Tuesday, February 3, 2015

greetings and salutations

I was considering letter-writing.

Alexandra Stoddard wrote a whole book on this subject, titled Gift Of A Letter.

For a long time I had sort of a "mental block" about writing a letter, because it seems like when you're a child and teen-ager, you can just write -- to a friend or someone you know, and they'll be happy to get the letter, because it's fun to get a letter.

That's the thing:  when you are a kid, you do things because --
a) it's fun or
b) you haven't done it before.

Then when we're adults, it becomes -- do what you have to do.  People write mostly an annual Christmas card instead of a letter, and tell what their children are doing.

It seems like an unspoken requirement that most of the info in this type of correspondence has to be statistics: 
what grades are the children in;
what are their favorite subjects;
what sports do they play;
and then some carefully understated information about the parents.

The thing is, it would be so easy to "do it wrong," I began thinking -- because if you write positive things about your life and work, then you run the risk of sounding like you're boasting; if you write negative things -- well then you're just complaining! lol and who wants that, right?

A friend of mine used to make a joke -- in fact he sort of had an offhand little comedy-shtick he did, about people who send Christmas letters claiming that their 9-year-old has just finished her (well-received) dissertation, while their 14-year-old is completing medical school and is set to begin his residency at the Mayo Clinic...etc.  You know...Child Prodigies, All, and trying to "best" all the other parents...! 

And when you're single, it is easy to get the idea that no one wants to get a letter from you because you aren't married and do not have children on whom you can report any statistics.  (And of course if you had the children, you would worry that if you wrote about them in a letter you might be boring your correspondent, or boasting, maybe...) 

Two 20th-Century American poets wrote letters back-and-forth for 30 years:  Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell (of the Massachusetts Lowells).  Their correspondence has been collected and arranged chronologically -- Words In Air, was edited by Thomas Travisano with Saskia Hamilton (Farrar, Straus and Giroux / New York, 2008).

They write some about their work, which is writing poems.  And they write about -- just plain things, regular things, daily things.  I guess you could say they write as they would talk, if they were having coffee together, in person.

Bishop wrote to Robert Lowell (whose nickname is Cal),

[New York, N.Y.  September 29, 1957]
Sunday night --

Dearest Cal:

Thank you for your reassuring wire & I'm sorry I've been so fickle about my plans.  I really had to stay here this week-end, though -- Margaret Miller's mother had an operation on Friday & we were all worried....Everything's fine, though....

{She writes, then, of her near-future travel plans, to see him and his wife in Massachusetts; and she invites them, in the next paragraph, to a party in N.Y., on Central Park West...one of the guests is to be e.e. cummings, the poet.  I liked the next paragraph} --

It's past midnight and very silent and I'm probably keeping the night doorman awake as well as Lota, and a mystery man across the garden who sits up all night with three bright lights on, as if giving himself a 3rd degree -- only he always does seem to be awake, & alone.  Tonight he did something very strange for a while -- and finally we saw that he was (silently) playing a cello.

...I am dying to see the poems and hope you're all well.  Until next Friday --

Lots of love, Elizabeth

The freighter now sails the 11th --



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