Earlier this year I spent six weeks living in Paris, and one of the gifts it gave me was this: I re-discovered the joy of correspondence. Texting and phone calls were too expensive, and the time difference meant G-chat was mostly out, so for the first time in years, I wrote letters.
Okay, so they weren't real letters — the stamped kind — but I did sit down, and take time, and craft emails that were longer than a few sentences and didn't include any links to cat videos. I hadn't written to anyone like this in a long time, since my grandmother died, and I was surprised at how much I loved it.
I loved getting long emails, of course - in them I heard the voices of friends far away, and I felt less alone. But what surprised me was how much I loved writing them. I found myself looking forward to a night spent writing letters almost as much as a night out. It felt like getting to know myself. I would set out to tell someone what I did that day, and think, what did I do today? Forced to give an account of myself in this slow, considered way, I began to unravel little mysteries. I wanted to tell people why I had come to Paris, and what I had learned there, and by writing to other people about these things I began to understand them myself.
Writing letters, I realized, is really different from any other way we have of communicating. It's a little bit like telling a story, another lost art. When you write a letter, you are framing and re-telling your own stories to your correspondent and to yourself, much as you would in a conversation, but in a slow and considered way. It's the slowness, I think, that makes it beautiful - you have time to step away from things, to shape your memories, to find meaning where there was none before. You have time to search for the right questions to call forth stories from other people - to look for the questions that will dig deeply, that will make them feel known and understood.
It's more work, of course, than dashing off a text message or a quick chat. Writing letters requires a concentration and an intensity that other forms of communication do not. But it's worth it, I think. Try it - write a letter to your momma, or to your lover, or to your best friend. You never know what you might discover.