Reflections on letter-writing and the continuity of the self for this term’s Voices From The Archives course on my MA.
It’s given me some ideas about fragmentation, which I may work up into a longer piece for workshopping later.
She sits alone at her desk to write a letter, pen in hand and beautifully designed specially bought peacock patterned paper staring blankly up at her. She believes it’s more personal than email; more expressive than text; more – sacred – than the phone. It’s something beautiful that will last, and the movement of her pen across the page connects her to something deep and liquous inside and beyond herself.
The future fate of the Post Office occupies her thoughts, briefly. What will she do for letter-writing if and when it shuts up shop? As she supposes it must, one day. Nobody writes letters any more. But those who do, they know the thrill and the value of pouring oneself onto the page in inky viscosity like this.
Outside the sun is sinking behind the tree line, and the birds flitter here and there. A van drives by with a rumble; people come and go, drifting towards the twilight.
She watches, distracted, pen in hand. How little time she has for this these days. Said she’d write every week, but rarely does. And yet the deliciousness of pen putting ink to paper is a treat she delights to savour.
There’s an intimacy in the act of it – it’s just her and the paper now, and anything goes. Her wandering, exploring hands reaching inside herself with secret pleasure in their swift conveyance of thought-impulse to paper, before the words are even fully formed in her mind. Fluid.
A blackbird alights on a branch momentarily, before chirruping and darting away again, in search of something new. Children call over a game of football in the street and her thoughts turn to her students – will they, do they, write letters, have they ever? In her childhood she wrote thank you letters to aunts and uncles, had several pen pals around the world at one time, kept a letter book with friends at school. Letters would arrive on the doorstep, enveloped in pictures torn from magazines, friendly messages to the postman scribbled on the front, shared experiences of a new language inside. How many times a stamp could be sent back and forth, without being franked, if you covered it with sellotape. Secret messages passed at school, notes and daydreams in the classroom, angsty splurges over night to be revealed next morning. In the days before mobile phones.
Were those my days? She wonders, incredibly. Here I am writing the letters now that were born with those passions, but who am I now? Not the girl I was then. Something of her, though, perhaps.
She finds herself writing to an old school friend, reminiscing on those days. Her hand creating, recreating, constructing memory as it glides across the page. They hardly keep in contact now, the two of them. Just these occasional letters to send and receive. She wonders who she is really writing for, writing to. Does she really see Sophie’s face in those pages she writes? A phone call, or to meet up for a spa day as they sometimes used to do, would require interaction – responses and responsiveness which they haven’t known with each other for years. Instead they choose to empty their words onto these blank and silent spaces in an uninterrupted stream of unconscious consciousness. A one-way conversation held over great distances of time and space. They are not the girls they used to know any more.
Yet some thread still unites them, to each other, to their past lives. The lavender scented pastel pages with their spider’s web of ink black words.
(Creative response to Virginia Woolf’s ‘Letter to a Young Poet’, The Hogarth Letters, Hogarth Press, 1932)