Luskin: The pleasure of letters

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(HOST) While it’s certainly tempting to send valentines by email, this year commentator Deborah Luskin is thinking about the old-fashioned pleasure of letter-writing.

(LUSKIN) I love letters, and I’ve been a letter writer all my life – until the advent of email, that is.
On my sixteenth birthday, my then best friend moved to Thailand, and we kept in touch by mail. I’d fill a tissue thin, blue aerogram with miles of ink. The aerogram was a single sheet, pre-stamped affair that became its own envelope when folded in thirds. My friend had to open it carefully, since I covered every bit of space – right up to the edges.  When I left home as a young adult, I dutifully sent letters home. This was back when even domestic long distance phonecalls cost money, and international calls were out of the question, except in instances of severe distress.
I’m a writer, so letter writing has always been something I’ve enjoyed – a chance to sit and reflect and connect. But friends would reply to my letters with a phone call. I don’t really like the telephone, and it became difficult to maintain my long distance relationships beyond the wedding invitations, birth announcements and holiday cards that kept us connected.
Then email arrived. I was quick to sign on. I would much rather type an email than speak on the phone. For one, I can do it during the odd hours of the night, when sleep is elusive. For another, it’s so easy: type as fast as you can and press "Send" – no envelopes, no stamps, no trip to the PO.
Email keeps me connected. It’s how I check in with my kids, how my clients feed me work; I keep in touch with my long distance friends by email, and I make dates with my local friends over the ‘net. And I forgot all about the seduction of letters until the other day, when a letter arrived in the mail.  Hidden in a sheaf of bills, catalogues and sale flyers. I almost missed it.
At first, I didn’t recognize the handwriting; I’m not sure I’d ever seen it before. As I read about my friend’s adventure of driving alone cross-country to relocate out west – I suddenly felt so connected. She had rested her hand against that very paper as she moved her pen across it. She had folded it, stuffed it in the envelope and licked it shut. This was not a matter of mere pixels, but a tangible expression of her presence. It was like a long-distance hug.  Life is short, and email is efficient. But this year, as Valentine’s Day approaches, I will pull out the heavy bond stationary, fill up my fountain pen, and write to my beloved friends who are far away.

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