Friday, September 23, 2011


It's late and I'm tired, but I have one more blog to write this week  for Writing North Idaho before I can call it a night and get into bed.  It's okay.  I don't mind.  Working with deadlines and writing under pressure reminds me of those long ago days when I was a reporter for the Bellfower Herald-American and came in from an assignment with   only two hours to write my story before having to submit it  to the copy editor.

It's not that I haven't been thinking about what to write. I have. In between scores of  chores, worrying about a hospitalized child of a dear friend, helping my son move into his new apartment, and going to the dentist for a  replacement crown on my back molar. Perhaps some of you writers have had a similar experience of  allowing the cares and  concern of daily living  interrupt your writing time.

I had been mulling over two or three subject matters  when I read an email from  a friend telling me of  a Memorial Service she recently attended where a family member read from several letters the deceased individual had written to his children and grand-children, how very special it was to learn more about him in his own words.

That's what letters do, give an insight about the person.  Sadly, with the new technology - email , texting, twittering -  letter writing is becoming a lost art.  I'm not sure about you, but I  don't copy and save every internet note  I receive. It's so easy to hit the delete button after  I  read and reply.  Whereas, I have a    box full of hand written letters from family and friends sent to me through the years, as well as letters of family members written long before I was born. They are precious to me, not only because the words are written in my loved ones own hand, but because they relay a history of time and place,and connect me to them through the sharing of their written word.

Just  think for a minute about the many books of letters published of famous people; Authors, artists, politicians,  and what they reveal.  So much about their lives, their talent, their torment. Two that come to mind are Henry James and Edith Wharton:  Letters 1900 - 1915,  and The Selected Letters of Ernest Hemingway : 1917 - 1960.  Through their letters they document   their travels and projects, and give an account of the relationships that helped shape their life and work.

I glance at the bookcase nearest where I sit and notice a title I haven't read in a while,  Dearest Mother -  Letters From Famous Sons to Their Mothers, selected and edited by Paul Elbogen. Copyright 1941. I pick it up and browse the table of contents to find  names of poets and composers, prime ministers and presidents.  I open  to page 68 . Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart  begins his letter from Munich,  dated January 14, 1775

 My dear Mama,  Thank God! My opera was staged yesterday, the 13th , and turned out so well that I can't possibly describe the noise .  Mama,  in the first place, the whole theater was crammed so full that many people had to take their money back . After each  and every aria  there was always a frightening uproar with clapping and viva maestro shouting.

  Isn't it  wonderful  we  can share  Mozart's detailed account of his triumph,  and know the joy he experienced at his music being so well received because of  a letter he personally  wrote to his mother.

 I turn the  page and   read an excerpt from a letter written by Walt Whitman to his mother dated June 30, 1863. The scene switches from Germany to America and another era.  Whitman, in Washington D.C.  during the Civil War writes   about seeing Mr. Lincoln , He looks more careworn even than usual,his face with deep cut lines, seams, and his complexion gray through very dark skin - a curious looking man, very sad. 

While not all of us may be able to write letters about composing  music, and performing as magnificently  and marvelous as Mozart, or be witness to someone  as monumental to history as Lincoln  and the Civil War, we each have something to express and  share, some observation or thought, a deed well done, or goal we hope to achieve .  We write letters to  correspond  with  those  of  this generation, and very possibly for those in  future generations.

I'm not suggesting to  stop the  email, text, and twitter,  but  once in awhile to pick up pen and paper to write a letter in our  own hand  to parents, grandparents,  aunt, uncle, cousin or friend. By doing so,  we'll be sending a part of our self, and writing a little of our own history.


Jennifer Rova said...

Excellent point. Saving apart of ourselves is important. I have read that cursive writing is being dropped in some schools. How sad that those people will never be able to read Mozart's letters or Hemingway's. Or mine if my 2 year and 3 year old grandchildren cannot read cursive. What legacies are we leaving to the future? Not many it seems. What knowledge will be lost because we no longer have printed paper only electronic messages that speak to us instead of us having to read them?

Kathy Cooney Dobbs said...

Thanks for your comment,Jennifer. I've read the same - that cursive writing will no longer be taught in some school districts. Seems a huge step backward to me - back to cave man days, when those folks didn't know how to write, but drew stick pictures to communicate and leave a record of an event.

elizabethbrinton said...

'Tis too true. I heard this sad news from an educator here in Coeur d' Alene. The journals and recipes written by the young students grandmother's will be incomprehensible. I wonder how this decision was made and if there should have been more of an outcry.