The written word is one of the most magical things in life. When the world is too hard to face, I, like many others, escape to other worlds through the written word. Even as a teenager Jane Austen was my closest friend and confidant (and the very person I blame for my unrealistic expectations of men!). Literature is the obvious medium for escapism for so many people but for me, one of my favourite places to hide is in other people’s correspondence.
It’s such an absolute gift to learn about the social expectations, societal conventions and political contexts that people’s words were written within. I can’t think of anything more glorious than getting lost in the passionate, heart-wrenching exchanges between lovers or sharing in the poetic and tender wisdom passed from parents to their children. I love being part of the tittle-tattle exchanges between good friends or witnessing the first-hand the devastation of unrequited love. I revel in the agony of lovers doomed by the expectations and confines of society. I am broken by the tragedy of the words of a man facing certain death, but at the same time deeply fascinated at the thoughts; the sentiments he chooses – the ones that he deems most important – to share with the ones he loves, knowing that they will be the last. Literature does not allow us to see the truth in that snapshot of the soul; it doesn’t allow us to understand, in the same way, the commonality of the human condition that transcends class, faith, wealth, nationality, sexuality and gender (or any other way we choose to use to define or separate ourselves). And that is why I love letters.
It is not lost on me that maybe I am living vicariously through other people’s lives. Maybe I can put it down to the amateur anthropologist in me or possibly (probably) I’m just a little bit nosey. But I can’t help myself. I think most of all I am addicted to the emotional response these letters illicit – like opiates for the soul.
I’m not just hooked on letters of notable figures, past presidents or dead poets. I’m probably most drawn to the exchanges between the everyday heroes, the ordinary folk. It’d be a lie to say I didn’t get a kick reading the personal letters of kings, rock stars and great philosophers too, but only because they highlight that these people are human like the rest of us mere mortals – they are vulnerable and fragile like everyone else. It’s reassuring to have reaffirmed the idea that we are all afflicted with the same need for love and validation, no matter who we are, where we come from or what we achieve.
That commonality makes me feel far more connected in a world where, to me, people seem to be increasingly isolated from one another. Now, I love the internet; Wi-fi is one of my basic human needs. But in an age where we’re able to connect with each other in so many ways, the irritating irony is that we are truly connecting less and less. Or maybe we’re communicating more often but the short, instant exchanges are more likely to lack any real depth. I do love a good Tweet and social media is one of the most powerful inventions of the last century, but I can’t help feeling that this, amongst other modern-day phenomena, is robbing the world of the beautiful and powerful art form that is letter writing. Unfortunately, we are losing these snapshots of our souls because people (myself included) want the immediacy of email and instant message. I suppose we are now more open; willing to share our thoughts with the whole world without much consideration, but how much of ourselves can we really show in 140 characters? This all makes me very sad. There’s a future me somewhere trying to find beauty and human connection in deciphering hashtags and text talk. #ugh.
Pondering all of this as I was, I went looking through some of my own correspondence and I realised just how significant these letters had been at certain moments of my life. I decided that, with permission of those that wrote them, I would share some with the world, not because my letters are any more significant than anyone else’s, but precisely because they are not. My letters show how incredibly powerful, touching, moving and painful the written word can be between two very ordinary people. What this revealed to me is that I suppose the thing I love most about letters is not the grand story behind them, but the words people choose to convey how they feel or what they think. The lengths we go to to do this; the way we are willing to commit a part of ourselves to written record forever – one that reflects such a personal part of us – is brave and wonderful. Oscar Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Gray, ‘Every portrait that is painted with feeling is a portrait of the artist, not of the sitter. The sitter is merely the accident, the occasion. It is not he who is revealed by the painter; it is rather the painter who, on the coloured canvas, reveals himself’. This is what I think is true of the letter writer. And this idea simply catches my breath.
By sharing my letters I am hoping that, just maybe, someone will enjoy the moment of getting lost in the words and sentiments on the page, or will possibly feel the warmth of the love and connection between two hearts. Maybe they will show that people don’t have to write like Hemingway or have a love affair akin to Burton and Taylor to have a story. A story of love, or friendship or any other relationship you can imagine.
It is apt then, that I decided to begin sharing with two letters from the person that has been one of the most important in my life so far. The first letter he wrote to me, and the last… There’s some kind of poeticism in that.
The first was written one month after we met, amidst the blur that is the whirlwind of a new love affair, at the start of what went on to be a deep and beautiful relationship. The second letter was written three months after that relationship ended.
Strikingly, what I found whilst transcribing these letters was that even though the sentiment in each note was the exact opposite (declaration of love and hope for a future vs regret and reflections of the past), the expression in both letters was warm and full of compassion and love. This again, showing that the letter is more a reflection of the soul of the writer than of the subject. That in itself is worthy of note…
Here I am. Without a safety net. No electronics or chance for rewrites. All my spelling, grammar and spiderish handwriting to decipher. It’s all very 19th century.
I think it’s a month this weekend since we met. We should both agree that it has been rather crazy. I believe that I have been pretty expansive in my expressions of want of you (after my ‘Home and Away’, cardboard performance on that Sunday in Manchester), but I want to write this for you, to go on record, so to speak. And where would history be without records? Chaos, I’m telling you!
You said last night that you would hate it if there was nothing more about you to be recognised and valued than your physical features. Great. I love a challenge. Let’s start there.
Remember my initial fumbling for words? The assertion that ‘pretty’ was under-used and that ‘love’ was too easily trotted out…. idiot! OK, well that did let you know that I would wrestle with convention. The one thing that I didn’t condition when saying these things, was when I might join that convention. I didn’t go on to say this because at that time I could not envisage using the ‘big words’ and that notorious ‘L’ word towards another.
This, my darling, is where you come in. I have said it before; I had low expectations about that first date on that Sunday afternoon. Not of you, but of the outcome. You had already impressed me massively through our conversations. It was already clear that you were sharp, smart, witty, of great depth, subtlety and emotional intelligence. But more than that was your drive. Without that drive, the rest would have been wonderful, but full of ‘what if’s and unfulfilled potential.
So, that Sunday afternoon. I remember being stood outside Piccadilly Station attempting to bubble wrap my self-esteem from the rejection I expected to face later that day. At this point you should be screaming ‘low self-esteem’ but please don’t. I was working it out like a puzzle and couldn’t see how our pieces could fit. So I steadied myself and considered what I had said to you nights before, that no matter what happened on the date, I was happy to have shared some of your time. I still feel truly appreciative of that (and I never want to lose that – complacency is my greatest fear and worst enemy).
I have told you before that I was rigid with defence and attraction to you. I couldn’t work you out. I pride myself on being able to ‘see’ someone very clearly, even when first meeting. Maybe others had been looking for the meaning in what you say (in hindsight, this is what tripped me up – I can usually see people’s meanings like a bloody great sign-post). Then I had a revelation. It won’t sound like it to you, but in this, you are truly unique. The meaning is what you say, not in what you say.
Others tell us they ‘say it like it is’ or speak their minds – these are people rationalising and putting a positive spin on being brutal and lacking depth and compassion. This is why you are so unique and special to me – even just to listen to you. You tell truth without brutality, offer beauty without request for reciprocation and thought and compassion without condition. I love this in you, above all – something I have never come across in my life.
On that afternoon, you simply shimmered. It was like speaking to someone through a shower of sparks. Then we kissed…
So now I look back at that kiss and the teenage kicks it gave me and the moment expands in my mind. Knowing that the utter truth was offered in a kiss, wraps my mind in fairy lights.
Funny, I set out a couple of paragraphs ago to talk first of your physical features, and I drifted. So let me take a step back. YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL. There you go. I’ve done it. Broken my covenant. You know I do not like comparisons… however, whilst this is some form of record, let me set this out. I have never been so close to someone so beautiful. And before you dismiss it and let cynicism suggest that my past loves have been beasts or that I have said this to others – put those thoughts to one side. I struggle to keep your gaze at times because you are too much. Call it chemical, animal – I don’t care. At times you have made me want to weep.
By now you might have gathered that I have fallen desperately in love with you. I have plans for you (run girl, run!), and here they are:
– I’m going to make sure you know that I love you. In the truly charitable sense – without expectation of return.
– I want to show and share with you a love that doesn’t rely on inner demons as hidden dynamics it is not aware of. No surprises, no sudden U-turns. Those are for those who do not share understanding or are unbalanced.
– I will love you without big plans. Big plans are for the thoughts, the logical mind. Let that part consider those but never encroach on our love.
This is the first time I have felt this way. Other experiences that were likened to this were mere lessons in how to get lost. With you I feel found. Telling you ‘I love you’ was just the beginning of my want, and K, I do so want you.
I’ll stop now. I have so much more I could write but I feel I have time.
I hope this reads well – like I said, no re-writes. No demands, no requests. Just my offer of charity.
I love you Kellie. When you have finished getting my soul drunk, let me buy yours a few cheeky cocktails.
For love and always now.
Well. You have me at a loss to know how to respond. No matter the words I have written before, I doubt if I will ever write anything as well and as heartfelt as your letter.
I have read it a few too many times over, than I’m sure is healthy. And yet I still can’t find the shape or tone of how to reply. I suppose I must begin where all such things should begin. By thanking you, not only for the words but also for many things you gave and showed and allowed me to be part of. That thanks is always yours and you can forever refer back to it.
It’s a funny thing. After a couple of times reading the letter, something struck me. It was that it was beautifully written and the expressions full and honest; but in considering how to reply, it hit me. I could have sent the very same letter to you – the same expressions and apologies. I maybe don’t feel the same time distance, but that’s maybe more situational with having moved only recently, but that’s a rare deviation.
The ‘Twixes’ made me smile and then hate myself for them being a dusty memory. I am sorry that I appeared to put dustsheets over those things between us, like fancy plates kept for special.
It would be unfair to give a full response in this letter now, but could this be part 1? It would be fair to say that I am still raw but I must say that reading you, as difficult as it was, it has soothed me somehow. I think it’s the thing that will start to lend me perspective, which you are ahead of me in (nothing changes).
One thing I must challenge before I sign off to eat cornflakes from a shoe with a comb because I ran out of plates two weeks ago…
If I set any bar high, it was only ever to reach you. It was only ever to match what was clear and still is. The way I have always and will always consider you: ‘if you have to ask the price, you can’t afford it’ – imagine Audrey saying it in a waspish, glib tone to a groping fool at a party and you get my meaning. You will never have to settle for less than is your true worth K, because only a fool would try to offer such a risible amount.
Your own Osgood Fielding will be along in his speed boat soon.
With love x