Sunday, February 10, 2013

Letters ~ My Column from today's newspaper

Recently while studying great authors, it occurred to me that most of these literary icons wrote a lot of letters. One of the best things about the Internet, in my opinion, is that you have access to incredible information.

I found letters to friends, relatives and lovers. Reading the letters was like having a window into the hearts and minds of the writers. I was fascinated.

According to the website for Emily Dickinson “...She distinguished herself as a writer of letters, which she regarded as a ‘joy of Earth’ (L960). Cryptic and allusive in style, dazzling in verbal effects, and sensitively attuned to her recipients, Dickinson was a prolific and gifted epistolary artist.” 

I realized that letter writing is a lost art form these days. I tried to think of the last personal letter I'd written, and I couldn't remember.

One of the not-so-good things about the Internet is that the quality of communication has, for the most part, deteriorated.

These days, most people send emails, texts or a comment on Facebook and think we're communicating. I'm as guilty as anyone in this regard.

The down side to this form of communication is that it rarely takes much thought. In fact, many people do it while driving, eating lunch, and listening to the radio. 

Granted, not all communications require:

My Dearest Friend, I hope this email finds you in good health and lofty spirits; “But C U 2Nite XXXOOO,” is a bit thin, wouldn’t you agree?

I wrote letters daily when I was in the Army and I couldn’t wait for mail call each morning. There’s nothing like going to the mailbox, and pulling out a hand-addressed envelope with a handwritten letter or card from a dear friend.

I have a box in my office where I keep the letters I receive through the years. From time to time, I open up the box, pull out a letter and read it. The words seem richer and come alive with each reading.

When’s the last time you felt like that when reading an email or text? When Jilda and I were working on the things we wanted to accomplish this year, one of the things we both wrote, without conferring before hand, was to write cards and letters to those people that mean a great deal to us.

This morning when we headed out for a doctor’s visit, we both had letters in our hand.

“Bills?” I asked. “No, I’m sending cards to some of our friends,” she said. Mine was a letter to an old Army buddy I haven’t communicated with in 20 years.

A hundred years from now when people look through the artifacts of our lives, I’m not sure they’ll be as impressed with my words as I am with the words of Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson and Willa Cather, but still I hope readers get a sense of how much friendship means to me.

Do yourself a favor and writer a letter to a friend today.

by Rick Watson


  1. I agree about letter writing, though I must admit that my own letter writing has plummeted with the advent of online technology. George Will said many years ago about email,"We are using more and more sophisticated means of sending less and less sophisticated messages."

    Regarding Emily Dickinson's letter writing, several years ago a book was published, "New Poems of Emily Dickinson," which was poetic extractions from the prose she wrote in her letters.

  2. Sounds like a very good idea to write a personal letter. Do Valentine cards count? I sent out a ton of those.

    I live about an hour away from Emily Dickinson's house in Amherst. I toured it and loved walking right in the same bedroom where she lowered a basket out the window to give cookies to the neighborhood children.

    She often wrote in a rather somber vein. Then, the tour guide talked about how Emily could look out the window and see the procession of funeral lines to the local cemetery! No wonder!

    Anyway, I'll try to take your suggestion this week and write at least one personal letter! Susan

  3. You know I agree.
    We don't send letters or cards anymore It's all done via internet and also much is deleted.So getting info on people from our generation will be tough unless we leave things behind on purpose.
    Even the mail doesn;t want to deliver letters anymore because there is no business in it.
    Well just take a look at the cost of stamps today. They say it's to improve things for the public but all it did was make things harder.
    Now you have to follow a ton of rules with regard to size shape, tape etc....Not fun anymore.

  4. You are right on the button with how letter writing has deteriorated over the years.
    I still send cards to family and friends but the postage is pricy. The times, they are a changing.


  5. Anonymous10:14 PM

    yes to keep letter writing alive and well, not to disappear and be forgotten, their is just something more personable about a letter to be held i n ones hand, even a sober letter.I am a letter writer and will always be,

  6. I think the last time I wrote a long letter in my crazy penmanship was when I was at University. And I still keep boxes of letters I wrote to my pen pals when I was like 10! And my mum and dad's letters to each other.

    Oh you are so right about the electronic words! They're lost in some virtual folder or usb stick and don't seem real!

    Take care

  7. I love real letters!
    They have something real and personal. Not some words on the net typed in a few minutes.
    Somebody took out a nice piece of paper, thought about the words and meaning of what they wanted to express, posted it and maybe waited to get one back.

  8. Whenever I get a letter in the snail mail (which is very rare) I make it a point to write an equally long reply (typed down of course, as my handwriting is very bad) and send it the same way (the snail mail)
    And there is a smile on my face after I post it.

  9. I'm new to your blog and I'm enjoying exploring it a little at a time. I also have made a decisionm this year to write more letters and personal notes to friends and family. One very dear friend from my youth and I have regularly exchanged letters over the years, and it is like a review of our adult lives to go back and reread them. Nothing beats something you can hold in your hand and read with only the aide of light (and eye glasses!)

  10. I love Scott Fitzgerald's letters. Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art.


  11. nice post, I love a good letter and am guilty of not having written a real one in awhile.

  12. I write letters to my kiddos and grandkiddos who live far away. I really love getting snail mail! I have the cutest letter from my Grandmother...she's been gone almost 30yrs but I will pull it out and her humor and simple life come alive. Can't replace that with an are so right!

  13. I love to get letters but now that my mother is in a nursing home I don't get anything but emails. I do have the letters she has written me over the years and I have a box full of letters that I wrote her. She saved them for me. They all mean the world to me.

    Have you ever read E.B. White's letters? Now he was a letter writer!

  14. I love writing and reading letters. I've always been fascinated by letters. I keep them over the years and go back to them...

  15. Hi Rick - thanks for following over at my blog ... as you'll have seen I'm a letter fan ... and have spent the last 6 years writing out to all concerned re my mother and her illness - very therapeutic ... and has helped many others ... as they have an inkling of what life has been about ... I blogged too - as many bloggers felt they knew my mother via my postings ... so I consider myself lucky.

    I'll be back to read more anon - I love the way stories (real or part fiction) can be weaved from letters and note taking across the eras ...

    Cheers Hilary


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