There is something exhilarating about receiving a letter. But can writing a letter provide just as much joy?
I get it – who has time to write letters? You’re on social media and email all the time. But can you be truly candid on Facebook?
Perhaps you journal or do morning pages? While they are useful writing practices, do they push you deep into the “now” or are you just vomiting on the page?
Decades ago, we used to write and receive letters all the time. We passed notes in class. We sent news of our travels home by mail. We had pen pals. We even fell in love by mail.
Traditional letters are personally created for the recipient, and bring us right smack into the present, as dull as that may be. Isn’t that where writers are supposed to begin? Where we are now? Writing what we know?
With regular letter writing, you must write the next chapter of your life, no matter how mundane. In the search for content, we start with what is in front of us. Changes in the weather. How cute the cat looks. Our secret feelings. What we have planned for our partner’s birthday. The book we read under the covers last night.
Within these humdrum details lies the essence of our lives. If we stop and look at the minutiae of our day, even the smallest human existence contains a wealth of magic.
I recently started writing to my aunt. She is unwell, can no longer talk on the phone and is unable to write back. Sending her letters was the best way I could show her support and love.
When I wrote the first letter, I prettied it up with clip-art. I told her how I felt about the start of spring, recounted childhood memories of her and reminded her of gifts she had given me that now fill my home. I told her the silly details of my life.
I started that letter believing my life was small. I finished the letter realising that despite my desperate need to feel like my life meant something, that it already did. While I was trying to make something of my life, my actual life was chugging along in the background, and I was blind to its abundance.
Then suddenly I had heaps to write about outside my letters too!
I started seeking ways to make my aunt’s letters more fun. I collected pretty cards. I added poems from a Roald Dahl book she gave me as a child. It was about squeezing as much into that little envelope as I could.
Then, to my surprise, I started receiving texts and gifts of gratitude from my aunt’s family. When my cousins sent loving texts to my mother on her birthday, I realised that I was not just sending letters, I was sending love. Like ripples on a pond, this love was expanding in all directions, and bouncing around on my loved ones.
The act of trying to enrich another’s life had not only brought me an awareness of the richness of my own life and a stream of great writing ideas, but it had enhanced the expression of love within my family.
Can you find one person that you love and can be open with, whose life would be enhanced by receiving letters from you? Make it your new writing practice to write a regular letter, and let’s see how much love you can fit into an envelope.
Think of it this way: if you cannot bring joy to one person in a letter, how can you ever hope to bring joy to millions with your other writing?
This article was published in the 2018 Autumn Issue of the New Zealand Author Magazine. I have posted it today as a Birthday Tribute to my wonderful aunt/godmother, who sadly passed away last Christmas. She is not forgotten. She is still very much loved.