Thursday, September 09, 2010

My Life As A Scribe

*Warning: Long, rambling post ahead. A letter about letters to you, my bloggy friends. If you are at all inclined to read it, you might want to wait until you have a few quiet moments, a nice cup of tea and patience for a lot of blather and Blarney.....

Funny title from someone whose pen has been dry for almost a month! It doesn't mean I've stopped. It just means I'm overwhelmed. I'm in awe of all you bloggers---I'm lookin' at you Thimbleanna!---who work full time, run a household, bake cupcakes at the drop of a hat, quilt like someone's got a gun to their head, craft like there's forty hours in a day, and still manage to blog regularly!

Not content with the life of Reilly, I recently allowed myself to be sweet-talked into helping out at a friend's office. It's only two days a week, but what a difference those two days make! Life was passing me by at a gallop before. Now Monday is no sooner over than Whoosh! It's Monday again! It's making me dizzy.

The blog's been a wasteland as a consequence. But I'm on it! "Writer" magazine keeps repeating the same old mantra---If you want to write, you've got to write every day. So Molly Bawn has decided to heed that advice, for better or for worse....

Writing, after all, is how I bring order to the chaos. Whether what I write is good, bad, or indifferent matters not. The act of writing soothes me, satisfies me, and once in a while, something I write finds an echo out there. Of course there are exceptions. Take last night for instance. I'd been reading "Writer" magazine, which I borrow occasionally from the library, especially when the clue bag is on "empty." So, heeding the "Write every day" advice, I wrote down a word, and then another, and then a few more, in hopes that something would evolve. Something evolved alright. A few hours later I had a post. All I needed was a picture. Duly toddled off to Flickr and found an appropriate image. But between the hopping and the trotting, and "blog this" and "copy" and "paste," I ended up with a blank page. My howls of anguish were heard in Canada, I'm sure. So, add to my virtues Humility, hard won. Sometimes, though the blog gods seem cruel, one comes to the realization that they were right after all. It was a load of rubbish. Better not to have embarrassed one's self.

The scratch of pen on paper has always been music to me. After years of practice in the primary grades,I decided to go global in secondary school. Allison in Beloit, Wisconsin, was my first pen friend. She wrote faithfully for several years. Beloit, Wisconsin might as well have been on the dark side of the moon, but at least Allison wrote in English. She was crafty too, handy at the sewing. One year, for my birthday, she made me a red flannel nightgown. When the nightgown was washed it turned everything else in that laundry load a rosy shade of pink!

Then there was Anne-Marie who wrote from Alsace-Lorraine. In French. Which made me feel very sophisticated, though Mrs. Penny's drills on "La plume de ma tante" did little to help me understand letters from a French teenager, written in cursive. We were loved and sheltered and nourished, but there weren't many luxuries. So when Anne-Marie sent me a tiny pot of sweet-smelling perfume, I treasured it, eked it out for years. And I still have a letter-opener she sent me in the shape of a sword.

Anne-Marie sent photos of herself and her family, black and white with scalloped edges [the photos, not the family.]I poured over those photos, trying to imagine what it must be like to be Anne-Marie, to live in France and, [hardest of all to imagine] to have French dropping casually from my lips, something the long-suffering Mrs. Penny could only dream of!

Undaunted by the fact that the nuns didn't offer German at my school, I found another pen-friend, Gisela from Konigstein-Taunus. Gisela wrote to me in passable English, and I replied---in slightly more passable English. But I had a secret plan. Armed with a "German for Beginners" book I'd spent my scant allowance on, I planned to teach myself German. Now, who wants to say I'm not an optimist?

Eventually life moved on and letters to overseas strangers fell by the wayside, partly due, I'm sure, to my failure to advance, with any alacrity, beyond ""La plume de ma tante." How amazed I would have been back then if someone had told me that, in my life, I would live near each of the places those penfriends wrote me from!

Meantime, off to Dub-a-lin in the green, in the college, where I stayed in a hostel run by nuns. There was, apparently, no getting away from them. They were strategically positioned all around the country, bent on defending, for a modest monthly fee, the virtue of young innocents like myself. I'm sure my mother was overjoyed that I'd have three squares a day, responsible supervision and a curfew, all without breaking the bank. Not that I was financially in a position to be kicking my heels up with or without supervision of the nun-ly sort.

There were no cell phones, no computers, no texting, no voice mail, and telephone charges were astronomical, so that left the post office, whose services I used once a week to communicate with my family "down the cunthry." The letters home could have been as dull as ditch water. Life for a young "culchie" in the big city was fairly humdrum, especially for an impoverished young culchie, who got the princely sum of one Irish pound for pocket money every week. Besides, it was an all-girl college---what on earth had I been thinking? Not wanting to bore the folks at home to death, I set about making my letters interesting. I'd pick on small, inconsequential incidents and find the comedy in them. And so they looked forward to the weekly epistles and didn't forget me.

And when I went to a small town up near the border with Northern Ireland to teach, I hit a rich vein of material for those letters home. And in the fullness of time I met the OC, but most of the time there was an ocean between us, so that meant more letters! There's a box of them in a closet somewhere; better attend to it before I get much further into my dotage. Wouldn't want the children falling around after we're gone, helpless with mirth at the lovelorn ramblings of their staid parents!

I still have letters my parents wrote me after we were married. They're tucked away in the drawer of my night table...When I look at their distinctive hand writing it's like catching a glimpse of a loved and familiar face.....Faces I miss still, after all these years. In that same drawer I have letters from friends I've met and left, from all the places we've lived; letters telling me of the births of their children, the progress of their lives, of deaths and divorces, joys and sorrows, and asking about ours.

And now, even I, old time scribe [or chicken scratcher] that I am, hardly write letters any more. E-mail is so quick and convenient. But you can't hold it in your hand and it doesn't have the distinctive seal of a friend's unique hand writing. So, once in a while I do still write letters. And once in a while my old, scattered friends do too, particularly on birthdays, because we know the thrill of seeing our name on an envelope, in familiar handwriting, tangible proof that, though geographically removed from each, we still care enough to sit down and write. I never rip it open right away. I draw out the pleasure by tucking it in my pocket, waiting until I have a few quiet moments, making myself a nice cup of tea, and then settling down for a luxurious read.


Friko said...

How right you are!
I do the same, a letter with a proper stamp and a handwritten address falls on the doormat and it is placed on the kitchen table first. Then it is picked up, turned round for the address (I always recognise the handwiting anyway) and put away for a quiet moment. It isslit open carefully, the pages are smoothed out and I sit and read every line twice.

Email is all very well, but nothing is as satisfying as a 'proper' letter. There are too few of them.

I am glad you managed to overcome the draught, the wait was worth it.

Anonymous said...

A very pleasant and interesting read. You are a good writer. Look forward to more from the scribe.

Pam said...

I quite agree about writing but don't accept two days' work a week as an excuse for not blogging!!!

Thimbleanna is a different category - she's got magical powers - but I work five and a half days a week, plus lots of marking, and while I don't create streams of beautiful craftwork, I manage the odd blog post. So less of your feeble excuses, Mrs Bawn!

secret agent woman said...

I have pretty bad carpal tunnel problems so I hate writing things by hand and have really lousy handwriting. Emails are a god send for me, and I treasure emails from friends - where they are always available to read and re-read.

dianne said...

i miss opening the mailbox and finding a letter or a card with a handwritten address just to me ... my sister (bless her heart) sends mail to me for no other reason than knowing that i love to hold paper in my hands and trace her flowery writing with my fingers ... and now i think i will stop typing and send my sister a note (for no other reason than knowing that she loves to hold paper, with my writing, in her hands)

Pauline said...

Did as I was told and fetched a cup of tea - and enjoyed every word of your musings. Letters used to fly between my Mama and hers, between my cousin and me, between me and home when I left. I still send birthday cards, and love letters at Christmas because, as you say, seeing someone's handwriting means time taken, and a little extra care.

Anonymous said...

As far as I'm concerned, the only Good Mail is letters. Handwritten letters. Most of the time, I am sorely disappointed after my trek to the mailbox. And then I remember I've stopped writing in favor of email. I guess I'd better start following the Golden Rule!

Oh, and that "plume de ma tante?" it's "sur la table de mon oncle!"

Anonymous said...


Criticism, that fine flower of personal expression in the garden of letters.
Joseph Conrad