Monday, June 29, 2015

On Writing And Waiting

I wrote a letter this morning, the old-fashioned way. Pen to paper, the pressure of my fingers curved
around an instrument that does not harbor an instantaneous 'delete' button.

(I know this, because I swear, when I misspelled a world, the ring finger on my right hand automatically moved toward the top right of the paper...)

The writing of the letter was interesting enough, but the fascinating part (to me) was that in the three hours since I wrote that letter (and mailed it), I have been anxiously awaiting a reply.


I have had to stop, and think, and then pointedly tell myself that all the things I told her, she doesn't yet know.

I've been chewing on that for a bit. Certainly I'm aware of the studies that show how our brains and our attention spans are evolving, morphing into this digital age of information overload. I know full well that too much online influx makes my brain less able to process, to create, to think clearly. But I've never really considered how the instantaneous sharing of information creates this powerful expectation of response. 

I have certainly been thinking about it today, as I realize - with some concern - how hard-wired I am for an instant reply to the letter I wrote today, which is still probably three days away from its recipient. What does that mean? Does that change what I wrote? Without the imperative demand of an immediate response - the kind that we expect with a text, or a Facebook post, or even an email - is the information I sent diluted? If we're not in instantaneous dialogue, what is the context of the words, scrawled on a page, three days prior?

These are questions that were ridiculous just a few years ago; but today, I'm shocked by how different the process of written communication can be - not the new form, but the old-fashioned kind.

Sarah and Max received a beautiful, hand-crafted wedding gift from a thoughtful and very creative friend. The address label and the card inside were made with a tool that I instantly recognized - but was surprised to see. Sarah told me that this craftsman - their friend - uses a typewriter to write - no word-processor or computer print-outs, just an old school typewriter. I was, in turn, shocked, amused and then intrigued. I thought of carbon paper, and white-out, and the IBM Selectric that came with the automatic 'erase' key. I remember those machines.

I remember pounding out long letters, stringing together sentences for my uncle Dave, for my old babysitter Bev - my missives sent gently to those I trusted the most, as my fingers aimed for the magic of the written word that so captivated and called to me. I worked in an office for a few years in my late teens, and any spare moment that had no work to do found me either reading or writing. I loved both.

Just a little over a week ago (has it been only that long? It seems years...), Sarah handed me her vows, hand-written on two over-sized sheets of her sister's drawing paper. She had passionately poured out her promise, her deepest feelings about marrying this man she loved. She asked me to edit, and I volunteered to type them for her on something more manageable to hold at such an intimate moment in their ceremony. I've always been the editor of my kids' writing, and this particular creative outpouring was especially precious. But whereas I freely added punctuation and altered sentence structure in applications and essays and research papers, in this case her work stood as it was. And I recall, in that moment when I heard the words she had written come out of her mouth (and her heart) as she pledged her life to Max - I remember how clearly I saw her, and how grace pointed out to me the unique "other-ness" of my child, standing on her own, joining hands and jumping into that wild ride that is the challenge and chaos and utter joy of marriage. In the context of her written words becoming a vow, the moment she spoke them was weighted with purpose and infused with hope. My edits would have altered what was; they would have been rude and presumptuous and wrong. Her words were hers, and they were ripe with truth as she delivered them, in the moment they were needed.

We write words, and sometimes the context is one like a simmering stock, in which the marrow ebbs and mingles with the sweet and charred bits and pieces. Eventually, it cools, and your tongue tastes the smallest offering off the wooden spoon, and you see that it is good. It just took some time.

And that's like writing a letter these days, I suppose.

Photo courtesy of Meagan Abell Photography

1 comment:

annie said...

Oh, Beth. I like this so much! Sometimes I miss the old days of writing (or typing) out letters!