Monday, January 28, 2008

1970 – Lost Art

I loved writing letters. And the older I got, the longer, more intimate, descriptive and sharing they’d become.

I wrote to young people my age everywhere, almost daily, trying my best to explain a life. Putting into context what I had no way of knowing was western civilisation’s tipping point for a new millennium.

And I loved receiving letters. From distant ‘pals in India, England, Finland, New Zealand and the Americas, and from friends here in Australia. Wispy-thin blue Airmail letters. Bulging white envelopes holding upwards of a dozen pages. All in different hands. All with different, exotic stamps and post marks. All with strangely different smelling paper. Nearly all upwards of a week old before I’d rake them from our Collins Street letterbox.

I’d keep those I received, reading some until the pages fell apart - literally. Sometimes they’d contain photos, snaps of life in far-distant places I imagined I might, one day, visit. Like London, New York, Montreal, Paignton, Auckland, Helsinki.

I loved the pleasure of feeling pens moving between my fingers, over different types of paper. Light touches. Heavy touches. Fast-flowing writing. Slower, methodical impressions. Often pausing to collect thoughts, or determine more precise descriptions, thoughts, dreams. Or stopping for a minute – or an hour – until the just oh-so-right phrases came to pass.

I loved the smells of different papers, and of different inks.

Letters were different. Simpler. Much quieter and introspective. An ages-old communication, helping me commit, forever, in a slowly developing longhand style.

Letters to and from my boarding-school Jenny were particularly treasured, as they kept our relationship’s embers alive enough for them to explode again, in person, when she’d come home for holidays.

I continued writing at university, and didn’t use a mechanical device – the first being a portable Olivetti typewriter – until 1978, when I entered journalism. I’d move into an electronic world in the early 80s, and onto a much more truncated, filleted email world a decade later.

It’s now more than 30 years since I’ve written, or posted, a personal letter, having now truncated such communications to a few quick pars, perhaps only a few quick words, flicked through the ether at light speed via the clacking of keys.

Not once, though, had I ever thought of myself as a Man Of Letters.


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