Monday, December 27, 2010

The Art and Craft of Anticipation

First, we lost a great fellow this past week when my Uncle Lenny passed away. He fought this battle longer and harder than anyone I’ve ever known. His memory will always be a blessing for us, his family, and his friends. האמת   ברוך דין

Onto the blog:

Every week, my dad (who will be 90 in January) sends a letter out to our family. Each household gets a copy. It almost always arrives on Friday, occasionally on Saturday, and always contains news of the week’s events, the bowling scores, and it’s always signed,

          Be of good cheer and all the jazz.
          Miss you, miss you,

Those letters, started back when I was in grad school, used to contain a copy of the Sunday NY Times crossword puzzle and a fiver; now there's a ten-spot for each of the grandkids tucked into their letters. Of course, no one regularly writes back despite periodic grumbling, but that may be because we talk on the phone all the time. Still, those letters have become the archive of our family history and I have every single one.

Recently, I found myself with the opportunity to hand write an actual letter. This was not to be an email or a scrawl on a card, or even one of my little “informals” on which I’ve been writing thank-you notes since I could hold a pencil. The letter would accompany a package, and while a little post-it stuck to the item might have sufficed, it was, when I looked at it, inelegant and unworthy of that which I wanted to express.

Waterman Laureat - my implement of choice

I could’ve just emailed and said, “Hey! Package en route,” but that seemed cold under the circumstances. I could’ve written it on the computer, put it in a scrawly font, and print it, but that, too, seemed perfunctory. I rattled around on this for a bit, then decided this might be the first real, handwritten letter my friend has received in a zillion years. And it might be amusing. So I dug out the ol’ Crane’s blue banded, water-marked stationary and checked the ink level in my fountain pen (yes, I use a fountain pen….okay?) Then I drafted the thing in Word until I was satisfied. I read it over, set it aside, and began to write.

It’s been a long time since I’ve handwritten more than a couple of lines. I worried that it wouldn’t be legible. I worried that my friend would think I’d taken leave of what is left of my senses. I worried that getting a hand-written letter might be overwhelming. But I pushed aside the worries.

I had not considered how freeing the act of hand-writing could be. I felt as if the ink flowing through the pen nib was coming directly from my brain.  There were no smiley faces, no emoticons, no acronyms. Nope. Only real words in real sentences in real ink. It was elegant as well as it was cathartic.

But here’s the kicker. When I got an email letting me know the package had arrived, there was but a brief mention of the letter. Not that I expected anything, but I found myself experiencing a bit of disappointment. Nothing major, but just enough of a twinge to make me think: is getting a handwritten letter more commonplace that I thought?

Oh, to have a grand correspondence like that between Mrs. Patrick Campbell and George Bernard Shaw! Oh, to have a reason to write in longhand again and have to read it as well!We have lost something of our ability to express ourselves amidst the brevity of email, IMs, and texts. Gone is the learned art of patience while awaiting a response, not to mention that anticipatory moment of envelope opening. It's a about savoring a single moment then cherishing the experience.

Instant gratifiation is highly overrated. There are lessons to be recalled (if not learned anew) about patience. Sometime the waiting is good. And the art of letter writing is not just about words; it is as much about the craft of placing those words on a page.

Wifely Person's Tip o'the Week
A little slow-speed connection is not the worst thing on the planet.


  1. Sorry, my comments will not be online this week. Please keep an eye out for your mailman to deliver them personally and in poor penmanship. If they don't arrive on a timely basis, perhaps you will recall why we don't do it that way any more.

    P.S. Not to worry... I am also mailing a carbon copy to each of your blog readers.

  2. Cute...and I shall watch the mailbox will great expectations!

  3. This reminds me of calling Jeff when he was in MM and I was still in Montreal ... we'd have a 1x/wk conversation/after 11PM/notes in hand so as not to waste any precious seconds that were so expensive!
    We now have unlimited long distance service/email/etc...The times they are ( have ) a changing !

  4. I'm sure these guys would like to hear from you ;-)

  5. I started typing everything when I was in high school over 30 years ago and I adopted laptops the minutes they weighed under 30 pounds. My hand hurts when I try to write for more than 10 minutes. Still, I love seeing my mother in law's perfect handwritten script arrive by U.S. Mail. I also love seeing old men drive antique cars that are no longer practical. Voice recognition will make handwriting the Model T of written communication. Many public schools do not even teach cursive writing to elementary students anymore.