There has always been a romance affiliated to the act of correspondence. We are intrigued by the images in paintings of a woman sitting at a writing desk, pen in hand, writing a family member or sweetheart. There is evident body language and a transparency of emotion in her face that yearns for reveal.
This kind of writing goes above and beyond the utility of passing information from one person to another. It is the latter mechanism by which we do business, write those formal letters of recommendation, and do legal transactions. It is also true that this utility has sustained itself through emails, texts, tweets and any other digitally transmitted initiatives, and has evolved into another form of correspondence that dilutes the author and disconnects them from their targeted audience.
But let me pause my diatribe and focus for a moment on how lost the core art may be. We don’t have to look as far back as 1803. We can look in our near distant past with parents who still wrote the sweet greetings, the thank you notes, the letters to pen pals in some other country, or to the boy that they liked across study hall, albeit only in their diary. Prose and poetry still held true spots in our vocabulary and penmanship was still taught in school. Stepping back more generations we can look at our grandparents or great grandparents. There was no computer technology so all writing stood for who we were. There was no condemnation for emotion, but there was for the art of penmanship and English sentence structure. These were the basic tools of good communication.
I grew up watching my parents write. Since our family was a fair distance from the core families, they wrote long chatty letters to relatives to keep them abreast of what was going on. They didn’t pick up the phone and fill them in quickly in snippets sentences. They wrote their stories. They expressed their emotions. They put it on paper. They brought you along through a transformation.
From the moment you received the post to the quiet drawdown into a letter when you opened it, it was ceremonious. When you got a special letter you excitedly lay it down beside your chair and went to make that cup of tea because it was expected to honor the gift. Reading was to be an intimate experience, done with eloquence and ceremony. It took time both to compose your thoughts to write, and to imagine the writer as you read their words.
Both my parents had beautiful handwriting, Parker born and bred. My mother’s handwriting was pure artistic poetry. It would follow along with a solid baseline and a fluid scroll and sadly, it was the 1st thing that she started to lose as the dementia began to wash over her in her latter years. She lost the ability to remember how to write in cursive and it broke her heart in a way that I never could have imagined. Writing is that personal touch between the author and the recipient. For her to be able to write friends or relatives and express her opinions in her own hand was important. She spoke boldly and graciously through her writing.
I think about literally sitting and watching my aged grandmother’s hands as she wrote. I think about my mother’s hands as she wrote, and my father’s hands as he wrote. In his later years he knew how absolutely important this process was. As a pastor he knew what a personal, emotional touch that a hand written note can have on a person’s heart. It was vital. I watched him write back to every single Christmas card. I watched him write back to every single get well wish that he would get in the mail. Yes, he typed e-mails, his sermons and his weekly bulletins well into his later years, but oh my word what an eloquent writer.
I’ve had several friends over the years who have talked about this with me and one dear friend, Lorie, and I tried to reestablish writing letters. We knew that we could pick up the phone and we could talk for an hour and I would heartily say that we loved those moments, but we also knew that special joy of mail and as we talked on the phone we would say “no I’m saving that one for the letter”. We would send 3 and 4 page letters back-and-forth monthly. She understood me, and loved me despite my flaws so she would overlook my spelling, and run on sentences, and she would see past it to the passion of my heart. There aren’t too many now that are willing to restart that kind of thing. I lost that friend far too early on, just as I’ve lost my parents and my grandmother and others who still believed in the strength and wonder of correspondence.
When was the last time you get out a piece of paper and an envelope and you wrote someone you cared about just to say “hello my friend”? When have you written to say, “I was thinking of you”? I guarantee that you interact on Facebook, Twitter, or email at best. Our correspondence is confined to shared jokes, images and links. If you allow your emotions to show they may be confined to a single emoji. If you really feel strongly about the person they may warrant several emojis in a string. I do it myself. I completely understand, but I also find myself very sad and nostalgic. We exist in anonymity and parrot others’ words.
As for myself, I am afraid to reveal my stream of conscious writing style and the poor spelling that often emerges as a result. Correspondence without spellcheck for me becomes a matter of emotional trust that my recipient will not judge me too harshly and see beyond the errors. It is a bittersweet sadness.
Today’s painting is a 16″ by 20″ oil on canvas called My Father’s Hands.