The Lost Art of Letter Writing: On Feeling Like Queen Victoria.

January 16th, 1937, Saint Mark’s Place, Manhattan, Maggie’s diary continues:

Made cake, not perfect though frosting excellent. Joneses came over for bridge so beat them. They had busy week because Lump’s cousin was in town.

And What Did Her Grandaughter, Yours Truly, do on January 16, 2010:

I can’t say I baked a cake today. God forbid, I’m so domestically-challenged I’d have to send out a press release, but something absolutely magical and amazing and unexpected happened: I got a letter.

A real live letter, not an email or a tweet or a message scrawled on my facebook wall but an actual letter!  It arrived with my address written in pretty handwriting and two stamps. Right smack dab away, I laid on my velvet couch with my oodles and oodles of pillows and read it.  I didn’t just read it, I savored it like a delicious chocolate truffle. No one was hurrying me to respond, so I lazed around, feeling just like Queen Victoria.

Queen Victoria:

The letter was written by my dear friend, Susan McCallum-Smith, an author, who just came out with a brilliant book of short stories called Slipping the Moorings.  Susan is so beautiful and talented, you might hate her if she wasn’t so nice and funny and just plain fun to be around.  Not only is she a world-class writer, she also has poise and long blonde hair and big blue eyes and very good clothes.  Of course in her letter she told me she was wearing “puke-stained sweatpants”, which right away made me feel better.

Susan and her husband, Arthur, just adopted two twin baby girls, little perfect peaches, and you could feel her love coming through the elegant cardstock pages, not the syrupy gimmeabreak kind, but the genuine shift-the-globe-on-its-axis sort.  While I read, I could hear Susan’s voice.  Susan is Scottish, so it’s good she doesn’t live near me, not only because she can write me letters, but also because I might kidnap her and make her read me bedtime stories every night, her accent is so pretty.

The reason Susan sent me a letter is because this summer I went through something so heartbreaking and terrible, I haven’t been able to write about it, and sometimes I have to crawl on Peter’s lap in a little puddle and cry like a child. I finally told Susan about it in an email, and she said she was sending me a letter. By a letter, she wrote, I mean, something that will come via the postie. It is brave for someone to try to touch a friend’s pain, like Susan did. And she did it in the best way possible, a way all people everywhere can learn from.  She told the truth.

People aren’t that good at telling the truth. We’re really good at lying. We just spit out whatever might make someone feel good or might make us look good and be done with it.  We don’t have that much time, in our world of tweets and texts, to say the truth.  The truth is complex, it is like sunlight through a prism, many sided, full of strange radiance and surprising color, and it shifts depending on how you look at it.

This letter, which was more like an award-winning essay or a very beautiful prose poem, got right inside me where all my conflicting emotions were roiling around about this terrible thing, and it said, Look at this!! As if the emotions were tiny little pearls with messages on them. This one is true, the letter said. And this one is true, too. Here’s a little bit of hope, the letter said. And there’s a little bit of courage.  In between its very pretty lines the letter said, simply, You are worthy.

I laughed with the letter, and I cried a little, and then I put it down next to the velvet couch with its oodles and oodles of pillows.  When I looked over at that letter again, I saw it had a tremendous, quiet power.  Here it was, right in my living room, the astonishing supremacy of the written word.  The incredible gift of truth.

Why? I thought, Don’t we make the world a better place? Why not take some time to write a letter?  A letter is so permanent, the receiver can go back to it over days and months and years to come. Silently, without anyone knowing, she can ask it, Am I worthy? And the letter will always answer in that same, quiet, definite way. Yes.

Thank you Susan Mccalum-Smith, who took time out from raising twins and writing books and trying to stay sane, to send me one of the world’s best, most ancient gifts. You are the curator of a very necessary, very valuable, grace-filled art.

Happy January thaw everybody.  See you here on Monday since our dear Maggie didn’t write on the 17th.

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6 Responses to “The Lost Art of Letter Writing: On Feeling Like Queen Victoria.”

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