Remember hand-written letters?

An essay written during a workshop in 2013.

by Matthew Curlewis

There are some things slipping into the past that I don’t necessarily HAVE to keep, but I do want to note their passing. Where are the demarcating lines between growing older, nostalgia, and being stuck in one’s ways, and going with the flow?

Take letter writing for example.

I miss hand-written letters. I miss composing them. And I miss the various joys of receiving them. The simplest of those joys I guess can be experienced purely by a letter’s arrival – particularly if the hand-writing is instantly recognisable – even better if it’s from the hand of a friend you know will have packed that envelope full of sumptuous tidbits of news, gossip, dirt, jokes, tears and love that may all have been written in one sitting, or may have been dragged around from café to living room to lunch break from work, the pages also carrying the marks of those journeys.

And embedded in here is the idea of anticipation, of reward for waiting to receive the letter, but even then the possibility of prolonged anticipation – because sometimes the moment you receive a letter is not necessarily the ideal moment for reading it. So then the letter is also carried at the receiving end, carefully in a coat pocket or tucked into the pages of a book for a bit longer, just a little bit longer until the tea slash coffee slash martini will be ready to be imbibed along with the inhalation of the words. And then the joy and satisfaction are both earned, and feel very full indeed.

And lest we forget the joys of creating a letter. What should it be written on first of all? Of course there are standard pages of letter-writing paper, but for some reason my life and the availability of those neat pads rarely seemed to coincide. I remember one firm favourite being place-mats with a map of Honduras or Puerto Rico or somewhere on one side, that were blank on the other. I used to commandeer these from El Jaguar, a funky latin dive on the Lower East Side, before, during, or after eating breakfast alone, specifically to write to a friend – gradually pilfering place-mats from neighbouring tables to cover with all of my New York news.

I know friends enjoyed receiving these missives, because simply put, they returned in kind. I have boxes of letters that I go through from time to time, but I doubt anything will be able to top the best letter I ever received. This one arrived affixed to a coconut. That is – the letter WAS the coconut, delivered to me while warming up for ballet class, doing my pliés and tondues by the barre, by a particularly dry ballet teacher… “This came for you in the post!” she exclaimed, roughly shoving into my hands an entire coconut, outer husk and all, bearing a five dollar stamp, my name and address and my letter, written in texta pen, etched onto the coconut’s skin. “Dear Matthew, I was walking along the beach the other day and well, this had your name written all over it….”

Want my mailing address? Go on. Ask. Let’s write a letter to each other.

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