Our city house in Anchorage had a rural mailbox – they are such a good size. It stood right by the front porch, and even in winter I could go out in my socks and get the mail. Now I put on a jacket and real shoes, and walk down the driveway. I like the walk after lunch – I’m cold and the quarter of a mile gets the blood warm again. I can’t help being hopeful as I approach the mailbox, in spite of modern reality (nobody writes letters any more).
Or so they say. Sometimes people write letters about important things. They write letters when email isn’t quite right. No matter that the thank you isn’t instant – it seems so much more heartfelt on paper.
An exception to the no-letters-to-speak-of is my painter friend. We have written letters and letters with drawings for more than 30 years. We often did series of drawings – one a day on a vacation or when stuck at home during a rainy summer. I think we began the drawings because I was so envious when she sent a letter with a little drawing included, that I learned to draw in part so I could add such sketches – teacups or sleeping cats – images setting us in place.
My part of the exchange has suffered this year – but I do know that I always used to wish that I approached work as eagerly as I did the making of a letter with a drawing for my friend. Creating “Her spirits rose…” gets close to that feeling.
I read an essay a long time ago – I remember sending it to my old friend (we used to be good about letters) that if you fail to write the letter, you let the creative impulse die – unacted upon. In “Flow,” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says the point of writing is not merely to transmit information but to create it, to put “experiences into words” and allow a chance for reflection.
I thought when I began writing about mail, that I’d just lament the passing of letters – and I do – but I also admit greed. I cherish a letter with its re-readability and tangible presence in an envelope, but also texts from the young people written on the fly, allowing a glimpse into their lives. The commonalities are words and caring.
I was very glad to get my old friend’s postcards from a recent bike trip to Corsica. I pictured her buying them, and then writing while sitting on a stone terrace over the sea, her words describing the adventure scrunched into limited space. She found a tabac selling stamps, figured the postal rates to the U.S., and mailed. Great fun to find in my mailbox.
Equally, my clever friend’s amazing, nearly daily emails written on computers in pensions on a recent Turkey sojourn were full of outpourings from her racing mind and agile fingers on unfamiliar keyboards. She described wondrous markets, exotic food, happy encounters with Iranians, dervish dances, and the fairy chimneys of Cappadocia.
On any day – a letter in a mailbox – Hooray!