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It doesn’t take much. Take a piece of paper, jot down a few sentences, a “Dear you,” and a “Love, me” and you’ve just written a good, old-fashioned letter. Make those sentences a heartfelt admission of love and you now hold in your hands one of the most precious things on earth: a love letter.
Love letters are a cornerstone of romance. From a first-grade girl, enthusiastically filling a page with misspelled words as they pour out of her impassioned soul, to an old man, carefully detailing the love he has left to give, love letters tell of a passion so poignant, it has to be recorded, proclaimed and preserved.
But perhaps I’m coming on a bit strong. Let’s back up a bit.
Hi, my name is Ray. I’m a 24-year-old kid who just moved to Los Angeles from New Jersey to do what I love: act. I settled in about a month ago and perhaps the most exciting aspect of the move has been having my very own address and knowing that every single piece of incoming mail is meant for me (and the occasional bill for former tenant Vazmahni). The bills are mine, the ads are mine, and yes, the precious, infrequent letters are MINE!
Forty-five Cents Says “I Love You,” or: Why Snail Mail Shows You Care
My eternally-open Gmail account has a Spam folder, which means I never have to see the many offers for penis pills and Christian dating websites that are daily sent my way. But my USPS, once-a-day-except-(sadly)-Sunday, physical mailbox has no such filter. Which means all those ads for groceries, booze and Armenian pizza get shoved right in there next to my electricity and car-insurance bills. And I couldn’t be happier! Allow me to explain:
When Gertrude & Hawk sends me a coupon for 50% off a box of chocolates and I can see my name printed right next to the words “offer expires 3/31/12,” I know that they care about me. Why? Because they didn’t just shoot me an email telling me their deal of the month, they paid for the postage on a formal invitation to join them in their store, on whichever day I’m next available (“RSVP by April, please”). Physical mail is both tangible and unique. With a few strokes of a keyboard, the company could send this offer out a million times to a million different people, but when I stand in my threshold, grasping a paper coupon in my hand, I know that that coupon has a history. It’s been on a journey distinct from every other coupon of its kind.
And there is a price for this journey. At present, that price is forty-five cents (one stamp). Modest, it’s true, but significant. Consider this: when you send a letter to someone you are saying “what’s enclosed in this envelope is important enough that I am willing to pay money to send it to you.” A girl once told me this “here’s my phone number but don’t text me because I don’t have free texting.” This made me think back to the days when I didn’t have free texting. Every time I sent or received a message I would think to myself: is this piece of dialogue worth fifteen cents? And back then, as a senior in high school, the answer was usually: god no. But I have never sent or received something from a friend in the mail that I didn’t feel was well worth the postage paid.
The Pen Is Delight-ier (Than the Factory Printed Coupon)
Now, I’m not fooling myself; I know that G&H is printing off a million of these coupons and sending them out to anyone who ever provided their home address… but it’s still a nice feeling. However, it is nothing compared to the thrill of seeing your name and address on the front of an envelope, hand-written in pen, with the boxy or curvy or sloppy R‘s and F‘s and 2‘s and 7‘s that announce their author before you can even look up at the return address.
A hand-written letter cannot disappoint, because its mere existence is a delight (excluding the rare but possible “breakup letter” and the “your-uncle-Moe-is-dead letter,” but for those of us without lovers or uncle Moes, we can pretty much guarantee that every letter received will delight). Sometimes I will leave a letter unopened on the kitchen table and it will be enough to keep me smiling through dinner, before I open it for dessert. And I am just talking about regular letters so far, not even love letters! Well, as I say at dessert: let us delay no more.
The Forty-five Cent Question: Is it OK to Send a Love Letter?
Now, if you’re already involved with someone, then this question is easy; of course it’s OK to send your “significant O” a love letter. I mean, it’s not OK…it’s great! The real question is, is it OK to send a love letter to someone with whom you’re not (yet!) involved? I say: hell yes. Every minute of every day (don’t check my statistics on this one) somebody, somewhere is plucking up the courage to express their feelings. Maybe he’s inching closer and closer, preparing for the first kiss, or maybe she’s typing and deleting and retyping and deleting a winkie-face at the end of her text message. But at some point, someone has to take a step out on a limb. Well, why not take that metaphorical step in a new (err…really really old…but timeless) way?
Prva Zgodba: To Whom You Should Write Love Letters
A long, long time ago, in the Spring of 2011, I was backpacking around Europe. It was my first time out of the country and I had no agenda and no itinerary. I bought a Eurail pass that let me ride the rails whenever/wherever I wanted and I certainly took advantage of it. The route I took, if drawn, would look like I was drunkenly and repeatedly trying to circle the whole continent on a map. One place on that map that my apparently-intoxicated pen drifted to several times is a little town known (or unknown, as the case may be) as Ljubljana, Slovenia. It was in this quaint, capital city that I had a three-hour layover on my way from Croatia to Munich. On the street, I quickly made friends with a couple of Norwegians guys, as they searched for a hostel. And when they finally found one, the hostess at the front desk was so beautiful and so sweet, that when she asked me how many nights I would be staying, I found myself saying “oh, uh…just one.” And so, I spent the night in Ljubljana.
The next morning as I went to check out and try again to leave for Munich, it was pouring rain and (through some miracle of shift-management) this beautiful hostess was back at her desk. She told me I didn’t have to worry about checking out on time and that I could go back to bed if I wanted. Well, after a wild night-about-town with those Norwegian dudes and about two hours of sleep, nothing sounded better than going back to bed. Nothing, that is, except for spending some time with this girl. And, under the pretext of doing some laundry before leaving the country, that’s exactly what I did.
If I was a far better writer I would still fail to describe her to you as I saw her then. What can I say but petty details? Her height, around 5’9”, was a perfect contrast to my own six feet, one inch. Her weight, which I won’t here approximate, filled her perfect figure, trim enough to fit my magazine-inspired notions of beauty, but with enough flesh to satisfy every curve man might hope to find. Beautiful, blonde, lustrous hair twisted into an intricate braid that boasted both patience and dexterity. And her face…a face that would have moved my heart even if revealed the most unpleasant soul, presented instead a paragon of kindness and dignity, of understanding an intelligence. This was a woman worth crossing the world to find, and I had found her. Sometime amidst my gawking at this pinnacle of womanhood, as we sat together behind the front desk of the hostel, I divulged to her my mania for hand-written letters and she handed me her name and address, in case I was ever so inclined as to write to her. Oh, Urša, I was so inclined. I still am!
And I did write her. In fact, tired as I was, I wrote her only two hours later on the train to Munich. As I rode the rails, lost in thought, I was drawn back to reality when I realized I was in the middle of the Austrian Alps, whose beauty, I told Urša “is only increased by the low-hanging clouds that encircle the slopes and embrace the peaks like lovers—gently, powerfully, and completely.” Given such surroundings, I could not hold off another minute on writing to my heart’s object and, as I explained to her, “I should probably be sleeping now as I ride, but I wanted instead to write to you while this feeling and your face are still fresh in my mind and not yet shaped by the mis-rememberences that come with passing time.”*
And so, perhaps the most important love letter of my life was written and, the next day, sent.
photo via Moe_
In Transit: Why The Delay of the Post is a Plus
When you send an email, your lovely words are converted into their most basic form of information, then transmitted in wave-form through our crumbling atmosphere, where they’re received by satellites, which pass your coded message to its fellow satellites, which send that information back down to the earth, where it is promptly restored to its original form of words and cat pictures and links to Tegan & Sara songs or whatever it is your send your friends.** Email is a brilliant system that works wonderfully.
But when I’m at the train-station in Munich and I write out my love on physical, tree-made paper, I can’t shoot it through the stratosphere (duh, it would burn up) so I go to the local post office, where I give that letter to some guy who promises to get it to Urša if I give him a Euro and a few Eurocents. Now, I don’t know this guy, and he doesn’t know me, and he doesn’t know Urša (presumably), but I am still fairly certain that he and his crew can get the job done. And to me, that is pretty magical. As I mentioned at the start, each letter sent through the mail goes on a journey. Some mail travels further than its sender ever will. The last letter I sent Urša must have taken a plane, several autos, perhaps a train, and a countless number of human hands to get from my desk to her mailbox.
But, even if this journey does seem magical, the post is, of course, a very human process, so it’s going to take some time to get there (and, based on what I now know about the Slovenian Post, it’s going to take a LONG time to get there). But that’s OK and here’s why:
Most of what we say is NOT urgent. It’s shocking, I know, but true. When I send a letter, of course, I want the reader to get it immediately and I want to hear back from him or her (usually her) the very next day when the mail comes, but, of course, that’s not how it works. And thank god for that! As my Facebook and my almost-completely-ignored Twitter readily reveal: I don’t have too too much going on at any given time. Let’s look at (honest to God) the very last thing I read on Facebook. “-yess just got my ticket to see the Hunger Games in two weeks. can’t wait!” Putting aside the fact that this person is barely an acquaintance from four years ago, this post is still horribly uninteresting. Maybe if she had seen the movie and was writing her reaction to it I’d find her words worthwhile, but this just isn’t cutting it for me. And I wish I could guarantee that I won’t see a post tomorrow saying “just saw my Hunger Games ticket in my purse today. super excited! ” but I can’t.
But I’m sure enough has already been said about the banality of Facebook and Twitter posts without my half-baked complaints, so let me switch to a more unique, personal example of the tedium of daily thought.
Druga Zgodba: To Whom You Should NOT Write Love Letters
Back on this side of the Atlantic ocean, a good friend of mine, a very unavailable young lady, resides. Well, two months ago, when I packed up to move from NJ to CA, I left her (and her boyfriend) behind, but not my feelings for her (oh, and I like her boyfriend a lot, too…good guy). Call it indulgence or self-flagellation, but the last day I saw her, I wrote her a letter…yes, a love letter, but one I knew I couldn’t send. But writing it was so liberating that I wrote her another the following night and now, over two months later, not a night has gone by that I haven’t written to her.
Anyway, here’s the point of that story: it’s a damn good thing I’m not sending these letters, because they are fucking BORING. That’s right, I said it. And no amount of “I love you” and “I miss you” admissions can change that. The first few letters were great, a beautiful confession of emotion mixed with interesting and germane stories. But after that, most nights’ letters consist of what I did that day and a well-intentioned but absolutely redundant reminder of my love. Yes, even the lyrics of romance grow stale when overplayed.
So, if your love letter takes two weeks to deliver, don’t bemoan the delay, praise it! Just think, when the object of your desire finally writes back and you get the reply one month later in the mail, you’ll have so much more to talk about! You’ll be a different person ready to express your love from a whole new light (and maybe she’ll even be single by then! [Just kidding, don't send love letters to people in relationships; send them to beautiful Europeans that you will never see again]).
Never See Again??
Oh, but I did see my darling Urša again. One week and many, many kilometers after my initial trip to Slovenia, I could not resist returning to Ljubljana, with its hill-top castle and its Dragon Bridge, its bizarre blue-laws and its crowning jewel, my Urša. So, I returned with a red rose for my unsuspecting sweetheart and a hesitant hope for my immediate future.
photo of Lake Bled, Slovenia, via phault
*Whenever I send letters to friends, I first write out that letter in my own journal, so that I have a copy of it (annoying but rewarding!)
**I am not sure how the internet actually works, but this might be how.
About the Author: Victim of his own Gatsby-esque fantasies, Ray is a New Jersey native a long way from home.
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Victim of his own Gatsby-esque fantasies, Ray is a New Jersey native a long way from home.
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