I got a letter from my friend Bob the other day. Bob gave up on blogs a little while ago, and I'll be removing the link to his in a moment. He doesn't want to spend time that way, because, in his view, it's not a very rewarding way to communicate. He wrote me a letter instead.
We've written a lot of letters to one another. For a while, I was a quite avid letter writer, sending missives out to him, to Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer, to my high school friend Anne, to my friend Nancy. I generally typed them on my old manual machines, for a long time on an early 60s Hermes 2000, pages and pages of stuff about my life as a grad student, but mainly trying to capture a mood and lived experience.
Compared to email, a letter is a very different thing, especially written out longhand in fountain pen (as Bob's was, in virtually the same nearly illegible hadnwriting he's had since we were kids). It's tangible. It has a feint smell to it. The very good paper it's written on has a definite feel, with an affective dimension. I'm writing him back, in my nearly illegible handwriting.
Partly this is contextual: Bob has been my friend for more than 30 years. We grew up together in Ohio, and when I moved away at 13, writing letters was the way to communicate. Regrettably, perhaps, I don't have any of those any more. A flood in Pittsburgh lost me several boxes of my writing, including about 1000 poems, a couple plays, a dozen or more journals, and almost all my letters. I stopped saving correspondence, and finally have become so much more comfortable with electronic versions of things that I don't particularly like printing out any of my own papers any more.
For one reason or another, for many people, email doesn't have the same feel to it. The medium, or the genre, or the format, or the phenomenon, feels quasi-personal, somewhat institutional. Everything in email looks like a memo.
Bobo and I turned that into a source of amusement, by way of using the memo format inappropriately. You wouldn't write email within an institutional context beginning with something like "Dear Unmitigated Bastard." At least, you wouldn't if you're a fan of employment. In any case, this carried forward a tradition of ironic mutual abuse that began in college and continued through grad school correspondence (and beyond).
I'm a fan of all of it. Each medium has its best uses, I suppose, and each medium has its own way of habituating language and expression. It's a great source of fun to be able to pick them up in turns, to undergo the different ways media shape language and thought, affect, address, tone, all of it.
I'm gonna keep blogging, too, I figure, though as blog this has little "bloggy" about it, and I definitely regard it as a publicly kept journal more than anything else.
As such, let me make one final personal note on the day, most of which I've spent grading final papers. That note is:
Why oh why oh why does grading hurt? I mean, these aren't terrible papers. There've only been a couple duds, which is a very low duddism rate. They've been fine, some even quite good, and a couple wonderful ones. Still, ow.