David Russell Mosley
4 September 2015
The Edge of Elfland
Hudson, New Hampshire
Dear Friends and Family,
It is surprising to me that I haven’t written to you on this topic. After all, this blog is called, Letters from the Edge of Elfland. One would think that I would have written about the act of writing letters before now on here, but I haven’t. Therefore, it is time to rectify that.
We live in a time of unparalleled levels of communication. I tend to hate generalisations like that, but it’s quite true. One can send an email, a text, a tweet, a Facebook message or status update, a picture and a video (through the above means and many others), video chat, and audio chat instantaneously with one or multiple correspondents. One can even, as I am doing now, simply put one’s ideas (in various media) on websites like this one out there for anyone in the public to read. Why then do I often eschew this instantaneous way of communicating in favor of writing letters? Not only that, but I hand write them, with a fountain pen. Why do I do this?
Despite what so many think, these primarily digital forms of communication are not permanent. They have only a semblance of permanence. All it would take is survivable nuclear war, or something similar, (hard but not impossible to imagine) that would knock out our electrical energy and this blog and everything “on” the internet would disappear forever. While it’s true that this kind of war would also destroy many books letters they have a better chance of surviving because they are physical. So this is one reason I like to write letters, they’re more permanent. People cherish letters in a way they rarely cherish emails. This is why we have collections of letters by people like C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Flannery O’Conor and many, many others, because people kept them, referred back to them. Part of this is likely tied also to the effort required to write a handwritten letter. It is, in many ways, like a handmade present, one that means more than a gift-card or expensive bought present ever could because not only is the thing made of some material value, but it is also of sentimental value because the person who made it had to spend time thinking about it and therefore you as they created it. The handwritten letter has this same essence about it.
Even this aspect of the handwritten letter betrays something deeper. An email or other digital message, is something crafted by means of a machine (a computer, tablet, smart phone, etc.). There is, because of this, an inherent separation between the giver and the recipient. A handwritten letter, written either by pen or pencil (or quill, marker, crayon, what have you), is written by means of a tool. A tool, unlike a machine, becomes, temporarily, part of the user. It is an extension of yourself, not something totally outside yourself. What this means is that, in a way, you are actually sharing of yourself when you write and send a letter.
Now, I don’t want to completely eschew digital writing, I do, after all, write a blog, wrote most of my dissertation on a computer, text, tweet, and all that other nonsense. There is certainly a place for it. It has allowed for a greater global consciousness and conscience (though neither are always used correctly) than was possible even 100 years ago. There is and must be a place for the digital, so long as the digital lasts, anyway. But I will fight tooth and nail to maintain not only the art of letter writing, but of writing by hand. There are numerous psychological benefits for doing so, though these are not the most important for me. For me, in truth, it is simply more beautiful. Only in this way can I give something tangible of myself to another person (this is also why I’m more likely to write my wife a love-note rather than send her cute texts or emails) that they can keep for themselves or share with others.
So, I want to encourage all of you to begin writing letters to your friends and family. Perhaps you want to have an extended discussion about a topic (maybe a theological/philosophical one or about a movie or book); perhaps you simply want to reconnect with an old friend or family member from whom you’ve grown distant; perhaps you want to tell someone how you feel in a way that’s too daunting face-to-face. Whatever the reason, sit down, today, and write someone a letter, put a stamp on it, and post it through the mail. This one act can help reveal a bit more beauty in the world.