Saturday, 20 January 2018

Long live the letter!

Three days ago, I wrote a letter.
A real, old fashioned letter.
There were two sheets of paper, a ballpoint pen, an envelope and a stamp involved.

'Good gravy!' I hear you cry. 'What possessed you? Why didn't you just text or Skype or email or phone?'

Well, the truth of the matter is, I did. 
It began with a text. 
A very short text to my son, who lives in Melbourne, reminding him of an appointment. 
And then I added a little bit of news about my tripping over on my evening walk two days ago. 
And then I told him about a new piece of furniture we had acquired.
And then I told him that I loved him.
All in the space of two dozen short words - and some gory photos of my skinned shin and bulbous blue ankle.

And then.... I shrieked in horror.

What sort of monster had I become?
Where were my words?
Where were my  manners?
How could I ever keep the world a kind, safe, refined place if I was going to whip off garbled texts interspersed with graphic foot photos instead of communicating in a measured and civilised way?

And that's when I did it.
I gathered pen, paper, envelope and stamp, sat down at my desk and wrote a letter.
To my son.
By way of apology - even though he didn't see anything amiss in our text exchange.
And so he could have a little taste of an era when we all lived life at a slower pace and thought good manners meant communicating in entire sentences.

I wrote four unedited pages with proper spelling and punctuation.
I drew a comic-type sequence of events to show The Great Ankle Spraining of 2018. 
I described my new bed and linen, then drew a picture of it. 
Hmmm, perhaps the picture was not so helpful,
but letter writing is about making do
and being authentic.
And I signed my name at the end with a flourish - well, as much of a flourish as possible when your name is Wahm. (Don't ask - nicknames have ridiculously convoluted origins in our family!)

I used to write heaps of letters. 

When I was young (read this with a geriatric shake in your voice), phone calls were expensive and email, Facebook and Skype didn't exist. 
On leaving home, I wrote to my parents every week.  And they wrote back. 

When I left uni, I was madly in love with the Great Dane. But, like doomed lovers from a gothic novel,  I was sent to the south of the state to my new teaching job and the Great Dane had to stay up north to finish his studies.  
Oh dear. Makes my heart break just thinking about it. 
But we survived the separation by writing letters - three a week each way until we married at the end of the year. Such devotion!
I recall one letter in which I wrote to my beloved, 'You are the sultanas on my Weetbix.' 
How could our love not survive with such passionate, eloquent letters fluttering from one end of the state to the other? 
Love letters!
The Great Dane and me at uni.
Before the letter writing began.

As I moved for study and work and marriage and travel, I seemed always to be saying goodbye to friends. But letters kept us connected. 

And when we lived on the other side of the world in Denmark, letters were treasure.  Even those ugly, flimsy, blue aerogrammes.

The upshot of all this is that I spent many years, from my teens onward, writing a vast number of letters to family and  friends.
It was a duty and a necessity if one wanted to keep in touch.
But, for me, it was also a joy.

I loved writing letters. 
I loved taking the time to think about the recipient. 
I loved reflecting on the past days and weeks as I shared our news and funny mishaps. 
I loved fiddling with words.
I loved finding a cartoon, photo or magazine clipping to include.
I loved the pretty stationary and choosing the perfect pen. 
I loved folding the letter and slipping it snugly into its envelope. 
I loved licking the stamp and pressing it down with the heel of my hand. (And, yes, I think lick-and-stick is the One True Way To Use Stamps. Sticker stamps just don't cut the mustard. There's no effort involved, no lingering taste of glue.)

Furthermore, I think the copious amount of letter writing  helped hone my writing skills. Any time spent writing thoughtfully is good practice.

I have several friends who still value good old fashioned letters. 
One writes twice a week to her daughter's mate who is serving in Afghanistan. The letters are the envy of every other soldier on base. 
Another continues a pen friend relationship  that has spanned five decades. 

But, sadly, on the whole, letter writing is a dying art form.
Our post office sits in the middle of a retirement village. 
How symbolic. 

So, I say, bring back the letter.
The one written on real paper that can be delivered into a real mailbox.

I, for one, am going to write regularly to my son - whether he likes it or not.
Just this morning I typed him a second letter.
Yes, typed!
The end result was a complete and utter mess but writing it was brilliant fun.  

And I'm going to write to family and friends, too. 

I'll have to buy some pretty new stationary, of course. 
And get more of those lovely felt-tip pens that are so delicious to use.
And dust off my old address book.
And somewhere, just somewhere, there might be a post office that still sells lick-and-stick stamps.

Want to join in?
Go on. Send someone a letter.

Better yet, send me a letter.
I will reply.
There will be unedited waffling.
There will be dodgy drawings and spelling mistakes and wobbly writing.
There will be coffee stains and chocolate smears.
There may even be disastrous typing.
But the letters will be written with thought and joy and a big dollop of love.

This is my address:
Katrina Nannestad
PO Box 7025
Spring Gully
Vic 3550

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