A letter I wrote to someone else first

by Stephanie on July 17, 2009

Dear [ name omitted ]

It’s 12:25am and and and

and I’m replying to your letter. I’m sending it to your [——] address assuming you’re there, even though I have no idea where I’d send it if you weren’t.

I’m avoiding writing fiction, again. You know those days when it feels like your brain is smothered by cottonwool? When composing a single sentence is like wading through thigh-deep mud? That was me today. And I object to the suggestion that writing letters is grandmotheresque. Emails aren’t the same. You can’t hide an email in a box under your bed, or tear it up in frustration, or stick pretty pictures to it, or send a leaf in the envelope. And if you can do all of those things, then you’ve printed it out onto paper and it’s no longer an email: it’s a shadow of what you really want it to be—a written letter in the post. And in emails, you can’t do this—

[ fills the page with circles and scribbles ]

which sometimes feels like the most expressive and appropriate thing to say. You can’t properly translate that into type, or even into words, and get the same effect, although I reckon there are some sounds that might come close.

I am writing this on onion-skin airmail paper. My mother bought it for me when I was in high school and writing endless letters to my friend in Canada. So my writing letters isn’t anything new, although I haven’t written any for awhile, save to my ancient great-aunt who lives in Horsham, and who is apparently busier than I am because she rarely ever replies.

The truth is, I’m really writing for myself. The ‘you’ in this letter isn’t really you until you read it. It’s just scribbles on paper—words in a void. That’s what makes them easy. And lately my mind and my mouth don’t want to connect up. There is a tangle of thoughts knotting up my brain that I can’t speak to people, even when I want to. But I can communicate it here because this is silent, drawn out, and somehow more primal. Speaking was always second choice for me. Scribbling always came first—pictures, then words. My mind and my mouth might be at odds, but my mind and my pen—

Sometimes when I write letters I figure things out, and then I don’t want to send them. If I send this to you, are these words yours? Are you allowed to share them around, to hide them, to bury them or burn them, or do what you like with them? Part of me feels that, however haphazard, these words are a gift therefore I no longer have any claim over them. At the same time, another part of me is trying to claw them back, because they’re mine, they’re mine, they’re me.

I’m not writing in an art frame: I’m not considering how best to construct a timeline of events, or redrafting and reshaping, or setting a clear objective and layering my paragraphs with thematic nuance. But if I’m writing this for myself then why would I bother sending it? And if I send it but make a copy for myself, does that compromise the integrity of the words as a gift? Does it just make me narcissistic? And if I take it, type it out, reimagine it, shuffle pieces around and turn it into art and make it public, have I betrayed you? Have I betrayed myself?

If my words could say things the way this chord cadence does.

If my words could say things the way the wind through the trees at midnight, behind the streetlight, says them.

If my words could say things the way the rain dripping off my fingertip says them.

How close can I live to art before I can’t see the line anymore?
I am addressing this to you because:
I am writing rather than talking about it because:

Everything is something else, really.

(December 2008)

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