I RECEIVED a letter.
When my son handed to me the long white envelope along with the newspapers he picked up from the newsroom, I guessed by the sloping handwriting on the envelope that it was neither an invitation nor a machine-regurgitated notification asking to be disregarded in case of irrelevance.
I eyed the letter askance.
Among journalists, a white envelope is portentous. It may hold a press release, a presscon invitation, cash, gift certificates or a bullet. The first two are work necessities; the third and fourth, traps; and the last, an early retirement plan.
My face must have betrayed this quick review of options because my son asked if he could open the envelope. I broke the seal and after reading, passed to him the four handwritten sheets of plain paper.
Journalism is a tough profession in a tough turf. It’s a mantra I repeat to justify the skepticism and suspicion, questioning and probing, checking and cross-checking that goes before committing to print a fact, inference or opinion.
Yet, a decade or so of this information-sifting has ruined me for the unalloyed pleasure of receiving and reading a letter.
The letter was written by a reader reacting to something I wrote. In my experience, readers who disagreed with my articles always fired away a chain of SMSs or emails to express their scorching assessment of my sanity, soul or lack of both. Only one paused long enough to first post a reaction in her blog before sending me a link.
The letter-writers, though, are invariably—there is no equivalent for this in journalese— nice.
What is it about writing a letter that makes the pleasure mutual, for both sender and recipient?
First, the penmanship is no small source of delight. I don’t mean only narcissists write by hand for the reflected pleasure of admiring their every curve and curlicue.
One’s handwriting is sole and revealing. Rounded and generous or spiky and impatient, a penmanship lets slip a writer’s true state, if his words won’t. While sustaining me through years of writing and rewriting, my editor made her critiques in the form of a letter written in her inimitable hand, recalling the teachers of old who trained with a gimlet eye so many young hands holding a pencil. When I failed to meet too many deadlines, my editor—you guessed it—sent me an email.
In newsrooms, editors encourage readers to email reactions or contributions. Yet some editors will personally encode or have an encoder convert into soft copy a handwritten letter. Sometimes the content justifies the time and effort. I’m sentimental about the journey that makes a thought transform a blank sheet of paper that finds its way into an envelope passed from hand to hand, or from postal bin to postman’s bag, finally resting beside the workstation of an editor in a publication that may send these words out across the globe.
So why not just email? Why be picky about form if substance is the essence?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his team have been working for 15 months to unify email, instant messaging, text messaging and the social network into one “social inbox”.
The new message system that’s known as “Project Titan” is not intended to end the dominion of the email giants: Microsoft’s Hotmail, with its 361 million users; Yahoo! Mail’s 273 million users; and Google Gmail’s 193 million users. I’m not an email killer, clarified Zuckerberg.
According to Mike Swift’s article in the San Jose Mercury News, Facebook’s coming Titan just wants to free people to communicate, without the bother of choosing IM, SMS or email.
I can just taste the flavor of conversations in a future dominated by Facebook or even journalism. Reply now! Hit a button before you even finish a thought. Doubt first; verify later.
Before the titan takes over, I’m rereading the sheaf this reader wrote by hand.
(email@example.com/ mayettetabada.blogspot.com/ 09173226131)
* First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Nov. 21, 2010 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday column