Friday, 5 February 2016

A Letter for You.

Let me begin with a question. Have you ever received a letter?

Like a real letter. Like the one someone writes thoughtfully by hand, licks the envelope, checks the postal address and sends it off? I hope so, but I think we’re in the minority. We letter writers.

Indeed, there has been a recent influx of polaroid-using, record-playing hipsters, but I do believe that letter writing is still very much a dying art. And perhaps the world would prefer that we perish, we last stragglers of another century. It would mean no more of that lost mail business, no more post office strikes and certainly no more headlines about dogs biting postmen (or postmen biting dogs). And just think of all the paper we use up! All 10 of us. It’s abominable.

There is, however, something quite fantastic about letters and letter-writing.

Letters have so much presence and humanness to them. You can see the glue where the sender pasted gold angels onto the page, their handwriting that looks like calligraphy, and perhaps if we’re being very old school romantic here, you may even smell a hint of perfume on the envelope. In the times when we seem to share our emotions via emoticon and whole relationships disappear into the technological ether, I think letters could be a much needed infusion of heart into our social worlds. It’s not that I’m ungrateful for social media. Skype, WhatsApp and Facebook have allowed me to keep in contact with friends all over the world. However, these friendships sometimes feel like a stuttering Skype call. Coming in bursts of how-r-yous every couple weeks (months) and sorely missing in real connection.

Creating a letter though is a precious, artist activity. I say creating because letters are most definitely not just words on a page. They are a space for thoughts and thoughtfulness; words that somehow say exactly what the other person needs to hear. Furthermore, each letter is different; a change in tone, the level of intimacy, how big your handwriting is, what happened that day that made you gasp. Some letters are coloured with the reds of a Rumi poem, and others are a darker grey where your hand smudged the ink as you wrote about the Paris attacks.

Letters can also come with things. In some you will place illustrations, pressed flowers, or bright red seeds you instruct your friend not to plant. Some will have a four line poem enclosed in a bag filled with feathers you picked up in the bird park when you were 12. Others have an iridescent, gold-blue gemstone wrapped in a story about a magical place on a mountain. Letters and envelopes are made to enclose –enclose what exactly is up to us. We may as well be strange and wonderful.

So I have decided to start a new artist project. As part of my celebration of artists (and my inner artist), I am going to buy beautiful packs of postcards, have my creative way with them,  and then send them off around the world to all the people I love and adore. I’ve started with a pack of 10 postcards by a Cape Townian artist named Julia Grey. She created what she calls “An Illustrated Poem” (what an exquisite name?); each postcard has a different illustration of an iconic place in Cape Town and the surrounding areas. City Bowl is my favourite.

I posted them all about a week ago, and I’m excited to see who receives theirs first. Some of the places my letters are travelling to include Alabama, Oxford, Sydney, Lahore, and Istanbul. I’m not sure if there is a saint who protects the travelling of letters, but perhaps Saint Christopher will take care of my letters for me. They are, in a way, like ten bits of me travelling around the world.


So I will close this post with a dare. Write a letter. Write it to someone who means something to you. Thank them, philosophise, confess your love, share your jokes, draw. Just please be interesting. Stick stars all over the envelope. Make a postman smile. Enclose a small heart bead, a Star Wars figurine, or a stone with moss on it. Send off a piece of your humanness. Let’s start something here –a letter writing movement! With the writing and receiving of each letter, perhaps our increasingly plugged-in lived will become ever more tangible, real.

Love and light

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