Letters No More (tf)

Playwright A.R. Gurney wrote “Love Letters” as an exercise to learn how to type. Such is the story I heard anyway. I was forced to take a typing class during one long ago summer because my mother was working and thought I’d sleep until 2pm unless she got me out of the house. I remember sitting in a sweltering classroom at an unholy early hour typing something like “dick and jane went to the store to buy a loaf of bread and then became protestants and went to hell” over and over again. Not much creativity in that room. I’m glad I learned to type, but Gurney’s way seems much more interesting. And of course ol’ A.R. went on to be nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and other such niceties. I, on the other hand, am writing a blog.

But a damn fine blog if I may say so. I don’t much like Gurney. Always a bit too prim and WASPish to me….as if his nose hairs needed sunlight. His plays all rounded edges and limitless cocktail hours, with everybody having a therapist……his idea of a crisis a couple who thinks their dog is the source of their marital strife (as the play progressed I was hoping the dog would maul the two of them to stop their incessant whining). Only people with money think this way.

That being said, I do think “Love Letters” a wonderful piece of writing….the kind of simple idea that you wish you’d come up with yourself. A play with 2 characters reading letters back and forth. An actor’s dream. No lines to memorize. And a sublime dramatic device to show how modernity has largely made the 2 old lovers anachronistic. Letters? How quaint. Does anybody exchange actual letters anymore? If the play is modernized maybe it could be re-titled “Love Texts”…..assuming Gurney could grab them all before they were deleted from the 2 “sent” folders.

Actually email killed letters stone dead. We walk to the mailbox like zombies now, fully aware that nothing we pull out of there is going to make us smile (unless you’re the type who likes to laugh at the cable bill). I really cannot remember the last time I received an honest to goodness letter. Email is much more efficient of course, but so cold. There’s no effort involved. No stamps to buy (and then buy again when the rates go up). No envelopes to lick. No looking up zip codes. No signature at the bottom. Nothing personalized at all. Everybody can pretend to be thoughtful and hope their few hastily scribbled words don’t end up in the recipient’s spam folder.

When my father passed away last year we unearthed mounds of his papers. Long lost scraps of ideas, half-finished manuscripts, letters. Even the outline of a play. It was like reaching into Boo Radley’s tree. In going through them all, I felt like I was still getting to know him. It made me miss him even more…..but also to treasure all the more the time I did have with him.

I hope we’re not becoming a generation that only keeps things in virtual in-boxes. I want my children to find some of my words when I’m gone. Without requiring a password.

–Tom Flannery

~ by admin on February 23, 2011.

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