Back and Forth, To and Fro, It’s Sharing That Helps Friendship Grow

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There are those who say they love getting letters but they don’t enjoy writing them. These people seem to think writing a letter is a difficult task.  Maybe they just need practice sharing their hearts with others and cultivating greater interest in their fellow men.

I certainly understand the pleasure of receiving letters, especially good letters that have something to say and say it eloquently. If letters are beautiful, if they have a lovely look, they’re even better.  But to me, the best letters of all are those that not only entertain, inform, and share the writer’s true feelings, but also show interest in me.   (We won’t even talk about the “letters” we see, often at holiday time, in which everything is about the writer and no thought is given to us, the letter’s recipients).

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Rebecca West

Now Rebecca West, 20th century author, journalist, literary critic and travel writer, says there is no such thing as conversation.  She says there are only monologues, that is all.  Do you agree with her?  I don’t.  In fact, I feel a little guilty writing to you here and now because it’s all about me and my thoughts. Since I’m a letter writer first and foremost, I’d really like to know what you’re thinking too.  Maybe you’ll leave a comment, or better yet, maybe you’ll write me a letter one of these days.  But even though this particular message from me to you does happen to be more a monologue than a conversation, a letter should always be a conversation. The writer should share his thoughts but then refer to the person to whom he is writing.   He should ask questions, comment on his friend’s ideas and show he cares about his friend. It’s the give and take that makes his missive a letter and not an essay.

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I’ve heard some say they have nothing interesting to say in letters and that’s why they can’t write them.  I suppose this could be true, but if this is truly the case I wonder why these people aren’t getting busy finding places to go, people to see, and new things to do for their own sake. Even if they’re captive at home for whatever reason there are still so many subjects  they could  explore, books they could read and PBS programs they could watch, enjoy, and later discuss in their letters.  We all owe it to ourselves to fill our lives with fun activities and fill our minds with stimulating ideas.  That’s what living richly is all about and sharing all this makes letter writing fun for sharing doubles the joy and divides the sorrow.

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But maybe some of these people who hesitate to write letters really are quite interesting and have a lot they could be sharing.  Maybe they’re just not giving themselves enough credit, not realizing the positive impact they could have on others if they would share their personal thoughts and stories and show a sincere interest in the thoughts and stories of others.

Some letters are bursting with news, but even if a person has no news to report, that need not stop her from writing a good letter, for though it’s always nice to read what’s happening in the lives of others, the best part of a letter is the sharing of a person’s true feelings.  Sharing our feelings on any number of subjects makes our letters personal and human and its this sharing  that is the magic ingredient of true friendship.  We all have thoughts and plenty of feelings so why not make a point of sharing them?   We should, for when we share good things come back to us – Friends!

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My friend, Charlotte, my “dead friend”
Let me tell you about one of my friends, one of my “dead friends”,  Her name is Charlotte Bronte.  I knew of her, but I never really knew her.  I’d  heard about what she did and where she went, interesting information for sure, but it’s not until I read Charlotte’s letters that I really began to know her, and it’s not until I began to know her that I could connect with her and consider her a friend and kindred spirit.  She now is a source of inspiration to me.

Though Charlotte lived long ago and far away, by discovering her letters, I now feel I know her better than a lot of the people I see in my world every day.  Personal thoughts and feelings shared will make people feel close. Whether we’re happy or sad, inspired or bored, comfortable or under stress, sharing our thoughts and feelings in letters, whatever they happen to be, and being interested in the thoughts and feelings of others, is really what makes letter writing socially and intellectually exciting.

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Though Charlotte was a clever interesting woman and  a successful novelist, she thought her life was very dull and this often put her into  a funk, a real letter writing funk, but she kept writing letters.  Why? I can hear you now saying, “It’s because although she had no joy to share at times, sharing also divided the sorrow.”

Well, this is true, but let Charlotte tell you in her own words exactly why she wrote letters, funk or no funk.  By reading just a bit of one of her letters you’ll begin to feel close to Charlotte as I do and you’ll understand why many say letters mingle souls. Charlotte writes:

Dear ____________________,

I feel it was almost a farce to sit down and write to you now, with nothing to say worth listening to; and, indeed, if it were not for two reasons, I should put off the business at least a fortnight hence.  The first reason is, I want another letter from you, for your letters are interesting, they have something in them; some results of experience and observation; one receives them with pleasure, and reads them with relish; and these letters I cannot expect to get, unless I reply to them.  I wish the correspondence could be managed so as to be all on one side, the second reason is derived from a remark in your last, that you felt lonely something as I was in Brussels, and that consequently you have a peculiar desire to hear from old acquaintance.  I can understand and sympathize with this.  I remember the shortest note was  a treat to me, when I was at the above-named place; therefore I write.  I have also a third reason: it is a haunting terror lest you should imagine I forget you – that my regard cools with absence.  It is not in my nature to forget your nature; though, I dare say, I should spit fire and explode sometimes if we lived together continually; and you, too, would get angry, and then we should get reconciled and jog on as before.  Do you ever get dissatisfied with your own temper when you are long fixed to one place, in one scene, subject to one monotonous species of annoyances?  I do; I am now in that unenviable frame of mind; my humour, I think, is too soon overthrown, too sore, too demonstrative and vehement.  I almost long for some of the uniform serenity you describe in Mrs. ____’s disposition; or, at least, I would fain have her power of self-control and concealment; but I would not take her artificial habits and ideas long with composure.  After all I should prefer being as I am.”

Charlotte Bronte

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We know if someone is alone and lonely, receiving a letter could be a great comfort as it was for Charlotte.  Writing letters to show we care about a person, even if we have nothing particularly interesting  to say, can make a huge difference in someone’s day.  It’s not important to be a brilliant writer, nor do we need to have an exciting life in order to write good letters. It’s just necessary to care about others and be willing to share ourselves with them.

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We don’t have to be alone or lonely to enjoy letters either. In the book “A Woman of Independent Means” Eizabeth Forsythe Hailey  writes, ” Though my own life is filled with activity letters encourage momentary escape into other people’s lives and I return to my own with renewed contentment.”  Whether we’re an introvert or an extrovert, as long as we care about others and are willing to share our life with them letters should be as much fun to write as to receive.

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So if you’re one of those people, (or you know one) who would love to receive letters just start, or keep writing them.  Human expression is precious and  personal touch is more important today than ever for it’s in short supply these days. What the world needs now is love sweet love, and writing personal letters is one great way to spread that love and friendship around our weary world.

Charlotte, Jane, Carol Ann (and Artie too)

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My daily letter

Today, as usual, I began my morning by writing a letter.  It was a letter composed of four  pages, 8×10 inches.  This is the usual length of one of my letters, though sometimes I’ll create a letter booklet, smaller in size, but made up of at least ten pages.  I send these letters off for the cost of a 46 cent U.S. postage stamp, providing the letter is staying in the United States.  Postal rates are higher if letters are going over seas.  Is my letter writing  an economical pleasure?  Whether it is or not I plan to continue writing and sending letters off because it is such a complete treat – a physical, social, intellectual and spiritual treat.

Today I wrote to Artie in Staten Island, New York.  Artie is a very nice gentlemen, and reading his letter, then responding, made for a very pleasant start to my day, but I had even more interesting fun reading a letter from Charlotte … you know, Charlotte Bronte, one of my talented “dead friends”.  I came upon a a letter she wrote to her publisher back on January 12th, 1848.

You’ll find the letters of your “dead friends” to be very interesting  reading, but that’s only if you choose very interesting “dead friends”.  Of course, why would you choose any other kind?

Well, Charlotte’s letter was full of surprises.  Did you know she didn’t think very much of Jane Austen’s writing?  I didn’t know that till I read this letter to her publisher who also happened to be Jane’s publisher.  Charlotte wrote”

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…”Why do you like Miss Austen so very much?  I am puzzled on that point.  (She writes) an accurate, daguerreotyped portrait of a commonplace face!  a carefully-fenced, highly cultivated garden, with neat borders and delicate flowers; but no glance of a bright, vivid physiognomy, no open country, no fresh air, no blue hill, no sonny beck.  I should hardly like to live with her ladies and gentlemen, in their elegant but confined houses.  These observations will probably irritate you, but I shall run the risk … Miss Austen is only a shrewd observer.”

Charlotte doesn’t mince words, does she?  I bet she must be quite surprised and annoyed to know just how popular Jane Austen’s work has become in today’s world.  Though Charlotte and Jane weren’t chummy on earth I wonder if they met in heaven and became friends.  They must both be pleased that their works are still being read by people like us.

Those of us who believe in an afterlife must wonder what people in heaven are doing.  MAYBE THEY’RE WATCHING US!  MAYBE THEY’RE INTERESTED IN OUR CONVERSATIONS ABOUT THEM!  Maybe so, maybe not.  But I like to imagine they’re reaching out to us, and I sure enjoy hearing what my “dead friends” think  and have to say for it’s often more interesting than what a lot of living, breathing  people have to share.  I’m very happy to hear from “dead friends” in all sorts of ways,  by discovering their work, by reading  books written about them, by film, and especially by reading their letters,  JUST NOT BY PERSONAL APPEARANCE!

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All Charlotte’s talk about Jane Austen got me thinking it was about time I paid a little visit to Jane myself so I picked up a copy of “Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style”  written by Susan Watkins.  What a great book to help us go back in time into Jane’s world.

I started this missive by telling you about current U.S. postal rates and the length of my daily letters.   Well, it was most interesting to read what Susan Watkins had to say not only about postal rates in Jane and Charlotte’s world, but also about letters.

Did you know in London, until 1801, letters were picked up and delivered four to eight times daily for the price of one penny, but the Penny Post became the Twopenny Post in 1805, and by 1812 the cost of a letter was four pence for 15 miles or less, rising to 17 pence for 700 miles.  And we complain about our rate increases!  Susan also explained that postage was paid by the recipient.  Boy, if postage was paid by the recipient today we’d all be getting a lot less junk mail.

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Reading “Jane Austen’s Town and Country Style” is a great book if you want to learn all the ins and outs of life in her world spanning the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the nineteenth.  For example, did you know back then “The postage charge was based on letters of a single sheet – more paper meant more money – and because of the cost, letters were usually written on a single page, which was then folded to make a small rectangle envelope and sealed with a wafer of wax.”   To save money  letter writers  would fill the whole paper, then write at right-angles across the first lines of their writing.

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Yikes!  I tried this technique and I don’t think it makes for easy reading, do you?  Many of us like to romanticize life in the past, but I think we have it a lot better these days… at least most of us do.

Speaking of Jane Austen and her time,  you might like to see the film, “Lost in Austen”.  I thought it was great fun, all about a modern London girl going back, not only in time, but also into a Jane Austen book.

Well, letter writing really entertains me.  Today without leaving home I had visits with Artie from New York and Charlotte and Jane from England.  Of course there’s you too, but if I’m to feel your presence you’ll just have to write me a letter.  Go ahead.  Do it!

So till next time…