02 March 2010

Winter Correspondence

Perhaps I am a bear, or some hibernating animal underneath,
for the instinct to be half-asleep all winter is so strong in me.
~ Anne Morrow Lindbergh

T
hat is what I have been doing for the past two months: hibernating. Which is why you have not heard from me, dear readers. But try not to scold me too much ~ it was not the snow or even the lack of sun for many weeks that led me to neglect you. In addition to recovering from sleep deprivation, I was also impatiently waiting for not one, but two kidney stones to stop their assault on my person. After many skirmishes, we finally declared a truce with one another, but I am sure they will tire of their immobility and rebel in another year or so.

Well, what can I say? When one is battling kidney stones, one does not have much strength left over to write, much less edit, throw out and re-write. I became a bit like Lucy Honeychurch after playing Beethoven ~ rather peevish. And this writer at least needed the down time. Not that I stopped writing. That would be. . .well, impossible, I think! I once heard that one knew one was born to be a writer if one could not NOT write. As Lord Byron once said: “If I don’t write to empty my mind, I go mad.”

For a long time I interpreted that to mean that one must have a burning desire to write poetry or novels 24/7 ~ as if a real writer limited himself to those two genres. But I have a deep need to write everything. So while I have not been as productive on these pages, dear readers, my quill has not lain idle. I have drafted three poems, three songs, a couple of monologues, begun a play and penned several letters.

Ahh, letters. I believe they are my favorite genre of writing. And winter is the best time for it. The crisp air. The slip and swoosh and crunch of snow under one’s feet. Any excuse to curl up in front of the fireplace with a steaming cup of coziness ~ and by cozy, I mean with a splash of Jack or Jim or Remy or my personal favorite, Chaucer. Winter is made for correspondence.

Or reading other people’s correspondence. Currently, I am snooping in the private letters of various people via Thomas Mallon’s Yours Ever: People and Their Letters. Very well written, but I cannot quite call it a delicious read ~ more an appetizer. Every other page, I am writing down the name of yet another character whose flamboyant correspondence I want to delve deeper into. Mallon offers up morsels to whet the appetite, some with surprising twists. For instance,

it is in truth my fear, that, as soon as I should meditate a letter to be sent you, it should suddenly come into my mind by what an interval of earth you are distant from me, and so the grief of your absence, already nearly lulled, should grow fresh, and break up my sweet dream

is not something I would have expected from the dour John Milton. Yet there it is, the inner workings of a literary master preserved in his own hand. Mallon offers several such literary tidbits, including snippets of the love letters of William and Mary Wordsworth, Woodrow and Edith Wilson, the correspondence of George Sand and Flaubert and Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf, among many others.

There is something about a handwritten note. As Mallon says, “it has an intimacy and force that can never be matched” by either e-mail or even that recent ancient artifact: the type-writer. Writing a letter by hand forces one to slow down, to think through what one will say, how it might come across to the reader who cannot hear tone or see our facial expressions. E-mail, of course poses the same problem, but how many of us really think long and hard while we are tap, tapping away? I have been the recipient of so many electronic missives where the author did not even bother to hit the spell-check button! Not that “snail-mail” is protected from such mistakes ~ but the nature of the medium is such that the artist wielding the fountain pen is naturally more careful in the brush strokes their word choice creates.

As for my own library, this afternoon I ordered a collection of John Donne's letters and another of John Muir's and I already own a book of Tolkien's letters, the correspondences of Evelyn Waugh to Nancy Mitford and Diana Cooper, and a book of letters from George Bernard Shaw. And of course, my desk is crammed full of stationary, several bottles of ink, a large hoard of various writing implements, among which are my highly prized fountain pens.

And now, back to my cave for more writing and inspiration. Sigh. Mr. Donne and Mr. Muir cannot get here quick enough!

Oremus pro invicem,
~ Mikaela
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