epistolary devotion

Good morning — technically, it’s still morning here in Oakland, even though the sun is high and bright, burning the back of my neck as I sit out on the deck to write. Workshops Saturday, Monday and Tuesday, so this Wednesday morning I am taking it easy, paying close attention to the birds. Just a moment ago I heard a rustling above me and looked up to find a crow pushing over the driveway, over the neighbor’s red-asphalt roof. And just now, a red-tailed hawk flew low and close over my head, skimming the branches of the apple tree, in hot pursuit of some smaller bird. A breeze picks up, and I notice that all the other morning bird-talk has fallen silent in the hawk’s wake. The sky is a flat and shallow blue: no clouds, just a matte periwinkle behind the tree leaves.

This morning, for my morning pages, I wrote a letter — a letter that I then tore out of my notebook, folded into an addressed and stamped envelope, and put into the mailbox. My sweetheart is away on vacation just now, and one of the ways we honor that separation is to write to each other: real letters from real breath and real hands. Sitting out at the backyard table, I let my thoughts unravel, let my mind wander, let myself play on the page the same way I would if I were writing only for myself. A letter is an interesting kind of conversation, fueled by desire for connection to that which is forever at a distance (something about all writing lives in that sentence, of course) —¬† I want her to read these words as soon as I write them, but she won’t get them for another two days at least. By then, who I was when I wrote the letter will have shifted; some of what I thought when I wrote it down will have changed for me — she gets to read the past of me, and I of her, when she writes back. Then, when we talk on the phone about our letters, our conversations take on new shades and layerings: I want to speak of who you were, what you think now, what happened in the gap.

I love letter-writing; it’s a private act, curious, investigatory, intimate — my letters are often undirected explorations of whatever it is I’m thinking about or dealing with when I get out the stationery and envelopes, and yet the quality of the writing is different from a journal entry — I’m not just writing for myself anymore: I know I will have a reader. The tone changes, and I feel myself in a long-distance conversation, in which I get all sorts of space to have my say, and then I get to wait awhile as she gathers her thoughts together to respond, at length as well. It slows me down. It slows our us down.

I try to write a letter a day while she’s gone, shifting the mailing address back to her home here in Oakland after it gets too late in the vacation for the mail to reach her before she leaves. Sometimes we write to each other when we’re in the same city, though that happened more often when we spent fewer nights together.

How often do you write letters these days? I’m not talking about email, of course — I mean letters handwritten, set down on notebook paper or stationary or in a card, slow first thoughts drafted out right there on the page for a single reader to receive and savor, mistakes and all. Letter writing is a great prompt — you might try it as your write for today. Give yourself twenty minutes — who would you write to, if given the chance? Address the page, then follow your writing wherever it seems to want you to go — you don’t have to mail it, remember. But you can, if you want to, since we do still have a post office to count on.

¬†Keep writing. Don’t stop. Thank you for your words.

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