I love letters.
I have collections of letters from over the years of my life. I keep childhood letters in a floral box in a deep closet in our house. Every few years I pull them out and enjoy the child script on such scarce and valuable American Girl Doll stationary. In high school, I received a collection of letters by C. S. Lewis for Christmas. I had asked for it specifically. Just out of college, I worked at the Hemingway Letters Project at Penn State, managing a database of scanned letters being transcribed and edited for publication. Once, I got to transcribe a letter that had never been transcribed; by then, I was familiar enough with Ernest’s handwriting to decipher most of the words, and asking for help on a few. “Oh, that’s just how Ernest wrote his ‘ands’,” she would tell me.
I’m finding recently that letter writing is a delightful and critical piece of my creative work. In particular, I have a few people with whom I exchange notes that are not merely updates and details but reflective. We get into our thoughts on the work and our making, offer feedback and spark more responses. It is a source of inspiration and pollination that I do not get in regular life. These are moments we’ve set down the rest of our work and spoke directly, specifically to the other in the pure faith that we will be heard, loved, and supported in that moment of sharing.
These pen pals are not people I see often and are typically separated from me by continents and seas. The distance is part of the enchantment, like a secret telephone line to another’s thought, a moment of truer speaking outside of life. It matters more to sense the life happening behind the life than to hear the logistical changes. We know the life behind the life matter more in this exchange.
Most of the correspondence is on emails—yet that has not dampened the firm grip of their voices. I think of things to share that would delight each pen pal specifically. Letter writing, both creating and receiving, makes my work stand bright and alive. The letters I receive in return of full of light, motivation, a warmth and thoughtfulness that makes me feel not alone in the world. I wait for their letters eagerly—one never knows when it will appear.
A letter–not a news bulletin–in the email inbox is a special creative work. It takes a moment apart from the rest of life. It’s a gift that lands in the middle of other, more tedious pieces. It changes the day into an opportunity to think, to delight.
So thank you to my creative correspondants. You are some of my dearest lights.