reclaiming a neglected art

Carl Larsson

Back before I knew about blogs I used to send a regular letter to a group of friends I called the "Communist Ladies' Aid Society."   No one ever wrote back, but I had a great time sharing my thoughts about books, movies, faith, life in general.   You can imagine my delight at discovering the world of blogging. 

But I do miss the old days of the "C.L.A.S."   There's something special about handwritten letters and the mailbox.

Rumor has it that the great Henry James had over a thousand correspondents and wrote some 15,000 letters in his lifetime.   The man must have never left his desk at all.  But oh, the thought of all those words, all that paper, all that makes me a little giddy.  

Nicholas Carr, in his great book, The Shallows - What the Internet is Doing to our Brains, offers this exchange between correspondents:

"Koselitz wrote in a letter, noting that, in his own work, "my thoughts in music and language often depend on the quality of pen and paper." 

"You are right, " Nietzche replied.  "Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts."

I have found this true in my own writing.  While I think quickly at the keyboard, something about the act of handwriting deepens my thought, slows me down.   The pen and paper lends itself more to the idea of a long conversation rather than quick and mindless chatter. 

T.S. Eliot, speaking in a time before the computer, said:

"Composing on the typewriter, I find that I am sloughing off all my long sentences which I used to dote upon.   Short, staccato, like modern French prose.  The typewriter makes for lucidity, but I am not sure it encourages subtlety."  (The Shallows)

Ah, subtlety, that nearly forgotten virtue.   It's rather an intriguing thought, isn't it?  That something as simple as quieting down enough to put pen to paper could change our communication?

But Carr points out that it may be a challenge:

"People who write on a computer are often at a loss when they have to write by hand...their ability to "translate thoughts into cursive writing" diminishes...There is mounting evidence that the ability to write in cursive script is disappearing altogether from our culture."

That makes me sad!

To my delight, I have a stack of letters to respond to and I am sitting down with the first of them this very day.  I will write In Cursive! 

This year I want to reclaim this neglected art and celebrate letter writing in an intentional way.  Perhaps there needs to be a rebirth of the Communist Ladies' Aid Society (although lack of humor being what it is on the internet, perhaps it needs to be renamed the "Pen and Paper Society") ?   On Fridays I'll be sharing bits of published letters, sharing some of the beauty that arrives in my postal box, encouraging as much slow, old fashioned, thoughtful and subtle conversation between people as I can.

Today I leave you with a thought on this important act from Joel Chandler Harris.  Perhaps it will inspire you to sit with your own pen and paper:

 “We usually say more in a letter than we do in conversation, the reason being that, in a letter, we feel that we are shielded from the indifference or enthusiasm which our remarks may meet with or arouse.  We commit our thoughts, as it were, to the winds.  Whereas, in conversation, we are constantly watching or noting the effect of what we are saying, and , when the relations are intimate, we shrink from being taken too seriously on one hand, and on the other, not seriously enough.”

Commit your thoughts to paper and be a revolutionary!



(Founder)  Communist Ladies' Aid Society