First published in Trespass Magazine on February the 11th, 2010.
“Thanks for your letter, I take it everywhere with me. Sometimes I put it in my bag absentmindedly, other times I just try to think of one of the beautiful lines in it. And not only the ones about me. That letter is one of the great things about being alive. I cherish it.”
And so begins a letter written to me from my then boyfriend, now fiancé, in reply to a letter I had previously sent him. I’ve kept that letter, with many more, in the drawer of my bedside table, and every now and again I will pull a letter out and read it. Every time I read a letter, I find something new within it. Something I had not noticed before. And every single time, without fail, I am transported back to another time in my life; back to memories so vivid if I shut my eyes I can see and feel them.
That’s what I love about letters – the way they speak not only the words within them, but of history too. History that cannot be erased with a click of the delete button.
I’ve never kept an email. Sure, I’ve saved some, I’ve even filed some away. But they’ve always eventually been deleted – when I’ve upgraded computers or had a purging attack. I can’t say the same for letters. My parents’ garage is filled with boxes and boxes of memories from my childhood and teenage years that I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to part with. I’ve got letters from friends and crushes – tiny bits of paper with scribbles that can only be understood by me. And, on the exceptionally rare occasions when I sift through those boxes, I’m so happy it hurts, because they are all glimpses into my life; a culmination of who I am, and ever wanted to become.
People don’t seem to treasure things anymore, let alone letters – life is all about detoxing and streamlining and minimising – and I get that. But there’s something kind of wonderful about collecting move ticket stubs and train tickets and shoelaces and brochures from museum foyers. I still do. I write where I was going and who I was with on the back of train tickets – and I can assure you they provide more insight into the world than just how much the cost of public transport has risen over the years. It’s the lack of collecting being done that has made me encourage, with serious gusto, my nephews and niece to collect. And I love nothing more than taking them to an exhibition, or a fair, or a park, to then see them artfully pack away their goodies at the end of the day – pamphlets, and booklets, and wrappers, and twigs. Things they will see, maybe ten years down the track, and things they will remember. Cherish even.
People don’t cherish emails. Or maybe they do and I’m just old-fashioned and don’t really know. But in the age of Facebook, Twitter, MSN, texting and everything else, letter writing is truly a lost art. And there is an art to writing a letter. Despite what anyone says I will always believe that, like a car that’s routinely serviced and looked after, relationships run better when fuelled, every now and again, with an old-fashioned love letter. And I’m not the only one that believes that.
When the Sex and the City movie screened, it featured a book that, at the time, was non-existent in the real world. Love Letters of Great Men was a book created by the producers of the film for a scene within it where Carrie reads some letters to Big. Naturally, filmgoers believed the book existed, and when they discovered it did not Pan Macmillan cleverly released a book of the same title, featuring the same letters that Carrie had referenced, plus more. And I was one of the people that bought it. And originally searched for it. It’s a book that features letters from men such as Mark Twain, Oscar Wilde, John Keats, Victor Hugo, Henry VIII, Napoleon Bonaparte, Ludwig Van Beethoven and many more. And it’s a wonderful, romantic,beautiful selection of real letters from real men toreal women all featuring one theme; love.
I read one of the letters, by Robert Browning to Elizabeth Barrett on the morning of their wedding day in 1846, at a wedding of a dear friends’ last year. I doubt I would have ever read a copy of an email at such an event. Or an MSN transcript. In 2010, letters are grand gestures. Grand gestures that are not terribly hard to create.
My great man, my fiancé, may not have his letters published in a book, but he does have them tucked away in my bedside table, and every so often they are read, and I find something within them that I never noticed before. I am reminded of memories so vivid that if I shut my eyes I can see and feel them:
“You constantly remind me, I see it in others too, that life is love. Constant, un-diminishing love.Every bit of love I have is for you. One day I’ll find that last inch of it and finally be satisfied that I did the best I could for you. There are so many moments that send me deeper in love with you, I don’t know how far it goes. It’s such that I grow, swell even, looking in your eyes. You lift me.”
And I get so happy it hurts.