I am not a student of rhetoric.
It’s a sad thing that so many of us, particularly those of us with a writing bent, I think, cannot summon up in person what we put on paper. Though the words may flow easily from the keyboard to the screen, the moment we open our mouths without writing it down, it’s a disaster.
Eh, who am I kidding. It’s rare that the words flow easily in any case.
But I guess my point is that, what with Skype and cell phones and Facebook and email and the rising cost of postage, the personal letter has become defunct – which I feel is a great shame. I am told there was a time when letters filled mailboxes instead of catalogs and solicitations for either money or personal information. I have no knowledge of that time, but I do remember getting letters in the mail. My grandmother, before she got into computers and email and the like, used to send me letters when I was in college and I always looked forward to seeing them, even though they were nothing exciting to read. The contents were not the point. The point was I was remembered, time was taken, and a letter was mailed.
The last letter I got was a thank you card. I feel those don’t really count. They were sent out of a feeling of obligation – not out of anything resembling affection. Okay – that’s not entirely fair. The person who sent it is family and they do like me, but still – you send thank you cards because your supposed to – not because you want to.
And emails don’t count either. We all know emails don’t count. Despite the movie, You’ve Got Mail, it’s not the same thing. You’re just as likely to meet a creeper on the internet instead of a penpal. Besides, when was the last time you got anything that wasn’t spam or business related in your inbox? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?
I suppose emails are great, but they aren’t the same as a letter. They don’t travel hundreds or thousands of miles over the course of days just to reach you. Emails can’t smell of perfume or get sealed with a lipstick kiss. Though you can send photos – and I suppose you can print them – you can’t just stick them on the corner of your desk or in your wallet right away. You can’t enclose a crayon drawing that leaves smudges on the paper and you can’t soak them with tears. There’s never any impression of difficultly in email and text – there’s no lines and lines of crossed out attempts to say what you wanted.
I know I reference Terry Pratchett a lot on this blog, but my favorite book of his is Going Postal which is, among other things, about the power of words and the life wrapped up inside a paper envelope. And, as usual, he was right – some things are about as warm and human as a thrown knife. I won’t say that you can’t be passionate in an email, but…they’re not a familiar handwriting.