To communicate for sure… but to whom, and on what level beyond writing shopping lists, arranging by e-mail to meet someone for coffee, or conveying good wishes on a birthday card?
Not that many do even the latter anymore. We can send greetings online and more and more of us are doing just that. So easy. So much cheaper. So convenient.
I was talking with my mail person this morning. A lovely guy who thinks his days are numbered because all he delivers these days are bills (to those of us not paying online), begging letters from charities, and advertising fliers.
“I’m not a postman anymore. I’m just a commercial lackey,” he observed sadly.
How many handwritten postcards or even typed letters do you receive a week? A month? A year?
How many do you send? We reap what we sow after all.
One of the boxes I brought from Japan contains hundreds of letters written by friends from 1986 onwards, slowly falling away from around the late 90s until the fax machine and personal computers took over. They are very precious now, documenting social history as well as individual lives.
Pages and pages of fascinating scrawl from Sarah who was in Africa at the time and as excited by everything she saw and did as I was in Asia; ditto from Maggie in London, who wrote minutely of her more circumscribed life in a detail that would put Jane Austen to shame. Everyone else? Somewhere inbetween…
These days I am making a conscious effort to write to my grandson. At age eight he loves to receive personally addressed correspondence. I want him to know what it’s like to receive and write letters, which, for so many, is deemed old-fashioned.
I also write to D, a man on death row in Texas, through an organization linked to Amnesty International. There are strict rules, so I’m limited to postcards and letters. I also have to be circumspect in what I write about, which is challenging to my normal unedited free flow but necessary if correspondence is to pass scrutiny from prison authorities.
I print out letters to D, whose eyesight is failing. But writing postcards means re-discovering the practice and age-old craft of hand-writing, which is good because otherwise my deteriorating scrawl will go beyond the characterful and simply become illegible.
At his school in Canada, my grandson is being taught from scratch – with pen and ink! – and really cannot see the point. Why bother, he argues, when he can use a tablet or smartphone. But what would he do is suddenly there was no electricity, I point out (which is what happened to northern Japan after 3/11). To which he responds with a shrug and a look that says “Mad! As if that could/would ever happen…”
What else do I write?
Morning pages sometimes.
No journal or diary as such. On occasion I find odd notebooks and pages from the past and can easily identify them as written in hard times – times when I was sad and in dire need of an unconditional friend. When life is in balance there seems the need.
Which begs the question, do we write out of broken places?
Do we choose to write out – and through – damage and pain?
Does one have to be damaged and broken to be a “good” writer?
E.L Dotorow once described writing as a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.
Hemingway (a writer I don’t especially admire!) believed there was nothing to writing. “All you do is sit in front if a typewriter and bleed.”
As to Kurt Vonnegut, he thought we all needed to realise that “all great literature is all about what a bummer it is to be a human being. Isn’t it such a relief to have somebody say that?”
Well, no, not really Kurt. Rather maybe we need to redefine what constitutes great literature. Which to me means documenting and interpreting the precious gift of life in ways that may prove useful to readers, with the emphasis on the positive rather than the negative.
I write to make sense of my world and bring it to life, perhaps along the lines of Australian aboriginal people singing up their ancestry and landscape as they walk their land.
I write to keep myself healthy and in balance.
I write to create rather than destroy or deface. I write to remind myself of who I really am.
In my youth I aspired to be an actor. But then I changed direction. I began taking off my masks, gradually losing the need to try on new ones. These days I present myself pretty much naked to the world; I hardly ever wear make up.
While actors live many lives, a rather younger writer, and another woman to boot, Natalie Goldberg is quoted as saying “Writers live twice.”
Only twice? I think the best thing about writing is that the written word is limitless in its permutations and we can reinvent ourselves over and over again. While at the same time becoming closer to our authentic selves an truly honest.
I write to maybe leave something of my self in the world when I die.
But really it’s no great matter. Through our words we live forever… in the ether of celestial creative memory if nowhere else.
Why do you write?