|You can see into the basement of the library from the outside!|
Today I wrote letters. A lot of letters. If you are a friend and you gave me your address, expect a letter. (And if not, send me your address so we can keep in touch!). I finished my work early today so I spent about thirty minutes in the Coe College library, waiting for a book to catch my eye. What I stumbled upon was a “complete” volume of letters from Kurt Vonnegut to friends, family, publishers, librarians, you name it. To say the least, it was fascinating. Letters are such a unique art form. Even as I say that I want to laugh at myself. To the people of the past letters were as basic to communication as text message and e-mail are today, so calling them an art form feels somewhat absurd. At the same time, I read some of Vonnegut’s letters and think, how can they not be? So many of them are beautiful. Simplistic. Profound. Witty. There is a letter in the book where he describes his time as prisoner of war in Dresden, Germany. This would become one of the focal points of his most famous work, Slaughterhouse Five. Just, wow. I read the letters of people who have gone before me and I feel like I am collecting some sort of ancient wisdom. I feel as though it were written just for me. This is another absurdity, I know, but that doesn’t change the power that letters have over me. They are like personal windows into not only the lives of the people writing them, but the time period, the social etiquette, popular culture.
Today, so much of our communication is based on instant gratification. They are all what’s-up? and where-are-you-now? and this-is-this-funny-thing-I-saw. Most of the texts I sent today were immensely inconsequential. Things like, “Where are you?” and “Want to eat?” I can’t help wondering what kind of wisdom anyone in the future would get out of reading them. And truth be told, the letters I wrote aren’t much better. I just talk about my classes, my friends, my job in the writing center. It’s hard to see them as art. But they are meaningful. Maybe even more so now than before the internet. Now, letters are rare. They have this kind of novelty aspect to them that makes receiving them even more exciting. And even if their contents are ordinary, the act of writing them is special. I don’t really know where I’m going with this except that I’m learning to appreciate things whose gratification is a little less instant. And that I’d really like to have a bunch of my letters in a book someday. If anyone is still reading them. They’d a million times more interesting than my text messages, anyway.
Bonus Material! (These are some of my favorite letters I've ever read, from the website Letters of Note):
Kurt Vonnegut's Letter (mentioned above)
From Ken Kesey to friends after his son's death (Warning: This one makes me cry every time)
From Tom Hanks to the people behind the Nerdist Podcast (after they sent him a typewriter as a gift)
Song of the day: Build Me a Boat to Nowhere by Hunter & Wolfe