In response to the photo-montage I posted about the Old Post Office in Clones, Catherine Love had some observations and interesting things to say. which set me thinking too, so I have decided to post the discourse as this blog. Feel free to join in!
Catherine wrote, ‘
You have also got me thinking about letters. What a revelation it is when we find an old letter, to ourselves or between the pages of a book belonging to ancestors? The presence of the human hand in the ink and the paper, the unique nature of the piece. Letters are revered in museums. We can say things in letters we are too shy to say face to face. After 25 years on a computer my once beautiful handwriting is shot, and people think I’m weird because I prefer email to phone or text, the quietness of it. But this does not have the tactile qualities of the letter, which is so much of its value. The letter is rarely seen.
Perhaps I should work on my handwriting.
Did you post about the experience of sending and receiving letters, and what was different about it..’
Yes Catherine – in a way, there are many things I am tuning to in the whole process, but I haven’t quite worked it all through yet.
I was resistant to using social media to promote the project, but after three or four months of getting little or no traction on it, I resorted to Facebook and then Twitter, before I was able to even identify people who might like to receive a letter. So there’s an irony: the digital ages undermines the letter…… but, for the project to work, I needed to go to social media to get some momentum on it.
What I notice is that when I sit to write a letter, I am mindful of the person who is to receive the letter – in that way, it is a sort of meditation or a way of being present with or to the other, even when I am not in their actual presence.
Another thing I am more aware of is the presence to what is going on with me – internally, and with an awareness to what is going on around me – so something happens which is also about tuning into the immediate environment and sense of ‘here and now’ of what is going on with me. I like this; it is a way of slowing down in the world – a world that I find fast and overwhelming. I have really valued this aspect as developing a sense of something I need for myself – to be that slow, intentional and ……well, gentle for a while. Isn’t the world too fast?
Handwriting is interesting. It is so personal and while there are clearly trends and characteristics which appear to be broadly related to geographical locations and the norms of how handwriting was taught, I also notice generational things – how my parents’ generation differs from my own and my children’s generation.
The process of writing by hand is also interesting – my hand will get ahead of my head……I can’t premeditate that and the writing that results is often different in its intensity and intimacy, and personal in a way that writing on the computer can’t be. Handwriting is an art form – personal and distinctive to each individual – it is personal and evolutionary: characteristics remain over time, but somethings change, because in general we write less than we used to, by hand.
Handwriting has a different impact on the hardwiring of the brain in childhood development – what does it mean then that children write less as we move into the digital age? What does it mean for the rest of us as we age, if we too write less by hand?
I wonder if handwriting will be the new hieroglyphics: do we struggle to read handwriting more now, because we see it so much less? Personally, I love to write with a fountain pen ( not a fancy one), but I love writing with a fountain pen. I like the sound and the feel of it.
I get complaints about my handwriting – many along the lines of, ‘ don’t get me wrong – it looks lovely……… but I just can’t read it.’
I recognise script at times. I got a card from my grandmother: she is 102 now, but the card was to me for my wedding last September – it is so beautiful to see her handwriting, and that while it is distinctly hers, it was so moving to see the impact of time and age on it, a vitality remains in spite of the evidence of tremor.
In recent writing workshops that I have facilitated, I concluded the workshops by getting my participants to write a letter to themselves, which I promised to post to them at some point in the future …….. they will have received their letters now and I wonder how that was as an experience for them.
At one point in this whole process I realised that I had no postal addresses for either of my daughters. I could text, phone, Skype, Facebook, Twitter’em……… but I couldn’t send them a card or a letter, or a gift in the post. I couldn’t send a taxi to get them!
They are both at university. I know where they live and I could go to their houses – I know where to find them……. but I had no addresses for either of them – so I put that right in the course of this project. In saying that, it was weird to realise that I didn’t have this information as a conscious thing, documented and share-able!
Postal services are suffering too. A letter to a friend in Ghana too more than three months to reach its destination. A letter to a friend in South Africa was handwritten, but photographed onto What’sApp and sent to her that way…… because there was a postal strike and her advice was that it might never get there otherwise….. so that one was a curious hybrid of handwriting and the immediacy of technology.
I am still exploring through the project and I have roughly 1/3 of the letters left to write. I am struggling to keep momentum on it at times……it takes time, focus and to be intentional and undistracted. Making time is tricky; it has to be deliberate. I have to choose to sit and write letter rather than do something else.
Letter-writing is about delayed gratification too. We have to give it time to be written and we have to give time for it to travel to the other person and we have to wait for a response…… and then some! I write to people but I have to forgo any expectation that I will get a response. Sometimes i get a text, or an email. Sometimes i get a letter. Sometimes I get a pattern of reciprocation for a while and then it tails off. Now I am actually beginning to wonder to what extent getting a personal letter might be experienced as an intrusion by the recipient – I simply don’t know, but that too has to be considered as a possibility…… do some people end up feeling badly because they don’t/ didn’t respond …….. that isn’t my intention, but it might happen just the same!
The project isn’t over yet, so it is too soon to know what it will mean in its entirety, but it has been and continues to be interesting…….. perhaps you and I should resort to ‘snail mail’ for a while!