I hate Valentine’s Day…blah blah blah…it’s a racket…a holiday that commodifies love…yadda yadda yadda…too many expectations …if you don’t have a “Valentine” you’re considered a loser…etc., etc., etc.,..
Better writers than me have ranted about Valentine’s Day. It’s kind of a clichéd thing to do so I won’t do it. But, the holiday has given me an opportunity to write about something that I do love and is a dying art form — the love letter.
I love getting and sending letters period, but I like to read and collect the love letters written by other people and that’s because I haven’t received one in over 15 years. I haven’t written one in the same amount of time. The response I got to the last one I wrote was “I got your letter.”
OK. I’m not bitter or anything.
So if I haven’t written or received a love letter in 15 years who am I to instruct someone on how to write a love letter? Well, I am a passionate love letter reader and I think I know what works and doesn’t and…it’s my blog so I can do whatever I want! That’s my Valentine’s Day gift to myself.
How to Write a Love Letter
1. Use a pen and paper. Philip Hensher makes the point in an article in the Wall Street Journal titled “The Lost Art of the Handwritten Note” that “e-mail and text exchanges won’t be treasured in the way” that a handwritten note will. If you want to be remembered, go low-tech.
2. Use beautiful imagery. Toronto Star columnist Catherine Porter shared some excerpts from letters her grandfather wrote to her grandmother in an article published this time last year. I remembered it because of Porter’s grandfather’s poetic and evocative writing style. He describes his love for Porter’s grandmother before they’re married:
Then it was like the ethereal play of northern lights — vivid, alive, springing from the air, dissolving and leaping into the infinite heights attain, without shape of resting place, a glorious flash giving birth to life.
He then uses the northern lights metaphor to illustrate how their relationship has changed and stayed the same in a letter to his wife after they are married and adds to it:
“Now it is like the summer garden, various in the richness of changing colours, with a scheme and contour and a visible place from which it grows. But still, in the night time, when the garden colours sleep enveloped in the half-light, the northern lights play over it and shooting stars set pace for the ‘reach that exceeds our grasp,’ and those early days live again, dissolving into future.”
Beautiful. This letter wasn’t written to me but whenever I think of northern lights and gardens, I’ll think of this letter and Catherine Porter’s grandfather. Make a connection between an image and your feelings in the letter so that whenever they see that image, they think of you.
3. Be clever. Not a poet? Having trouble communicating how you feel? No problem. Do it while being wacky and sweet like writer E.B. White was in a letter to his wife Katherine as written by their dog, Daisy: (I know it’s long, but it’s worth reading)
Dear Mrs. White:
I like having Josephine here in the morning, although I suppose I will get less actual thinking done — as I used to do my thinking mornings in the bathroom. White has been stewing around for two days now, a little bit worried because he is not sure that he has made you realize how glad he is that there is to be what the column writer in the Mirror calls a blessed event. So I am taking this opportunity, Mrs. White, to help him out to the extent of writing you a brief note which I haven’t done in quite a long time but have been a little sick myself as you know.
Well, the truth is White is beside himself and would have said more about it but is holding himself back, not wanting to appear ludicrous to a veteran mother. What he feels, he told me, is a strange queer tight little twitchy feeling around the inside of his throat whenever he thinks that something is happening which will require so much love and all on account of you being so wonderful. (I am not making myself clear I am afraid, but on the occasions when White has spoken privately with me about this he was in no condition to make himself clear either and I am just doing the best I can in my own way.) I know White so well that I always know what is the matter with him, and it always comes to the same thing — he gets thinking that nothing that he writes or says ever quite expresses his feeling, and he worries about his inarticulateness just the same as he does about his bowels, except it is worse, and it makes him either mad, or sick, or with a prickly sensation in the head. But my, my, my, last Sunday he was so full of this matter which he couldn’t talk about, and he was what Josephine in her simple way would call hoppy, and particularly so because it seemed so good that everything was starting at once — I mean those things, whatever they are, that are making such a noise over in the pond by Palmer Lewis’s house, and the song sparrow that even I could hear from my confinement in the house, and those little seeds that you were sprinkling up where the cut glass and bones used to be — all starting at the same time as the baby, which he seems to think exists already by the way he stands around staring at you and muttering little prayers. Of course he is also very worried for fear you will get the idea that he is regarding you merely as a future mother and not as a present person, or that he wants a child merely as a vindication of his vanity. I doubt if those things are true; White enjoys animal husbandry of all kinds including his own; and as for his regard for you, he has told me that, quite apart from this fertility, he admires you in all kinds of situations or dilemmas, some of which he says have been quite dirty.
Well, Mrs. White, I expect I am tiring you with this long letter, but as you often say yourself, a husband and wife should tell each other about the things that are on their mind, otherwise you get nowhere, and White didn’t seem to be able to tell you about his happiness, so thought I would attempt to put in a word.
White is getting me a new blanket, as the cushion in the bathroom is soiled.
(From E.B. White on Dogs)
Being silly is a great way to express big, difficult emotions. Every time I read that I smile. Who can resist a person who loves their dog so much and knows his dog so well that he can write in his dog’s voice?
4. Get to the point. I’m really impatient so I don’t like a lot of phumphering around which is why I like designer Charles Eames’ proposal letter to his future wife, Ray:
5. Be spontaneous. Be brief. Be raw. A love letter can be written anywhere, on anything, and any time you feel the need to express yourself. On the backs of envelopes, on your hand or on a Post-it note. Writer Fiona Maazel uses the spontaneous writing method in a game she calls Text/Subtext (as described in an essay in The Moment):
Say you’re having dinner with a friend, lover, parent. The banter is: my day and yours. But the feelings are otherwise: I am so sad. I want to do unspeakable things to your body. Please don’t die. And so: If there’s gain to be had in the release of these secrets but no way to do in speech, out comes the pen and paper. And passing of notes whose dialogue doesn’t subvert so much as complement the one I had going already. My day and yours. How ’bout those Mets.
Many years ago, I was talking to, let’s call this person Q. We were laughing about something or other — we often did — until the bleakness of my inner life came tumbling out on a blue sticky note, which I still keep in my wallet. Back then, I thought this exchange meant I wouldn’t be alone anymore. I was wrong, insofar as we’re all alone, but never mind. It meant something big to me in the moment.
Not a traditional love letter but I love it all the same. I love the simplicity and vulnerability in the note. And I love Q’s response. Even a simple “I won’t!” on a Post-it note is kept and treasured.
Instead of passionate, fiery love letters, I prefer sweet (but not nauseatingly sweet) love letters that warm and melt my sometimes icy heart and burst it wide open like the four letters I highlighted.
Consider writing a love letter this Valentine’s Day. Or just read one.
If you read the whole post, thanks.
Are there any love letters you love? Please provide a link or excerpt in the comment section. Thanks again!