The Wearied Written Word

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.


  1. There are far too many lazy writers in the world. Writing, much like how you’ve expressed it here, is all about how we care as people. If I procrastinate, I’ll copy and paste. If I’m writing a letter to my wife about how much I love her; I check every comma, period, and vastly expand my vocabulary.
    You talking about cover letters is the PERFECT of learning about someone, WITHOUT EVEN ASKING A QUESTION.
    If someone is giving you a cover letter that is formatted correctly, correct spelling and punctuation, yet it’s written with their own words. THAT is the person whom is taking their writing seriously, in my opinion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Exactly! Granted, first impressions aren’t everything, but when they have to happen via cover letters, it’s of the utmost importance that one puts his or her best grammatical and creative foot forward. Give me a reason to WANT to read, to get to know the person writing. It’s not an easy task writing these sorts of letters, and seldom have I seen it in practice, but I have seen it. And it certainly helps someone stand out in a sea of other candidates.

      Writing well isn’t easy, and I get why people take shortcuts, but it’s a always pleasure to read something that displays wisdom and courage. I think that’s why I like blogs so much. They may not be perfect, but they are filled with personality and life. And that makes for good reading.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Of course first impressions aren’t everything! But you try telling that to some people. They’ll judge you solely on the first few hours or days you worked with them. They’re not the majority, but they’re there. I’d modern society had a better grasp on what is expected and what is appectable treatment for other at work.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. I often lament the loss of the letter, and it seems to be vanishing from our shared history with so few people mourning its passing. You can’t dispute the benefits of email, texting, (Facebooking’s a different story – best left for another day) or whatever, but the convenience they provide have come at a cost, perhaps too subtle to have been noticed by most people.

    The ‘art’ of writing a letter, of crafting something both cerebral and tactile has been set aside in favour of brevity, or efficiency, almost as if we’ve unconsciously accepted the fact that it’s now just something ephemeral that will appear on a screen only briefly, and not physically kept for posterity, or reasons of sentimentality, even. More worryingly, rather than using emails to compose and send virtual letters – i.e. transferring the craft to the new technology – we’ve allowed the new technology to impact upon actual letters, so that letters are basically just hold-in-your-hand emails; rather than emails being virtual letters on a screen, if you see what I mean!?

    It’s possible I’m just bitter (on account of having been forced to practice handwriting for ages at school, and now almost never needing to actually write any-damn-thing, ever) but I too miss letters, and I miss that feeling of receiving a letter – of putting the envelope somewhere safe until such time as to give it the attention it deserved. Let’s be honest, the little ping (or whatever) of receiving a new email will never, ever match that (even if emails weren’t people trying to sell you shit 85.35% of the time), and the “cloud”/inbox will never come close to holding the same emotional resonance as the letters drawer, or shoebox that once safeguarded our correspondence did.

    So, yeah – basically, I’m *totes* with you on this. And – on a completely unrelated note – I suddenly feel very old…..

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Oh man, you got me at shoebox full of letters because I have exactly that. Birthday and Christmas cards, photographs, and notes I’ve kept over the years lie in that box. What will we pass on to the next generation? Text messages?? Selfies??
      Don’t get me wrong, I love a good selfie. But looking through actual physical pictures of my childhood memories and special moments is priceless. Someone went and got the camera, took a picture, went to the store and got the film developed because they realized the moment was special. They didn’t just push a button on their pocket computer.
      And I love texting and messaging people on Facebook, Skype, Discord. But I treasure the cards and notes I have SO MUCH. Someone wrote that note just for me. Someone went and got me a card from the store, something they though I would like and could keep to remember their celebration of, well… me.
      These things are important.

      I feel old and I’m only 27.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. On the plus side, though, it’s been a while since I paid to get a film developed only for it to come back with one, maybe two pictures that weren’t just blurry black rectangles! 😉

        But yeah, my own shoebox(es) of letters, postcards and pictures mean a lot to me too, and for all the reasons you mentioned!

        Liked by 1 person

              1. It’s my Grandpa’s old Yashica, probably from the mid-to-late 60’s. The company doesn’t exist anymore, so I expect finding parts for it might be a mission. 😉

                And film generally lasts about 4 to 6 years, but you can add a chunk to that by keeping it in the fridge (I’ve often had to explain to people why there’s a tupperware of film in there)!

                Liked by 1 person

                  1. You’re very welcome. If you do use the fridge thing though, you’ll need to let the film come back to room temp for about 3 hours before you put ’em in the camera. (Otherwise they’ll go all condensation-ey on y’all!)

                    Liked by 1 person

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