Friday, October 21, 2016

Reasons to Write: All Those Books

It seems that those who write must also read. Almost every correspondent I have is an avid reader and our reading lists inevitably come up in conversation. Some of us have even read the very same books. I take great delight in learning that a book I am currently enjoying has at some point already given pleasure to a friend. Such a book offers us a shared memory.  

I recently returned to an abandoned book: The Seaboard Parish by George MacDonald. It was not at all difficult to get back into as I remembered the story fairly well. I came across this line the other night and felt the urge to share it with somebody who would appreciate it. You do not need to understand the context as the quote is sufficient to impress one with the civility of the conversation.
"With all my heart," answered Percivale. "I must warn you, however, that I have not much they will care to see. They will perhaps go away less happy than they entered. Not many people care to see my pictures twice." "I would not send you anyone I thought unworthy of the honour," answered my wife. Percivale bowed--one of his stately, old-world bows, which I greatly liked. "Any friend of yours--that is guarantee sufficient," he answered.
Such kindness and civility. Our own conversations should be so marked. When I read this I felt it was worth getting back to so I highlighted it in hopes of sharing it.

George MacDonald lived from 1824 to 1905 and is best known for his fantasy works, He influenced such greats as J.R.R. Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Lewis Carroll, and G.K. Chesterton. When I read George MacDonald I am in good company indeed. 

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

The Conversation: A Picture's Worth a Thousand Words

I received this postcard recently. The sender told me the picture described how she was feeling on that day. Can any picture better describe contentment than this? This is my Sunday afternoon feeling. 

I tried in a letter to describe such contentment. I don't think I succeeded as well as this picture does but a picture is worth a thousand words. If only I could have found the right thousand words. For love of the written word I will keep trying.

As wonderful as pictures are, there's just something about words. Let's use them kindly and use them well.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Historic Letters: Marie Antoinette

Yesterday marked the 223rd anniversary of Marie Antoinette's beheading. Hours before her execution she wrote a letter to her sister-in-law, Madame Elizabeth. The English translation follows. As she faces death her main thought is for her children. She also entrusts herself to God, asks forgiveness of those she has vexed, and pardons the evils her enemies have done to her. Despite her notoriety she seems to have died well.

She also had nice handwriting. Her writing was probably even more regular and elegant when she was not distressed by impending death.

It is to you, my sister, that I write for the last time. I have just been condemned, not to a shameful death, for such is only for criminals, but to go and rejoin your brother. Innocent like him, I hope to show the same firmness in my last moments. I am calm, as one is when one’s conscience reproaches one with nothing.
I feel profound sorrow in leaving my poor children: you know that I only lived for them and for you, my good and tender sister. You who out of love have sacrificed everything to be with us, in what a position do I leave you! I have learned from the proceedings at my trial that my daughter was separated from you. Alas! poor child; I do not venture to write to her; she would not receive my letter.  I do not even know whether this will reach you. Do you receive my blessing for both of them. I hope that one day when they are older they may be able to rejoin you, and to enjoy to the full your tender care. Let them both think of the lesson which I have never ceased to impress upon them, that the principles and the exact performance of their duties are the chief foundation of life; and then mutual affection and confidence in one another will constitute its happiness. Let my daughter feel that at her age she ought always to aid her brother by the advice which her greater experience and her affection may inspire her to give him. And let my son in his turn render to his sister all the care and all the services which affection can inspire. Let them, in short, both feel that, in whatever positions they may be placed, they will never be truly happy but through their union. Let them follow our example. In our own misfortunes how much comfort has our affection for one another afforded us! And, in times of happiness, we have enjoyed that doubly from being able to share it with a friend; and where can one find friends more tender and more united than in one’s own family? Let my son never forget the last words of his father, which I repeat emphatically; let him never seek to avenge our deaths.
I die in the Catholic Apostolic and Roman religion, that of my fathers, that in which I was brought up, and which I have always professed. Having no spiritual consolation to look for, not even knowing whether there are still in this place any priests of that religion (and indeed the place where I am would expose them to too much danger if they were to enter it but once), I sincerely implore pardon of God for all the faults which I may have committed during my life. I trust that, in His goodness, He will mercifully accept my last prayers, as well as those which I have for a long time addressed to Him, to receive my soul into His mercy.I have to speak to you of one thing which is very painful to my heart, I know how much pain the child must have caused you. Forgive him, my dear sister; think of his age, and how easy it is to make a child say whatever one wishes, especially when he does not understand it. It will come to pass one day, I hope, that he will better feel the value of your kindness and of your tender affection for both of them. It remains to confide to you my last thoughts. I should have wished to write them at the beginning of my trial; but, besides that they did not leave me any means of writing, events have passed so rapidly that I really have not had time.
I beg pardon of all whom I know, and especially of you, my sister, for all the vexations which, without intending it, I may have caused you. I pardon all my enemies the evils that they have done me. I bid farewell to my aunts and to all my brothers and sisters. I had friends. The idea of being forever separated from them and from all their troubles is one of the greatest sorrows that I suffer in dying. Let them at least know that to my latest moment I thought of them.
Farewell, my good and tender sister. May this letter reach you. Think always of me; I embrace you with all my heart, as I do my poor dear children. My God, how heart-rending it is to leave them forever! Farewell! farewell! I must now occupy myself with my spiritual duties, as I am not free in my actions. Perhaps they will bring me a priest; but I here protest that I will not say a word to him, but that I will treat him as a total stranger.(*)
William Hamilton (1751-1801) - Vizille, musée de la Révolution française
Marie Antoinette being taken to her execution.

Friday, October 14, 2016

Reasons to Write: Truly Social Media

Is it only my imagination or is there something anti-social about social media? When I visit Facebook I see mostly memes or videos made by somebody else that have been forwarded around the globe. During this election year debate season I hardly care to visit Twitter anymore as my news feed is filled with rants about the presidential campaign. Maybe by January it'll be safe to Twitter again.

My experience with letters is completely different, however. In a letter, the sender tells me something about him or herself or something directly related to them such as the injured pet that required veterinary care and the appalling bill that followed.  I learn about that person through direct information and through reading between the lines. In a letter, or series of letters, one can get a sense of a person's temperament over time, learn about what matters to them, find out what interests them, et cetera and I, in my turn, reveal myself to them. 

In future, when I refer to social media, understand that I mean letter writing.

Another difference between anti-social media and social media is the interest factor. How many Facebook or Twitter posts do I actually read carefully...or revisit later? I confess I do a lot of skimming on-line. Social media is different. I do not skim letters. I read them carefully and often twice, especially if I do not respond immediately. Once I've written back the letter I received is placed lovingly in the top drawer of my desk where it will stay in easy reach should I need to consult it further along in the conversation. 

A Woman Writing a Letter by Albert Edelfeldt (1854-1905)
And finally, will anti-social media ever inspire a great artist? I'll let you answer that.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The Conversation: Birdfeeders

There are no topics too mundane to talk about in a letter. In fact, I find that simple things take on an air of importance when they are put down in ink. I enjoyed reading about Cathy's bird feeder and must tell her about my own. The only birds to ever visit my own feeder are hummingbirds, though Mr. Duffy scatters seed to invite a local pair of doves to visit our yard. There's something gentle about doves, don't you think? I haven't seen them in a while but they are a soft gray like the pair in the picture below. 

But back to bird feeders. I have a hummingbird feeder right outside my bedroom window and we have a lone but regular visitor to it. Hummingbirds are fascinating little creatures. Their colors shimmer and their wings move so rapidly they're a blur. Did you know hummingbirds can fly backwards and have such a high metabolism rate that they must eat more than their own body weight each day? That's not what we think of when we say, "eats like a bird."

But back to Cathy's birdfeeder. Her visitors are cardinals. I've never even seen a cardinal as they prefer eastern states.  I'll have to ask her about cardinals. I confess I know nothing about them save for the fact that the males that have the brilliant red coloring. I hear also that the females can be quite bossy. No comments about bossy women, please!

I would love to have brilliant red birds outside my window. I can not, but that will not dampen my enjoyment of our hummingbird.

So what have you been writing about lately?

Monday, October 10, 2016

Historic Letters: Christopher Columbus

Today is Columbus Day, the day we here in the Sates remember Christopher Columbus' discovery of America. Yesterday so happened to be the day Leif Ericson landed in North America 492 years before Columbus. Why Mr. Ericson's discovery doesn't count I so not know. Regardless, school children across the nation are elated to not be in school today. Upon returning to Spain Columbus wrote about his discoveries to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The letters were translated in to Latin and distributed as a pamphlet. You can see an excerpt below. 

If you are interested to read his letter in English you can find the entire text here.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Reasons to Write: Handwriting

It is no mystery that that which is not used is soon lost. Do not moth and rust destroy? Must not skills be practiced to be maintained and developed? My own handwriting suffered deterioration as an adult for I used it less than I had in school and no longer made effort when I did write. I have been working since to recover. Does it matter though what my handwriting looks like or whether I write by hand at all? Anne Trubek of the New York times contends in The Sunday Review dated August 21, 2016 that "Handwriting Just Doesn't Matter." I read through her argument and when I came to the final paragraph I thought I saw just a flicker of resentment that might just be the cause of her position:
But as a left-hander with terrible handwriting who watched my son struggle to master cursive -- he had to stay inside during recess for much of the third grade because he wrote his j's backward -- that is a loss I can weather.
You can read her article here.

As a lover of the written word I have greater appreciation for the letters to the editor regarding this article. 

To quote Sam Goodyear,
True, typing is efficient. But a love letter? A letter of condolence? A shopping list for a quick trip to the grocery store? Email and texting are fine in their place, but there are limits. 
Besides, there is something beautiful in the personal distinctiveness in one's handwriting. Like one's face, it is shared by no one else.
Don't you love that thought? One's handwriting like one's face is shared by no one else. I do! 

You can read To the Editor here.