As we all know, time is something that passes us by quicker than we would like, and one of my favorite things about writing is that that writing allows us to capture a suspended moment in time. Its always enlightening, and quite entertaining, to look back through my high school journals and see a suspended moment of myself in time. Often, when we are immersed in life, we do not always fully grasp the full extent of situations and emotional states, and it is not until we are away that we can gain perspective. For me, I always laugh, because my journals are plagued with topics about going on boy strikes and boys were a waste of time and I hated boys–but in retrospect, the fact that I was writing so much about it means boys were actually something kind of important in 16 year old Britany…
As an English teacher, I’m always preaching about the importance of story telling in our lives. We see stories everywhere–Greek mythology, the Bible, movies, music, etc. I love dissecting Tim Burton’s ‘Big Fish’, and discussing the purpose and function of Edward’s story telling techniques–although exaggerations that are rooted in facts, the energy and liveliness of Edward’s stories add a depth and dimension to his life that make his mundane events adventurous and meaningful; while the events themselves are probably static and unchanging, it is the perspective that Edward chooses to take that changes and shifts and therefore contains meaning (of course, the most touching part of that movie is the very end when Will, his son, finally buys into his dad’s storytelling).
Of course, it is really easy to take something like Big Fish–a fiction work–and give the film an inciting action, a climax, some kind of resolution. When you think about the best storytellers, the one thing they have in common is that their stories all carry these essential pieces of plot line as well–they take a real life event, give it a beginning, a middle, and an end (this is why we like memoirs better than biographies–and The Zookeeper’s Wife is a terrible book–there is something essential and cathartic about building into this story arc). I think we want to see our lives in stories, because in a chaotic world, we gravitate towards patterns and structure, and that I also want to see finality so that I can see meaning in my life. Like, I can never fully argue what the theme is in a book until I have finished it, and it sometimes gets frustrating in my messy, everyday life to understand why I took that job, or why that relationship ended, because books end, but life goes on, and not having that finality makes it difficult to determine a definite meaning. And, telling stories is a skill that we can practice. We can learn to build a schema in which we can interpret and share our experiences of the world in this kind of way, and suddenly, my trip to the dog park or the grocery store does not seem so mundane or uneventful.
I read an article the other day that discussed the importance of chronicling your relationships with others–to give your relationships a story arch that has a beginning, a middle, and at some point, an end–there is something in the natural world order that we flock towards these kinds of plot lines. While the most prominent relationships are often our significant others, I think it’s important to also recognize our relationships with our best friends, our team mates, our family–these relationships have their own unique hold and stories as well (I love telling the story of how my best friend and I met in Advanced Dance class in high school–we were leaping across the floor–somehow our legs became intertwined, and we both fell instead of landing–it was friendship ever since). So, in defense of love letters–I think that everyone could benefit from writing love letters to each other because (a) love letters allow us to capture a suspended moment in time–a point in our ever growing relationship that we can reflect fondly upon, (b) the practice allows us to see our relationship as a story–something that we, as humans, crave, and (c) the time we spend in personal reflection deepens our connection to the relationship.
(A) Capture a suspended moment in time: The beauty of relationships is that they are constantly evolving. Everyday, we learn something new about each other. We bring in a new experience that we can refer back to. We build more inside jokes, stronger visions of the future, items to add to our bucket lists. So when we write these things down, we suspended whatever that current state in our relationship is–and one that we can reflect back on later as a marker to see how we have grown.
(B) See our relationship as a story: The article I read discussed that we remember and relay the grand beginning stories of how we met because we can see this as having a story arc–there is a beginning (I was alone), and inciting action (then this guy texted me), a climax (we went on a date and liked each other), and an ending (now we are together). But, we don’t remember the middle of our journeys together because we never quite know when that will exactly end, and we can’t put a climax on it if we can’t gauge the climax from the ending–but that the middle of our journeys are just as important as the beginnings, and it’s important to remember those times together. So, chronicling our journeys in love letters reminds us to also see the story arcs in our middles.
(C) Time in personal reflection deepens our connection to the relationship: I am a huge fan of writing cards to people and a really interesting thing happens to me each time I sit down to write a card–I end up liking and valuing the person more. In religion, we are asked to pray, which is basically a time of silence to sit and reflect on our lives. In yoga, we meditate, which serves a similar purpose–to pause and reflect on our lives. I believe that writing holds the same power–when I am writing, I am doing all of these things–pausing, reflecting, meditating, contemplating–seating myself stationary so that, physically there isn’t much my brain has to process, so that mentally, I can focus on making those connections, which inevitably cause me to think deeper, focus more on the positive aspects of their influence, create more neuro-pathways and associations in my brain, strengthen my memory of the person, and therefore, like them more.
So, in defense of love letters–everyone should write them.