Monday, February 14, 2011

Love Letters

When I was young I was a letter writer. I was also a traveler. At sixteen I drove to New Mexico and back with a friend in a thirty-year-old diesel Volkswagen pickup truck, sleeping in cornfields and arroyos and ditches and parking lots. At eighteen I did the same. There was a two-year period in there when I drove across the country (and back) three times, and on not one of those trips did I stay in a motel. I was in it for the experience; the highways, the landscapes, the dive bars and seedy back roads where we parked the truck or pitched a tent; I was in it for the characters, the wind on my forearms, the relationships with certain cassette tapes that blossomed, and the exhilarating sense of freedom it brought. But I was also in it for the letters. Not many moments passed on those trips during which I was not, somewhere in my mind, composing the letter that would describe that experience to someone back home. It was not very Zen of me. I was turning the action of my life into narrative and the girl I was into a character I wanted to be. (Little did I know that my letter-writing-habit separated me from that character--the reckless, unhindered, free-love child—but no matter.)

Now that I’m in my early thirties I rarely, if ever, write letters. I no longer have lovers in far away places. My life is far less exotic than it once was. I’ve married the man I wrote many of those letters to, trying to impress on him just what had walked out his door. Like everyone else, I claim I have no time for letters. And letters rarely appear in my mailbox, as they used to. All of which I have accepted as par for the course of thirties-with-children, or thirties-with-careers, or thirties-with-both. But this Valentines day has me thinking.

About love letters. About how each of those carefully crafted letters was a love letter, to the person I addressed, of course, but also to myself and the world around me. It makes me reflect on how that letter writing (verb, not noun, process, not product) made me feel attentive, thrilled, and alive. How it made meaning out of my daily experiences, which were at times terrifying, lonely and, well, flat. Which is what, I realize, today on the fourteenth of February, sitting in front of my computer, this whole blogosphere is all about. It is hundreds of thousands of people writing love letters. To everyone and no one at once. Letters that turn our mundane lives into narrative and our amoeba-like selves into the characters we want to be. Letters that make our eyes a little brighter and our ears a little sharper as we go through our days, that make us see beauty where we want to see beauty, that make the fact that we slept in a swamp and woke up the next morning covered in ticks okay. Because it will make a story. Because we are the heroes and heroines of that story. Because we belong to a world that is our own. And it hardly matters if no one ever reads what we write. We've already composed it, felt it, been buoyed by its bouquet of love.