Anyway, it was supposed to be a quick note, but I kept thinking of things to add and I ended up with a couple of pages, single-spaced. I figured, if I’m going to take the trouble to address an envelope and put a stamp on it and mail it, I might as well make it worth the effort. Also, I like to think it will make Mom smile to find something other than bills in her mailbox.
Writing a letter isn’t like journalism, where you put the hammer at the top. It isn’t like short fiction, where you put the hammer at the bottom. You mostly forget about hammers. For me, writing a personal letter is more a stream-of-consciousness exercise, where the all the pieces of recent days fall out like dice from a Yahtzee cup. I like to make mine semi-literate, of course, but I’ve found that a letter I try to structure often becomes a letter I never finish. I mostly dispense with witty segues. I just keep adding paragraphs until I get to the one that starts with “Well, …”
The letter I sent today won’t end up in the Smithsonian, but it’s hard copy and you don’t see much of that these days. Who knows? It could last for a good long while. Someday, maybe, an ancestor will come across it in a mouldering box and know that on a day in March 2014, I bought a lemon tree and put it in a pot on the porch. There will be a record of mild weather in Montana (in March!), and a granddaughter named Ruby starting to walk, and a surprisingly smooth trip across the country via Delta Airlines. There will be a bunch of other little details that would no doubt have drowned in the data tsunami of the Internet.
We should probably write more letters. We won’t, of course, not when it’s so easy to connect via “likes” and memes and four-word phrases. Is one way of reaching out better than another? I don’t know. I do know that by sitting down this morning and pounding out an old-school letter, I was forced to think for a little while about where I was, and what I’d been doing, and why certain details seemed more important than others. Not quite an examined life, but better than nothing. Maybe I’ll do it more often.