Andrea here, taking a break from research (though I’ve been diving into some really interesting things of which you’ll be hearing soon) to muse on mindfulness and connecting the brain to something other than a machine.
I have been thinking about this lately as I take my daily “plotting walk,” which helps me unwind as I just let my thoughts wander. It’s amazing how often good ideas or the unraveling of plot knots happen when you turn off all the noise in your head and take the time to look and listen to Nature. There’s an elemental delight in spotting a leaf shaped like a heart, or a sea-washed feather on the beach—that sense of discovery and wonder is a special reminder to stay connected to real world, not just the devices that have become such a dominant force in our everyday lives.
More and more, I’ve been noticing that other walkers are on their cellphones. Yak, yak, yak—their attention totally focused on the conversation rather than observing the light on the harbor water or the sound of the breeze ruffling through the newborn spring leaves. And on the lovely benches facing out over Long Island Sound, people are sitting hunched over and texting . . .
Bear with me, I know I’m wandering, but thinking about this also got me to musing about how we communicate, and the lost art of letterwriting. Take, for example, Jane Austen. She was a prodigious letterwriter, many of them to her sister Cassandra:
"I have now attained the true art of letter-writing, which we are always told, is to express on paper exactly what one would say to the same person by word of mouth . . .”
Ah, but somehow I can’t imagine Austen ever wrote “How RU?” or “LOL!” When one sits down with paper and pen to write an actual letter, it seems to trigger different wiring in the brain than when one taps a keyboard. (This, I believe, is a medical fact.) I know I become more thoughtful, and feel paper demands that I take time to choose my words and description more carefully, even for very mundane things.
Isn’t that a lovely sentence? It’s so simple and yet so evocative. And then there’s the challenge of humor, which isn’t always easy to capture on paper. This little snippet from Austen made me laugh aloud. Somehow, it’s so much richer than saying “Breakfast sucked.”
“I can recollect nothing more to say at present; perhaps breakfast may assist my ideas. I was deceived — my breakfast supplied only two ideas — that the rolls were good and the butter bad.”
And then there is cleverness. More Austen:
“You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.”
“We are to have a tiny party here tonight. I hate tiny parties, they force one into constant exertion.”
Maybe it’s just me, but I find very few tweets or text contain a pithy way with words. Is it because it's so easy and quick to type? That delay between thought and moving your hand over paper—that commitment of ink that can’t be deleted or cut and pasted—seems to demand more “respect” for your chosen words. They are there, preserved on paper forever! (Yes, I know our digital communications are supposedly floating forever in the ether, too, but they don’t seem to have the same gravitas.)
I really miss getting real letters. There something very special about opening the envelope—a sense of anticipation?—and then unfolding the paper and seeing a distinctive handwriting. Just the shape of the penned letters can trigger all sorts of emotions as you recognize who it’s from. Sometimes the paper even carries a faint scent. The act of reading—touching, feeling the letter as something real—also gives it a tangible dimension. And then you can put it in a drawer, to take out and re-read over and over again with the same tactile pleasure.
So that’s my (curmudgeonly) thoughts for the day. What about you? Do you like receiving letters? Do you take the time to write them? Do feel they are more special than e-mails or texts?