I love letters. It’s been a while since I got any. These days the mailbox, like the inbox or the phone, gets mostly junk mail. I did just write a few letters, notes, really, short ones, to say thank you and get well. And I still write checks and mail my bills, using stamps. Today I am walking to the post office!
But I miss writing the long letter that sends love and news and personality to the recipient, that asks questions, hoping for an answer—by mail!—soon. I miss the little illustrations I used to add sometimes and the decorative marginal or closing flourishes. I miss getting such a letter back. Sigh…
I’ve just finished reading A Fire in the Mind, the biography of Joseph Campbell by Stephen and Robin Larsen that excerpts many letters as a way of delivering information and personality. Several are by Campbell, of course, to his wife and friends and family members. Others are about him, by these people and various students and colleagues and professional associates along the way. Biographers must already be having a harder time re-constructing a life, now that the age of letters is over.
Our EIL theatre reviewer, Scott Klavan, just got to see Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy in a revival of Love Letters, by A. R. Gurney, a play that recreates a relationship through years of letters. Generally, the actors simply sit and read the letters, which makes it easier for actors to do star turns in limited engagements, as in the current Broadway production. Burnett just replaced Mia Farrow, and other actors coming up include Alan Alda, Candice Bergen, Stacy Keach, Diana Rigg, Anjelica Huston, and Martin Sheen. Here is Scott’s review of the current production. (The art there and here is by Erika Kuhn, from a Moleskine journal project at Escape Into Life.)
And I yearn to direct and/or be in Dear Elizabeth, by Sarah Ruhl, a play based on the letters of the poets Elizabeth Bishop and Robert Lowell.
Today is expected to be the warmest day of the week, and I already see the sun poking out between the morning trees. Reading the end of A Fire in the Mind yesterday, I got a short note from Nature, in a way. The last chapter has a lot of letter excerpts, several recounting where the writers were when they first sensed Campbell’s death. Yes, those intuitions or premonitions or visitations…that, when confirmed by the facts, make it possible to construct the myth or narrative of one’s own life, or see one’s life as such a thing.
I was reading this testimonial by Lynne Kaufman: “I find that beyond all the brilliance and scholarship, when that fades, still as a man, he was shining. He was radiant, the aliveness of the world came through him. The vividness, the vivacity of it, the immediacy and warmth of him. The way the universe was alive for him, he could transmit that.”
It had been gray all day. As I read, the sun pushed through, gently, beginning at “He was radiant…,” and faded away again during the next two sentences. I like it when stuff like that happens. It’s just the sun, doing what it does, shining, and being covered by clouds, and me, doing what I do, reading, and reading the world for its endless signs of life. “This is my letter to the World,” wrote Emily Dickinson, “That never wrote to Me—” Or, in my case, That
always wrote to me.