Ten days ago, as I was packing to go house-sit for my brother, I received a note from a friend.
That sounds so simple, so mundane. I received a note from a friend. But it wasn’t just a note. It was a hand-written note. Hand-written in ink. Written in ink with a lovely, idiosyncratic fist. Written in ink on fine paper — paper thoughtfully chosen, with a graphic that holds a personal meaning to me. Written in ink and posted in an envelope with a delightful and eccentric selection of postage stamps
Hand-written in ink. Think about that. When putting ink to paper, the writer has only one chance. There’s no possibility to correct a mistake in ink, so the writing must be exact. But perfect exactitude in writing usually feels mechanical — pretty, perhaps, but without any true sense of personality. So in order to write fluidly and expressively in ink, the writer must be relaxed but deliberate.
There’s a concept in Buddhism called mushin, which is generally translated as ‘no mind.’ Basically, that means emptying the mind of crap-baggage like ego and expectation and fear. The idea is that letting go of any concern about the end product allows you to be focused on what you’re doing with a level of intensity that wouldn’t be possible to achieve if you were consciously thinking about it. Mushin in writing is to write unencumbered by expectations, free of the burden of perfection, embracing imperfection, accepting the perfect beauty of the imperfect.
I received a note from a friend. But he’s not a traditional friend. I’ve never met Fernando. I’d very much like to — but if I never do meet him, that’s perfectly okay. The internet, after all, has completely redefined the concept of friendship. It’s no longer limited by physical proximity; instead it’s grounded in shared interests. I ‘get’ Fernando. I may not always understand him, but I ‘get’ him. So yes, even though I’ve never met him, he’s definitely a friend. A friend made possible only through of the existence of the internet.
So ten days ago I received a note from a friend while I was packing to go house-sit. I read the note. Read it again. Knew I wanted to write about it, and set it on a table so I’d remember to take it with me. It was still there on the table when I got back home last night.
Here are the last two lines of the note:
There are just too few people one crosses paths in life that one can stop and make an effort to appreciate. (Their [something] is to be punished by trying to figure out my handwriting).
Fernando’s handwriting is…let’s say it’s free of the burden of perfection. And that makes it absolutely perfect.
Great writing! i enjoyed the read…..nice lines too! :)
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That does look like a beautiful note. I love getting handwritten things, so Christmas cards are a joy to receive. But however hard I try, my handwriting is a disgrace, so they’re 7 forms of torture to write and send.
Handwriting is slow, it’s inconvenient, it’s laborious, and it requires practice to do it well. I think the only time I write anything by hand is when I have to sign something…and my signature has slowly devolved into an indecipherable scrawl. All of which makes me appreciate a beautifully written note even more.
I’ve had many discussions with friends about the lost art of letter writing. I wonder if kids today even know what their BFF’s handwriting looks like. There’s nothing like pulling a hand-written letter out of the mailbox and being able to tell in an instant who it’s from, just by the way they wrote your name. I love the internet more than I should, and yet I miss the days of delicious anticipation as I made the daily trip to the mailbox, and the utter joy of reading long, newsy missives from far-away friends and family, in their own distinctive cursive or block letters. Or saving letters that are especially meaningful, so you can pull the box out of the closet and reread the gushing words your friend wrote about her new love (now husband) 25 years ago, the encouraging words from your dad upon graduation, or the recipes your now long-gone grandmother sent when you got your first apartment. I say we bring honest-to-goodness letter-writing back (if our hands don’t cramp up after the first couple sentences because we’re not used to holding pens for so long anymore)!
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I’m afraid hand-written letters (hand-written anything, really) are going to remain the province of a few eccentric folks who are more interested in personal expression than in efficient communication. It’s a wee bit sad, but there it is.
I love writing letters on good paper. :) I miss getting letters. I miss some of the regular letters I used to get; my dad wrote lots of long rambly letters with his own idiosyncratic spellings and run-on punctuation. Paul’s dad used to write regular letters from wherever he was travelling, on paper from whatever hotel he was at. They were short missives that said not much, but let us know he was thinking of us. He doesn’t write letters anymore since he now has rather advanced senility, and I’ve missed his letters. The loss of his letters is part of a long goodbye to him.
And our grandkids will look back fondly on the days when people used to communicate by keyboard — by actually typing out individual letters instead of just speaking. Or just thinking. Ah, the good old days.