A friend of mine recently inherited a box of her mother’s letters. Her mother was an avid letter writer – sometimes three letters a day – and she kept carbon copies of all the correspondence she sent. Since she also kept all responses, the box contains a fascinating, two-sided story of her life.
There’s something about putting pen to paper that is saved for the most important moments, it seems. The letters are full of emotion – passionate notes to lovers, angry diatribes to disgruntled relatives, gossipy discussions of the merits and faults of those marrying into the family. They’re full of insight into how she, and her correspondents, really felt about the big things that were happening in their lives.
Hearing about these letters has made me feel sad for the loss of letter writing. It’s just not the same in today’s digital age. Sure, Google is saving a copy of every single email I ever send and receive, for ever and ever. But who is going to sort through hundreds of thousands of emails after my death? It’s not like it would even be worthy of the pursuit – you’d be looking at thousands of notes to my husband about items on sale this week, or recipes sent to my mother, or pictures of soccer shoes sent to my sister that I think my nephew could use. They are mundane; they are missives, not letters.
And there’s my blog, which I cherish, especially for the stories of when the kids were little. They are charming memories, and they do occasionally capture my one-sided view of how it felt to be a wife and mother. But they are for public consumption, and thus are only part of the picture; the rosy side, the shareable side, the funny and lighthearted side. I don’t blog about really deep personal things, and you’re never going to see a story there dressing down a relative or getting intimate with my husband. It’s not really a diary – more of a magazine column I write.
So where are the stories that mean something? The painful, the passionate, the tender, the angry? I suppose even in my mother’s day, not everyone was taking note of every little moment and writing it all down. But some were, and now I feel like no one is. Generations to come will be swamped at the amount of writing that was done during our lifetime, and it will all be accessible with an instant search – but will it actually tell you how someone felt? Will it accurately reflect what it was like to really live in this age and time?
I’m not sure what the answer is. One thing current times have taught us is that whatever you write down can one day be used against you, proof of hypocrisy or crimes or just being obnoxious. We warn our kids to be careful online, not to post anything embarrassing or rude, nothing that could hurt someone or affect their employability.
So what is left to the romantic, the fervent, the impassioned? What avenues do we have to speak our mind, and preserve it for the future? What is left to share with an audience of one – or even an audience of none – and have it mean something?
Perhaps it is time to resolve to all become Women of Letters once again. To put pen to paper and let it all flow out. Maybe it will turn into the source of a memoir, or a fiction piece. Maybe it will just be tucked away for your children to read when you are gone, and marvel at the wonderful, strong, poignant person you were.
Guess I’ll put some writing paper on my wish list.