Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: Letters

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Lately I’ve been thinking about letters. The kind we don’t get anymore. The kind we don’t send anymore. The kind we’re glad someone once wrote and saved. When Mozart was writing his opera “Idomeneo,” for example, he wrote long letters to his father discussing his work. I heard a talk about the opera the other night that included some discussion of how significant the letters were, to Mozart in thinking through and explaining what he was trying to accomplish in writing his first opera and to those who want to understand the work and the process more fully.

I heard that talk soon after I finished reading a book of letters between Wassily Kandinsky and his lover, also an artist, Gabriele Munter. I hadn’t known anything about her, or about their relationship I until I saw it referred to throughout an exhibit of Kandinsky’s paintings at the Guggenheim Museum in New York last winter. The letters in the book were filled with triumphs and--more frequently--self-doubts about work on the part of each, along with talk of their relationship and also very touching encouragement from each to the other.

A few years ago I read another collection of letters, between Edith Wharton and Henry James. Again, with ups and downs and those self-torturing questions about their work and their lives. And, again, the focus on doing the work (James) and on how to get the work done in the face of family demands (Wharton). A reminder that probably the female half of any creative couple still has to figure out what’s for dinner, not to mention who bears and cares for the children. But that's another discussion.

Anyhow, all this leads me to wonder where the next generation of letters will come from , or if there will be any. Is anyone saving e-mails or text messages? And, if so, what will they tell us? Will it still feel like eavesdropping on a private conversation--in a good way?

In just a few years we’ve become conditioned to dropping everything at the sound of a “you’ve got mail” indicator. But remember the (admittedly less frequent) excitement of finding in an actual mailbox an actual letter with a stamp with handwriting and maybe a few smudges or cross outs, carrying, even invisibly, the fingerprints of an actual person who has written it? Aren’t we still--once we get over the shock--still excited to get one?

Maybe the next Mozart is, right now, sending a txt msg: “gud wrk on nu opra. mnc. l8r” Think someone’s going to save it?

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