The reason I have always had a girl crush on Jane Austen may not seem obvious, a bit backward in thought. No it’s not the long hair, the dresses or even that she was one of the first women to write the romantic novel back when women were supposed to just be making babies.
She had me at “Dear…..” It’s the letter writing. We don’t know a lot about her life but we know much of it involved writing letters. She wrote to her sister, her parents, friends, acquaintances. Details pouring on the page with ink not from a type writer but from her own hand, yielding a writing instrument.
In the early 1990’s, for fifteen months of my life that is how I communicated with my family and friends. Living in Japan, before email, I hand wrote letters. Practically every day. It was my connection to home. And if I wanted to hear from others it started with me sending a letter in the mail. Oh, how I treasured that moment of seeing a letter in my mail slot, opening it up and sitting in my shoe box apartment devouring every word. Each letter writer had their own style, not only of handwriting but of the way they put words on paper
Last week I received a letter, handwritten on stationary, not an email or FaceBook message, but a hand written letter in my mailbox, not my Inbox. I met my friend David in Japan and every year I get one or two letters from him, handwritten often on Super Hero Stationary, complete with stickers. He is a kid at heart hanging on to that lost art, hardly recognized by many these days. We blame lack of time, the ease of technology, for not making the effort in writing letters.
Nothing can replace the sight of your name handwritten on an envelope, the smell of someone else’s home, the touch of paper or the words that come popping off the page, meant just for you.
With kids being home this summer, my schedule out of whack, my me time out the window, there has been one thing that has been all mine this summer. During the other seasons my friend Sonya and I write every Thursday together. We start our writing time off with penning a letter to each other. It is a free write exercise to catch the other up on news from the past week. Instead of talking about it, we are writing the details to each other.
We tried to get together this summer and between basketball camps, swim and dive meets, vacations, it didn’t work, until yesterday. In the early weeks, without planning it, we still wrote each other letters. Although she lives a block away we still dropped letters in the others mail box, not Inbox. We sat down, took the time to pen our thoughts. In this simple, ancient art form, I found peace. In writing the letters I found a release, letting go of stress, reflecting on my news as I told it to Sonya through the blank page. In reading her letters I found inspiration, joy, humor. In both the writing and reading, I found my breath. An email can be read while holding your breath, a letter takes inhales and exhales. Through the in and out of breathing, I find peace, a bit of joy, and a whole lot of myself.
I may not be penning my letters from a small room overlooking my father’s farm like Jane Austen, or writing about the upcoming dance being held in town next Saturday night. But I am sitting down, penning my thoughts to a friend and through that art I find peace, a bit of love, connection to the other. I discover myself through an art that doesn’t have to be lost, if I just take the time to find it.
by J.G. McGlothern