Today the wind is wild, scattering cream rose petals about my modest lawn that I mowed yesterday. They look like fallen maidens who, after an evening of fun and frolics, have suddenly become frightfully tired and collapsed mid waltz to the ballroom floor. The intact, well preserved roses on the pergola look down at them with distaste.
Looming above us are drab clouds, they bring solace only to a fisherman as he patiently waits for the fish to take a bite as he wades in cooling water. I am only discouraged by the grey as I watch the clouds move smoothly across the frame of the window. No sunshine is to be uncovered, a great contrast from yesterday afternoon.
At least I will not have the frustration of suncream to think of on such an overcast day. Putting suncream on my near two year old son is one struggle but it’s laughable to try and put suncream on one’s own back as a single parent in lockdown. Yesterday I sat defeated under the shade of a tree, a large part of my back was indeed off limits – no matter how much yoga or stretching I have been doing.
I thought to myself:
‘Where is the handsome man armed with plenty of suncream when you need one?’ And I reminded myself that he wasn’t to be found in little old Hay that’s for sure and staying in the shade was my best option until further notice.
Lockdown has prompted me to write more letters than usual. Anyone who knows me well will know I have a great fondness for the pastime and value its somewhat cathartic release. It has been good to sit at my desk and compose the alphabet into joined waves of comprehensible words, sentences, paragraphs and finally pages. I can write a tempest of inky marks, and I am always a little thrilled and delighted to find suddenly my innermost thoughts become visible to the exterior world.
Writing letters is a process – physically and mentally. It unravels the woolly mind that may be a knotted scribble. As the ink hits paper the woolly mind elucidates. The process of writing is one of form and etiquette. The address, date, indentations – And yet in a letter I write, I tend not to worry too much about my spelling. A letter from me is a true reflection of me and so the dyslexia is very much embraced – I hope it makes for a more interesting read – lots of phonetic spelling for my reader to get her lips around. One school teacher understood my desire to write and saw how my inability to spell words held me back. She told me to write what I wanted no matter if I couldn’t spell the words and thankfully I took heed of this.
I like to use the date when I begin a letter in the top right hand corner. One has a faint ambition as the composer of a letter that it could be found in years to come. The future witness can hark back and imagine the time in which this flimsy yet surviving pulp is still able to communicate from the perhaps now deceased human who once upon a time allowed the words to flow from their soul.
I have found old love letters in amongst old music sheets that I got from a local auction. I have kept them and I treasure them. They are tender and although the paper is now spotted with mildew the words are effervescent in their declaration of love for another.
One’s voice is very much present in a person’s letter, don’t you think? The ability to recognise the person’s handwriting from the envelope leads to a feeling of fondness or utter dread!
Letters are powerful and yet I find a letter to be a wonderful interaction that allows space and time in a world where we believe ourselves to have no time whatsoever. It forces one to sit down, grab a pen, and once settled and poised one begins to collect their thoughts and sift through the fool’s gold in order to deliver the gold of one’s mind. The letter gives one a moment of composure to express oneself in a considered way. Typing is not the same thing – it’s too instantaneous, the words and sentence structures don’t filter through my body in the same wholesome way as I find during letter writing.
For me, letters are remarkably relevant and heartfelt, often the opposite of pragmatic – unlike a text or email. A phone call I find is also lacking, as a letter allows the receiver to find that quiet moment, in which to dedicate the time it takes to read those words without distraction – one can’t drive, swim, or cook while reading a letter – because a letter demands more commitment from the reader, grounding the reader if you like, using its full authority. I reflect how primal and primitive talking can be in its lust to project noise. Verbal communication is the lovesick Romeo and a letter is the old man who watches the youth from a distance and can be cheerfully objective on the matters of love and longing.
Of course I am aware a letter can carry good, bad, difficult, tragic or silly content. There is never any knowing what one will open up. There is apprehension and excitement and often disappointment but again, the contact between one’s hands and the opening of the envelope is always a little frenzied – plunging one’s thumb under the leaf and the sound of breaking the smooth embalmed seal of privacy is purpose enough to send a great many letters in hope that one might eventually be addressed to you, and you can absorb that letter opening experience once more.
I have also used letters to help bridge communication for difficult relationships – such as contacting and getting to know my biological father for the first time. It took years of letters to get me to the point where I felt comfortable enough to meet him at age seventeen.
And now I embark on exchanging letters with the young woman who was a mutual friend of mine and my ex-partner. It is certainly a complicated scenario that would do well in a soap and I am sure it has been re-hashed a thousand times. A father goes off with a younger female friend who lives two minutes down the road after having had a child with his longterm partner. The father all the while denying his growing affections for the young woman, when the mother of his child intuitively knew he had crossed the line of fidelity. Admittedly it’s not a very original story and sadly very common – making for the perfect repetitive storyline to entertain the nation, especially in lockdown.
Anyway, I thought letters were a good, wholesome place to start with the young woman in question. If at the age of fourteen I had the courage to write letters to a man whom I shared half my blood with and yet I had never known and would not recognise his voice or face should I walk past him in the street – If I could build a bridge with my long-lost father through the dignity of letter writing then I can surely muster the composure now to write some inky sea of compassion to the friend who has taken my place in bed?
I leave you with a Love Letter I spoke of earlier from the 1940s.
To Miss E Silk,
Only to you.
Only to you, I sing a love song,
Here is my love song, I will be true, My Love.
By the stars high above I swear it,
Every day through life’s worth the living,
While I am giving Only to you, My Love,
You alone can possess this heart of mine,
Laughter and tears these are destiny,
Why should I care while you are with me,
Only to you I will be faithful,
Faithful for ever, Never untrue in my love,
Only you can fulfil my dreams divine.