For reasons, I regularly receive communiques from a local organization of decent community standing. It has a long, historical background based around education and reform. It’s a big place, a respectable place, and a smart place.
But the letters I receive from it are downright dumb. And I’m not sure they can be called “letters” at all. What they are, in fact, are strings of partial sentences and assorted words, names, and dates placed in paragraph form, with a few conjunctions and prepositions thrown in for good measure, that are all formatted to look like a letter. But they read like utter nonsense. If it wasn’t for the fact that I understand the information that the writer is trying to convey, the interpretation of them would be damn near impossible.
In this same vein, I also spend considerable time reading over cover letters from well-meaning students and volunteers who want nothing more than to gain experience in the mystical arts of special collections…err, collecting. I’m not sure what’s sadder – reading over a letter that looks like it’s been cut and pasted a thousand times, or reading over a robotic and flat statement of one’s ultimate goals in life.
Somewhere between the non-letters and the über-letters, there remains that uneven yet wonderful ground of human letters. Those written by human beings who cared enough to write and didn’t care enough to be perfect.
See, because I’m not perfect. I don’t write perfect letters. Sometimes I have to write form letters, because I have to. Sometimes I have to jot off a quick email because I have to. Sometimes I blather on in text-speak because I have to. (Okay, not really, but it helps when you’re mashed into a subway car like a sardine.) But when I don’t have to, I like to write letters that invoke a little of myself, because I want the readers to feel like mine are letters worth reading. And that’s why I rarely write letters, like actual, meaningful letters, because they take up a lot of time.
And that’s why I take absolute notice when a sensible, personable, and well-written letter from a student or organization passes my desk. Because I understand the time and know-how that it took to craft such work.
I used to personal write letters, a lot. It usually happened around the holidays or someone’s birthday, when I would sit down with a card or pretty stationary and my favorite pen. And I write, to a person from a person. They were also full of scribbles, spelling errors, and unfinished thoughts. (My mind tends to work faster than my hand. Also, I’m likely dyslexic.) But I tried my best to keep them patterned in a readable way. Not so much an essay but rather something with organization and structure, leaving a path for the reader to follow.
Nowadays, the rare personal notes that I write are very brief. Maybe it’s because I’ve less to say. Or maybe it’s because I “see” those friends to whom I used to write every day on Facebook and there’s nothing more to inform. So I put my letter-writing knowledge to use at work. Sometimes it takes me a couple days to put together what I perceive as a really nice letter (or email, as the case may be). I’d like to think it pays off, but I never really know. Because even if the person responds, it’s usually in brief, because we’re all too busy.
One of the thing I like most about blogging is that it give me the chance to be “in the moment” with writing. I can tell structure and form and phrasing to fuck right on off, because this is my space, and I love having that freedom. Since I started blogging, it’s actually helped me write better letters at work, because my mind is a little less clogged and a little more focused. Maybe you’ll receive one of my letters one day. But if not, that’s okay. You’re probably not missing out on much.