Tuesday, September 27, 2016

I'm gonna sit right down and write myself a letter ...

Ancient Greek Love-letter
What makes a letter a letter? Human beings seem to have been writing letters from the moment we started writing. One of the oldest cuneiform tablets discovered – it’s nearly 4,000 years old -- turned out to be a complaint about a bad business transaction by a copper merchant named Nanni. One of the oldest letters known in Britain, written in Roman script, is a birthday invitation from one Claudia Severa to her sister Lepidina; it dates to the first century A.D.. Letters have been written on stone, clay, papyrus, bark, sheepskin, and paper – and now, of course, on the far less durable stuff of electronic space. A novel can be composed of imaginary letters – it’s known as an “epistolary” novel, and letters can be addressed to anyone, whether or not they are real. Every year, tens of thousands of children write letters to Santa Claus, and the U.S. Postal service offers to send responses, if the letters are posted to North Pole, Alaska. Alice Walker’s novel The Color Purple opens with a letter to God, and C.S. Lewis once wrote a book consisting entirely of letters from one demon to another.

IN 1941, my father, who was then just fourteen years old, wrote a letter, addressed to "whom it may concern," in which he described his life plans. He then hid the letter in a box, and hid the box inside a wall -- where it was discovered fifteen years later when the house was torn down. Remarkably, he had actually followed just about the path he'd planned when he was a teenager. In her book Hyperbole and a Half, Allie Brosh describes finding a letter written when she was ten years old, and addressed to her future self. The interesting thing about this kind of letter is that it’s actually possible for it to be properly delivered. So for this project, we're going to sit right down and write ourselves a letter ... 

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