. I would do it by hand, but his postal address is not posted on his blog page, and if I were to write a handwritten letter, I wouldn't be able to share his post (and my response) with you.

Before the invention of bloggery, and before I learned to type (in my mid 20s), I wrote lots and lots of letters. And I got lots of letters. I had close friendships conducted in good part by transcontinental letter, and I have many of those letters still. After I learned to type, and when I worked in an office that had a typewriter in it, I typed lots of letters. I actually like the physical act of typing--particularly on a typewriter, so, being a child of the automated age, I can be emotionally connected when I type. I can also be emotionally connected when writing on a computer. I guess I just like the act of writing.

But there's something different about handwriting. There's something about having a pen connect to paper (I always write with a fountain pen--other pens just don't do it for me) that feels more honest. Less calculated. Once I make a mistake, or formulate a sentence incorrectly, I'm stuck. I have to wangle my way out of it in order not to botch the readability of the whole letter. I have to look up words before I set them down on paper, rather than correcting them afterwords. (Oy, after words--will the puns never stop?)

I can type very fast. Almost as fast as I can speak. I have to slow down when I write a letter by hand. Sometimes, when I'm writing a letter by hand (which happens only rarely these days, and almost never at length) I forget the direction of my train of thought. I have to make sure I'm thinking at the same speed I'm writing, which is difficult to do when I am so used to doing everything at lightening speed. Walking to a destination a mile away takes 20 minutes, and driving takes less than 5. The walk is certainly a more all-encompassing experience than the drive. The journey is often more meaningful than the destination. Sometimes we do the journey just for the sake of the journey.

So these days my handwriting is reserved for taking notes, drafting things that I'm writing, like program notes, reviews, and the occasional blog post. I also write really personal stuff (like journal-appropriate stuff that I don't want to share, but need to write down so it doesn't fade from memory) by hand.

Now it's time to take a walk.

1 comment:

Michael Leddy said...

I think John Simon is lucky to have you as a reader.