the age of letters

I think of the Victorian era as the age of letters, of poets, of the romantic writers. But I see the birth of this again. Have you noticed? Every other person is a writer. They have a blog, a website, witty twitties. Or they film. Or they record their own music. I’m not sure what propelled so many people to write beautifully in the eighteen hundreds. What made it suddenly fashionable to be articulate? Did people feel the need to immortalize themselves during times of great war? Part of it, simplified, was finding the divine in nature, turning away from institution and finding a new avenue, a new concept of God (or living without the idea of one). And part of it, I’m sure, was wanting to be a “Browning”, hoping to get a hit of opium or laid. Was it also the hope of posterity? That someone would find these painstakingly penned love letters someday and publish them posthumously?images

Why are so many people writing, singing, capturing their world view for others to read and see nowadays? Is it simply because our society is narcissistic and individualistic? Sure…some of it maybe. But sharing artistic expression can also be an act of selflessness and it can create community. The good stuff. Do we have the hope that we may have some invisible amazed audience who finally finds us and appreciates us…? Out there…cruising youtube? Our society has certainly lost the threat/comfort that God may be watching. All we know for certain is: the meter man is watching. And we’re built to be watched.

Today I went to the pool with Nora. In the kiddy section there is a ten foot high red mushroom that showers down rain intermittently. An elderly man stood underneath it today and let the pelting line of mushroom rain bounce off his shoulders and arms. Before I knew it, he was joined by four other elderly men who thought this was a pretty damn good free massage. They all stood there, water only up to their knees, their arms outstretched in worship of the red mushroom, eyes closed. They made a circle of Grampas, the water raining down on their limbs making them glimmer like angels. It  was the most beautiful thing.

I love it when good ideas catch on. Silently. Between strangers.

When Nora and I were towelling down, an entirely round native woman in a blue floral suit started chatting away with us. She told me she swims because she cannot sleep. She cannot sleep but she won’t take pills because it’s grief. She knows what it is. Her son is dead. But swimming helps. Swimming and writing. She’s a writer. “Oh, so am I” I said. This is of little interest. No matter. Other than she immediately knows that I know what she means.

hands trickle first run

photo by Leanne Jijian Hume

She writes about reconciliation. Poetry. She’s working on a book. She smiles at Nora, likes her sugar skulls swimming cap, and she’s off, paddling towards her watery relief. “I can’t miss a day” She calls out. “I can’t miss a single day. Swimming and writing. That’s all I need”.

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  1. William Hay

    What a beautiful piece of writing. Insightful and thought provoking. You’re right though and I didn’t think of it or see it till you brought it to my attention. I think ‘diasporas’ were part of the writing. Letter writing was such a part of the past – Victorians writing from Britain to their poor relatives who went off to Canada, Australia, the Americans and India. Journalling was another thing. The first writing was economic and military in the empires though I’ve read good argument that the cave writing was celebration and history. The affluence of our day and access to the tools and education all play a huge role. But thank you, I’ll be thinking of this today. Vaillant wrote a book on Creativity I reviewed once, discussing psychology of expression and art. We’re just big kids in some sense. But yes, at the most joyful it all unites in community.

    1. Lucia Frangione

      interesting about diasporas, I am sure you’re absolutely right. With relatives far flung, never seeing them again, one had to cultivate the art of writing letters that would maintain a life long connection with those very close to one’s heart.

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