Sunday, March 31, 2013

Old-Fashioned Correspondence

Last week I inadvertently cc.ed my daughter on an email I sent to one of my women friends. She read the entire long thread of our conversation and then emailed me “Mom, this email reads like a novel.” It was a glimpse for her into the private world of conversation between me and one of my contemporaries who loves to write as much as I do.

Remember the “olden days” when the letters of literary figures, leaders, artists, and others of consequence were compiled and published? When collections of letters were a commonly utilized form of memoir? Back before email, Facebook, text messages, and Twitter, people put more effort into correspondence. When I read the letters of Groucho Marx, I laughed my head off and fell in love with this genius all over again. The letters of Abigail Adams are an essential document of the Women’s Movement. But the art of writing letters, once a unique and respectable literary art form, is dying out.

When I write emails to my children, I try to be as brief as possible. My youngest won’t even read emails if they have too many words in them. I have an adult friend who asked me to keep it brief because he gets lost in my emails if I put too much information in them. So I usually find myself going for brevity. Economy. When Memories from Cherry Harvest was published, my marketing director suggested that I start a Twitter account. That idea didn’t make it out of the gate. I need a bumper sticker that says “What would Tolstoy do?” Not Twitter, I assure you. It is even a struggle for me to keep my blog posts short enough to read in under five minutes.

I love social networking. I enjoy communicating on Facebook in short sound bytes. I appreciate the ability to reach my children with a quick cell phone text message. (Recently I texted Sudi, call me, and he texted back, why?—Oyvay!) It’s surprising how much can be communicated using few words via phone, email, Facebook. But there are some people with whom I still share longwinded meaningful written correspondence, although their number has dwindled. Many people no longer have the attention span for reading  a thoughtful rumination or a detailed story. (I highly recommend a book called “The Shallows” about how the internet has rewired our brains.)

I vow never to lose sight of the fundamental purpose of language, one of our greatest tools for communication and relationship. I have dedicated my life to using words to communicate as beautifully and perfectly as possible; and to using words for transformation, for bringing positive change. I love words, their power, the magnificent things people construct with them. I love working to find the just-right way to say something. And I cherish my correspondences with the few people who still take the time to write well, to spread out in a written conversation, who go fearlessly into description, metaphor, and complex sentences. What a relief for me to write to these hardy few without counting how many words I have used. I find it interesting that to my daughter, in her brief glimpse into the old-world correspondence between us aging women writers (me and my friend), our emails read like a novel. Poetic. Philosophical. Passionate. Unabbreviated. Like a real letter in the mailbox, written longhand, pen-to-paper, soul-to-soul.

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