Saturday, January 12, 2013

Gift of a Letter

Before I got married and had children (we were "older" when we got married so had kids right away) I loved the author Alexandra Stoddard.  She writes such inspirational books about elegant living.  Now, as I juggle my ridiculously busy life, I need practical advice more than elegant advice.  Her books now have a comical tone to them.

One I found on my shelf and read recently, Gift of A Letter, is particularly comical in light of texting, Facebooking, etc.  It is about the niceties of writing letters (she means with a pen, on paper, to be mailed via the post office):
Some of her suggestions seem so ludicrous to me that I wondered if it was me or was it her?  For example, she suggests that you go to the Crane headquarters in Manhattan and pick out a family ink to be used on all of your "house stationery."  She suggests that husbands and wives can use different fonts for their formal stationery, but should coordinate the ink colors and the paper types.  Many years ago she had the printers at Crane design a watermark especially for her which they keep on file and she uses on all of her various types of stationery which she has made there.

For less formal letters, she suggests that you hand make marbleized paper with matching envelopes.  Or perhaps paint beautiful calligraphy borders around plain parchment paper you purchased on your last trip to Paris. 

Once you write your letter, Stoddard suggests you read it over a few times, out loud.  That way you can listen to the rhythm of your writing and rewrite sections which don't convey the message you intend.  Is she kidding?  Do multiple drafts of personal correspondence?

She even discusses how you should store the various ink cartridges you have for your fountain pens.  And if your local post office balks at the wax seals you use to close your personal correspondence, she suggests that you "double envelope" those special envelopes, to protect the wax seal.

She claims that she has amassed a varied stamp collection over the years and chooses Texas stamps for her friends in Dallas, flower stamps for her relatives who like to garden, etc.

In addition to giving what I consider ridiculous advice about my own letter writing, Stoddard explores numerous books she has read of other people's correspondence.  Most of these books were by authors and historical fiction.  Some of the references were interesting. 

She indicates that she saves every letter she receives.  Somehow she must organize these.  I personally have never saved a letter someone wrote me.  I cannot imagine saving a lifetime of letters for publication.  I have no expectation that anyone would save a letter I have written them.

But, for example, Stoddard suggests saving all of the letters you and your daughter write to each other and have them bound for posterity.

If you think that I am exaggerating or joking, here is an exact paragraph which Stoddard writes (I have not edited this at all):

On that particular letter writing session, I used sky blue paper with hand-painted fuchsia borders and fuchsia-tissue-lined envelopes.  I bought fuchsia ink cartridges so the ink matched the border.  I even found some sealing wax that was color-coordinated; that inspired me to make the extra effort and use my signet ring to stamp the letters with a personal touch.  Once you've made this kind of effort, choosing an attractive stamp shows panache.

See what I mean?  I read this book and wondered if I am crazy or if she is crazy.  She describes a world which is so different than mine it was mind-boggling.  The book was written in 1990, before e-mail and social media.  Still, the ideas she presents are not inspiring to me, they are laughable.  I do send handwritten thank you notes and Christmas cards, but that is the extent of my personal correspondence.  Sometimes I will send sympathy cards or get well cards.  Perhaps the occasional birthday card.  But Stoddard's ideas are either completely outdated (by 200 years!) or represent a completely different subculture of wealthy Manhattanites with a lot more time on their hands than I have.

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