Create: A Man of Letters

I guess you could call me that. Maybe. Let me start by saying this. I’ve been writing letters my entire life. I’ve always loved doing this and my guess is I always will. What others might view as painful, slow and logistically complicated I view as “Yes, all the above and these are the precise reasons I love it so much.”

Last week’s letter tally.

T.E. Lawrence, after spending a year at the Paris Peace Accords of 1919 decided he needed to go back to Cairo to get his “war letters.” “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” had yet to be fully completed and he knew the letters were invaluable for the completion of the book, a book considered by many to be one of the best ever written. He took off in a new Royal Airforce bomber which promptly crashed on landing in Rome. Both the pilot and co-pilot were killed and Lawrence was injured.

He turned right around and got on another RAF bomber that had to make four, yes four, emergency landings before hitting Cairo and also had to fly over the Mediterranean which was no easy matter at that time. Just to get his letters.

Peter Beard is dead. It’s official, but just prior to his death I was reconnected with two old friends, via letter, and one new friend/artist, via letter all because of our combined love of all things Beard. Already in the mail, I’ve received letters from two of the three, one so beautiful and interesting I’m actually considering NOT opening it. (It’s incredible.)

The letter is the antithesis of modern culture. Slow. Time-consuming. Imperfect. Direct. Personal. Unique. The letter is everything I love about the world. I met a young photographer a few days ago, someone who reached out and asked if I would talk to her about photography as a career, or potential career. I told her, “I don’t want to know you on social media because I know it’s not you.” “I would rather talk to you via the telephone or better yet write you a letter because I know I am more likely to get the actual you and more likely to get your undivided attention.”

And for those of you tell me you don’t have time. Sorry, I don’t believe you. Cut social. Cut television. Done. There, you see, I solved it for you. I’m here to help. Finally, writing letters is actually enjoyable. It’s fun. And for some of you, it might be something you haven’t done in decades. And, I’m also guessing you might not have seen your own handwriting in ages either. (Mine is horrible.) All of these “new” discoveries waiting to happen.

Writing has always been a high-art for me. The highest of all. All you need to write is a pencil or pen and a piece of paper. And your imagination. You don’t need anything except what is inside your own head. Typically, a place of wild fascination, fear, and endless possibility.

10 Comments on “Create: A Man of Letters”

  1. Dan, I read the headline yesterday. So incredibly sad but relieving in some way.
    I will admit something. I didn’t know who Peter Beard was until you told me about him via some video or blog you wrote. Since then, I have become obsessed with finding out more about Peter and it inspired me to start a journal with my daughter during the age of Covid 19… “The Great Pause” as it’s so poetically been called.
    High art is the a great label to put on writing. For me, there is nothing more magical than the written word. When I read that Neil Gaimen rough drafts all his books and journals with a fountain pen, of course I bought a nice fountain pen and paper. Off on a rabbit trail I go without much of an end in sight.
    Thank jeebus that typing on a laptop doesn’t reflect my terrible (but getting better) handwriting.
    RIP Peter Beard

    1. Lucas,
      Total loss to lose a guy like Beard. And hey, I hear about artists, photographers, writers, all the time and don’t know who people are talking about. A lot to learn from Beard. I was in Hawaii once, walking on the North Shore, and came across Paul Theroux sitting on a folding chair in the surf with a yellow notepad, writing.

    1. Bob,
      Some truly don’t have the time. Most do but choose not to. It can seem daunting, especially to those with pixels in their veins.

  2. Letter lover here, too. And a level 20 wizard in the art of excuses. I started checking out on things like that years ago. Once my mailbox became a nonstop always on receive bin of endless junk mailings, I dreaded sorting through it. I know it’s a lame excuse, but see above – I am the Gandalf the White of lame excuses.

    I’ll never shake my love of letters, though. Always liked them, but I attribute my love for them to reading Hemingway, Maugham, and Fitzgerald in the 80s and 90s. Their characters were always writing letters, and when they were off to Pamplona, there was always a line about having mail forwarded to the American Express office in X city or to Y hotel. I was very fortunate to travel to Europe in the early 90s, and once I got a hold of those red white and blue striped “par avion” envelopes, a life-long love of letters was cemented.

    I cringe when I go back and read some of the letters I’ve exchanged with people. They’re not quite on the level of TE Lawrence.

    My handwriting has gotten so awful that the past 6 months I’ve been looking for a relatively lightweight, reliable, low maintenance typewriter. I might pull the trigger on one soon, but they’re not cheap.

    Your SHIFTER stock/paper looks great.

    Speaking of Maugham – if anyone here is looking for a short, fun read from one of his lesser known works – check out Ashenden. One of the earliest spy novels. No kung fu, no massive car chase shootouts.

    1. Scott,
      All good. Yes, so many of my heros, male and female, wrote letters. I remember traveling when I was younger that was about the only way to stay in touch. Loved it. And I loved NOT being in touch. My letters are not great, just simple tales, ideas. That Shifter paper is just printer paper with a little logo printed on it.

  3. Have you ever tried writing or printing on traditional Japanese washi paper or something similar? I bought two new notebooks yesterday made from it and also regularly print inkjet prints using it to stick in my journal. It’s not cheap but it’s better for the environment and writing on something handmade feels far superior to writing on mass-produced general paper.

    I think I wrote you a letter about 5 or 6 years ago (maybe in the Smogranch days) but you didn’t reply 😉

    1. Sean,
      I’m not entirely sure my guess would be no. The Japanese and their paper. Man, where do we start? I write on all kinds of things. Handmade paper, cheap copy paper, good letterhead, etc. I’ll try just about anything but I try to use what I have. When I lived in LA there was an ANCIENT shop near downtown that sold exotic papers out a storefront that looked as if it had not changed since the 1930s. It was fantastic. But alas, now I’m in the wilds. As for your letter. If I didn’t respond it’s on me. I’ll send you another. When this mess is over and I can once again return to the post.

  4. It’s always great to receive any hand-written mail in the post.

    If for some a letter is too much, think about hand-writing a postcard or two and send that off instead. Something small, personal and cheap. If it contains a print of a photo you made on the other side, even better!

    Note: Just do a search for “postcards” on this site for lots of previous great discussions on this topic

    1. Hey Paul,
      Postcards are awesome too. I get then and send them regularly. Now that quarantine is here it has made it easier to go with letters. But either is good.

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