I’ve collected correspondence from over the years—brief notes, postcards, hand drawn maps directing me to bars around the corner. They’re all stuffed between books on my shelf in a section my friends call “The Shrine”. An easy way into my life, or at least to be saved forever, is to send me a note. I keep everything.
Evidence reminds me of where I’ve been, who I’ve met, and who I’ve loved. There are evenings when friends are over, and I start pulling letters out of the shrine to tell some story I haven’t thought of in years. My friends roll their eyes and say, “She’s in that kind of mood.” For some reason, it is of the utmost importance to keep documentation; a trail of breadcrumbs for those who follow behind. Having proof of a life well lived never hurts.
There are so few occasions to pause and reflect, to form insights and show gratitude to the people around us. One of my more adventurous friends finds a way to send me postcards from the furthest corners of the world. As he writes from somewhere in Brazil, “Talking and writing are exercises of thinking, with the latter being, by many orders of magnitude, the more rigorous. ” He calls writing letters “the last art.” I sometimes worry that in the future, children will no longer know how to read cursive, squinting at tangled letters unable to decipher their message. Illegibility is, to me, a sign of noteworthy penmanship.
This Valentine’s Day, it is time to spend more time writing the card than searching for the present. In the 1876 text How to Write Letters J. Willis Westlake notes, “Letters are written when the mind is as it were in dressing-gown and slippers—free, natural, active, perfectly at home, and with all the fountains of fancy, wit, and sentiment in full play.” Through time and distance, letters allow the writer to reveal themselves a little more than usual. To write one is to conduct an inquiry into flights of fancy or unrequited affections. A perfect love letter must include tender observations; the deepest form of flattery is articulating qualities about a person that often go unnoticed. Like Henry Miller writing, “You have a delicious sense of humor—I adore that in you. I want always to see you laughing.” It just proves that even the prickliest of men can show softness in a letter.
At the beginning of the pandemic, I wrote four letters to an old paramour. There was an intimacy that allowed me to confidently express passing thoughts and whims. I was sleeping too much and fighting bouts of malaise but still let my unresolved longing towards him surface in writing. It was freeing. As the letters went on, my mood shifted to lighter fare, taking time to muse on love, painting, and the newfound obsession with Pét-Nat. I signed off each one with, “Till tomorrow, or another day I am in the mood to write you.” They never wrote back. And yet I am grateful for them, they present a capsule of time—along with a few clever lines that I may repurpose.
Always revisit letters from the past, as they may revitalize how you see your present. Helen Keller writing from the Grand Hotel Lucerne describing the air in Iceland as “marvelous and clear” resembling “dry champagne,” or Emily Dickinson writing to her lover, “I do think it’s wonderful, Susie, that our hearts don’t break, everyday.” They write to lovers and dear friends with charm, wit, and a touch of seduction, like Anaïs Nin slyly telling Henry Miller, “I will be the woman you will never have.”
The beauty of letters is they stay alive on the page; their artistry allows them to be read as if they were written just days ago. Handwriting has the effect of being dashed off with elegance, and so I hope that letters will continue to be written, read, and sent, forever. There is no other pleasure like checking a mailbox and finding that amongst the flyers and bills, there is an envelope personally addressed to you. Find the person you’d like to send a letter to and throw caution to the wind— who knows what will be revealed. Whether it is a crumpled note passed discreetly, or a long missive of unrequited love, take up the pen and give in to its many possibilities.
Marlowe Granados’ best-selling debut novel ‘Happy Hour’ is an account of two young women in their pursuits for pleasure. For the author herself, delight lies in the margins of a good old fashioned love note.