Saturday, April 20, 2013

Elegy to letters

HOW does letter-writing fare in the age of emails and social media?

Since I grew up writing to pen pals as a member of writing clubs and collected and traded stationery with high school chums, I thought writing a letter and sending it through the post office would be a nice diversion in my daily routine of opening and clearing the inbox.

Diversions rarely turn out to be predictable.

First, I had to remember that the letters I would be posting would take, at the latest, approximately three weeks or 15 working days before reaching their destinations outside the country.

How would that lag affect the writing? Despite the pitfalls of instant messaging, I’ve learned to compose for the here and now. It’s hard to recall how it used to be before I discovered emailing in the late 1990s. Even though my first email address in Lycos was prone to spam and much of my time was spent weeding out the junk, the convenience of email converted me for life.

Even in the early days when we were hapless against the geniuses of malware, I still viewed emailing as superior to texting, faxing or sending via courier. The Philippine Postal Corporation (Philpost) was no longer in my list of options.

I don’t know when I missed and tried to recover what letters meant to me when I was starting to write and receive letters. Was it the anticipation of sending a letter, counting the days before it would be read and then answered, and reenacting the rite that began as soon as the expected envelope was spotted on the desk, to be turned over and over as if feeling for the weight of words, following the curls and peaks of the writer’s handwriting, tracking the letter’s passage from the stamps and postmarks, up to slitting open the envelope, unfolding the paper and reading lines that will be reread and saved between the pages of a book for future rereading?

I don’t recall ever doing this with email.

In bookstores, the section displaying greeting cards is slowly taken over by scrapbook materials and gift wrapping materials. When I discovered letter-writing, the ritual began with searching for the perfect stationery, the perfect pen that would not just skip or blot but just flow, as if ink were the material manifestation of the impetus spurring the letter writer.

On the day I mailed three letters at the post office, I stayed up late the night before to finish a task and woke at dawn to jot off my letters. “Jot,” not “write” or “compose,” because I had a devil of a time mastering the hand holding the pen. Computer dependence may someday make penmanship a quirky aspect of personality like the appendix.

When I arrived at the post office by mid-morning, I found it deserted of other clients as if the whole world had gone home, preparing for Final Judgment. I remember times when a post office was where people loitered to hear and pass on gossip, ask about messages left by someone for someone, and mail letters and packages, of course. Always there was a line of people.

Solitary, I finished my business in about five minutes. I paid P82 for the stamps, stuck each thumbnail-sized stamp on the envelopes, and dropped the letters through a slot. The stamps were colorful and pretty but too small for me to read. My nieces have sharper eyes than mine but I wonder if they will find stamps as appealing as the buttons of online images that flicker and change by the second.

My last sight of the envelopes was the untidy scrawl of my handwriting. I am comforted by the certainty that I am writing to persons who know me well enough to complain if they cannot read what I have written and will not be shy about asking me to clarify—by email, of course.

( 09173226131)

*First published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 21, 2013 issue of the “Matamata” Sunday main op-ed column


Nancy Cudis said...

I love this post, Madam. I long wanted to write something about hand-written letters. You beat me to it. :) No matter. This one is inspiring and thought-provoking.

Mayette Q. Tabada said...

Thank you for reading and sharing your kind comments, Nanc. Do write about letters in your blog. I would be interested to read your take, as I am sure your devoted readers will be. God bless, Nancy :-)