By the time I got to the age where I wanted to write letters – the really long, philosophical ones – the glory days of letter writing had long since passed. When the close associations of adolescence came along and all the preoccupations with preoccupation made putting pen to paper feel like a necessity, email had already obscured the utility of the letter.
From Sylvia Plath to F. Scott Fitzgerald, Vincent van Gogh to George Orwell, a sizeable collection of letters is a staple of many artists, writers and philosophers. It was in the looseness of language, where the slow development of true talent was revealed, that the every day person could be seen. While a work of art has been expertly crafted and put forth, only letters have the ability to capture what has merely been contemplated for posterity.
When I went back to school for writing a few years ago, there was enthusiasm for having to see words in a way they’re not often seen – so full of potential. In short stories and poems, as in letters, there existed the capacity for found worlds, new doorways to walk through, lives and imaginings that did not yet exist but could be brought forth into reality. There were no math problems and no marketing tricks to recall, just words – a voluminous mass of them that needed to be tamed every few weeks into something the teacher could grade.
Of course, much like every other thing, an education in creative writing was not a purely creative act either. Words and ideas could be derived from thin air, but they also needed to be sculpted, the excess trimmed where possible so they all streamed into some ulterior purpose; everything in the short story had to feed the necessity of the end. But, if language is a means to an end, what is its final purpose?
I was lucky that I was older when I went back to school to write. I watched the younger students try to cut and snip, whittle down whatever they could for function and purpose because the teacher suggested it. The criticism in the classroom is ultimately necessary, but like a letter, there is a purpose to all the meandering. After a few years of life, the meander is truer than any other moments, an aspect of life that can only be found in the hidden words and worlds, the letters and stories that comprise a deeper reverence and contemplation.
With the pace of life, it is the swiftness of time that leaves us with so much more to mourn, so many idle meanderings that are left unexpressed. Beyond the creative use of language, there is something to be found in the letter that is like sign language from another world, one we rarely indulge in but remains a skin beneath the surface nonetheless.