There was a girl in my high school who would sometimes speak in letters. "Dear Hilary," she would say upon seeing me in the hallway. "I love what you're wearing today. Love, Newt." It was always endearing and unexpected. Who would she write a letter to next - a teacher, her homework, her future college?
Sometimes, I wish I could write a letter to the nebulous things in life. You know, something like: "Dear angry person on the telephone, PLEASE STOP being so rude and inconsiderate. Love, Hilary" or "Dear strange unannounced package containing a book by Henry Adams, who I've never heard of writing anything particularly brilliant, why are you on my bed? Love, Hilary".
Words have always come easily to me. My mom says I talked a lot when I was little, telling knock-knock jokes at the side of the pool during swim lessons (I've never liked swimming lessons - just ask me to tell you the infamous story of the summer I went to Girl Scout camp!), or pretending a mini squash was a telephone while prancing around in a dress during the church picnic.
I like words. I love that we choose them, offer them to other people or to ourselves, find new ways to use them. I like poetry because we have to be so careful about words, and poetry teaches you patience and carefulness. I like playwriting because the words must become so real and so unreal, so specific to your character and so general that any actor can create that character.
And I like letters because they tell stories, because they offer a part of us to the other person, and because we are given the exquisite, trembling privilege of holding that part of them in our hands. Letters are special because they begin with "Dear" - with an endearment, a greeting of knowing the other person. And they usually end with, "Love, ____" - with a promise of loving you, an acknowledgment that the writer loves the reader.
So while I'm away, whether I'm writing letters that start, "Dear Mom," "Dear Abby," or "Dear Stress-that-is-consuming-my-life," I hope that I get to write with a love of words and a love of people. For I, the writer, love you, the reader. I love that we share words. I love that you listen to my words.
And if you would like to write to me, or have me write to you, my address will be posted shortly, and you can send me your address by commenting on the blog.
I leave you with a few suggestions, of the great letters that inspire me:
Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke
The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor selected and edited by Sally Fitzgerald
The Love Letters of Great Men, Vol. 1 edited by John C. Kirkland
Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer by C.S. Lewis