Posted on April 28, 2013
The year that I was 13, I wrote a letter a day to a boy in Rushworth who had paid me some admiration one day at the local pool, notwithstanding the fact that he turned out to be my second cousin, which wasn’t all that surprising in a town from which both my mothers and my fathers families have roots (er, no pun intended). I remember all of the different boxes of stationery that I bought and used, contrasting coloured paper and envelopes that came in hard clear plastic boxes which I purchased from Myer, but I couldn’t tell you what gems of teen wisdom and insight that I imparted to the unwitting receiver of my missives. He never wrote back, and I don’t know if he read any of the letters, or they went straight into the bin. It still makes me cringe today, and yet it was probably that year that laid the foundations of my lifelong love of letter writing.
At age 15, mum, dad, my brother Mat and I moved to Darwin. I had to break up with my first love, and leave my school friends behind. It was still way, way back in the dark ages of communications, years before the Internet and email, and when long distance phone calls were prohibitively exorbitant, and so I wrote letters every day again, and, several times per week, our letterbox on Trower Road would have one or two letters for me, from Dan, and Ayesha, Jodie and Christie, from Matt P, and my first ever letters from my dear friend in correspondence, Heidi. There are letters to Dan from that period that fill small hard cover books, and my friend Jodie and I regularly wrote each other 10 page letters, filled with the minutiae of our days. We could have used editors, but hey, the important thing was that we were writing, and how prolific we were!
Over the years I had periods where my letter writing waxed and waned. The years in Lennox Head and Ballina yielded more words than at any other time, especially to and from my sister and from Heidi. I wrote and received 5 or 6 letters most weeks, my letterbox was a place of joy and anticipation. How different to our mailboxes today! The stationery was many and varied, but always lovely. I made my own paper in Ballina, and often used those soft pages to write on, sitting on my back step in Shaws Bay, overlooking that hills hoist of glorious outlook, little tabby cat prowling the back yard in company. I wrote about everything that was going through my head, every dream and hope, the colour of the sky and the ocean, the secrets between the lines. My handwriting was tiny, the receivers needed a codebreaker to decipher it (except for Heidi, who wrote in kind). I possessed immense stacks of letters in envelopes, bundles of other peoples loves and dreams and days and nights, troubles and joys. I still have many of them today, enough to paper a room or two.
I must take after my great grandmother, Nan. She kept her bundles of christmas cards from the turn of last century, tiny, gilded, exquisite, and she kept her own great bundles of letters in copperplate covered envelopes that had travelled the countryside and come across oceans, from lonely men at war in Europe in World War I. I have been transcribing those almost hundred year old letters, and in doing so learning those men like friends, and not long dead relatives, much more than just stories now, from reading their letters firsthand. This was no story. You can learn things from those letters that you could never learn any other way. How many pages of handwriting have been lost in the history of the world? Yet it is now, surely, that words are truly becoming extinct as a tactile record. Words have become discardable, no longer curated. Will we be rereading precious missives from emails in a hundred years? I somehow doubt it. Even love letters skate off the edge of ubiquity.
I have a flat, golden cardboard box full of old love letters, cards and other little keepsakes from an ex-boyfriend who I spent seven years of my life with. We broke up about 14 years ago and most of the letters are from the early days of our love, when we both lived in Northcote, and then later when he moved to Lennox Head and I hadn’t yet moved there. His letters are tender and guileless in their belief that we would love each other for ever and always. Just a few weeks after we broke up and he had left, I found a very thick stack of my love letters to him, in a box in the shed. It rendered my heart that he would abandon not just the broken state of our love at that moment, but those early days of complete love as well. I gently interred the letters into a kookai bag, wrapped them up in brown paper and sent them onto him. I should have kept them, knowing that the words would remain intact, because I doubt that any vestige of tenderness for what had been remained with him to make him keep those love letters.
Al and I got together in the age of text messages, we sent each other hundreds. There were a few messages of the real variety, given that he was in Sydney and I was in Elwood, but mostly it was all electronic. When I got a new phone I transcribed all of his messages onto sheet after sheet of tissue paper, dozens of pages in tiny black ink, every x faithfully recorded. Those words were too lovely to lose. It is likely that I will keep those sheets until I die.
I wonder if the sweet art of love letters has already died? Or letters altogether?
There are pockets of renaissance, exciting projects like http://www.postcrossing.com/ to get people back into the spirit of writing and receiving, though it is postcards featured here. There is the wildly inspiring http://womenofletters.com.au/ and then there are people like my lovely friend Heidi, living in Europe now, who has begun sending me a card or a note each month. The first time that I opened my letterbox and saw an envelope with her tiny, instantly recognisable handwriting on the front my heart soared with joy. The card inside was a little ripped and damaged, and Heidi mused that she had found it in an old box of stationery and was going to throw it out, before realising that it might actually be the most appropriate vessel of this resurrected correspondance. Similarly, my sister, different name but handwriting unchanged, sent me a beautiful card last month, inspiring the same set of emotions when I pulled out the envelope. No email or text message, with all of their instantaneous gratification can ever compare to the sweet wait, the anticipation, the careful tearing of the envelope, pulling out the prettiness of all the handwriting of anyone that we know and love.
I have bought a book of stamps, Paul Kelly’s head adorns them- which is better than the queen- and I have begun my own renaissance I have begun to write letters to people that I hardly know, just like I used to. I want to inspire letterbox joy. I want to be able to paper rooms with words if that is my inclination.
Maybe there’s a letter coming your way any day soon. You should join me! Or request a letter and I might just pen you one.