I have been, and continue to be, a life-long letter writer. It is true that now my most faithful and frequent correspondence is online in the form of email, but the spirit of the letter writing me remains.
My husband, who is not a writer of more than an occasional text, does not understand this “weird thing” I do, writing letters, but I’ve had pen pals my entire life, starting with Shelly Wong, who lived in San Francisco, when I was 11 and Shelly was 12. My mother, who worked for Shelly’s father, hooked us up. I still remember Shelly’s fat looping penmanship, although I have no idea what we wrote to each other.
I wrote my grandmother, too, when she returned to the south after my grandfather retired. Again, I can recall her handwriting more than the words we wrote to each other. I had started writing diaries about this time, a habit, like writing to penpals, I still keep to this day. I throw the diaries (I call them “morning pages” now) away as soon as I fill a book, and I was the same way with letters. I never wrapped them into a packet with a ribbon.
For a few years, I wrote to Kelly, who lived in Toronto. We met because her boyfriend was a friend of my husband. Al and I traveled to Toronto often, but when she was there and I was here, we corresponded regularly. We mostly talked about our love lives. When the internet happened, and I started a blog, I sometimes struck up years’ long correspondences with people who’d read a post. There was Kris, a fellow teacher of English, who was a RL friend who had moved a few hours north. We wrote every single day for a while. There was Becky, who loved writing, psychology and self-help as much as I did. She lived in Washington D.C. and I finally met her IRL when she came to Wayne State University for a course requirement.
The only penpal I have never met is the one I’ve been writing to for the longest time. It’s been a few years now and it’s a cherished and almost daily habit. Ali lives in England; we met when she reviewed one of my novels on her website. Back then we didn’t call people like Ali book bloggers, we called them reviewers. Eventually Ali reviewed all my titles, and, when she closed down her website, we began to correspond about more than books. We share our lives like best friends who’ve never met will do. She’s younger (and also wiser) than I am, but we fight many of the same daily battles. We talk about everything.
My husband thinks me odd for this habit of writing letters, emails and morning pages. I told him it wasn’t odd at all, but, admittedly old-fashioned. Like penmanship. Like reading real books. Like using the post office. We both remember all those things before the world changed with iPhones and laptops and pod casts. I was a little stung by his comment. I’m just doing what I’ve always done. It might make me strange, but I keep good company.
I explained to him that famous writers are sometimes also letter writers. When two such start a correspondence, they often save their letters, and when they die, the letters are published in books. I have read many such books myself. I offered to go to the bookshelf where they’re kept and show him one. He said no. This is just one more thing about me he doesn’t understand.
This morning, as I read the New York Times Book Review, another old habit I continue but now read on Kindle, I found to my pleasure that the long awaited second volume of Sylvia’s Plath’s letters has been published. After I read it, it will go on my bookshelves, with my Plath collection, and therefore I ordered a print version, which will be delivered to my door on Tuesday via Amazon. I can’t wait to show it to my husband.