Saturday 25 September 2010

Just an old fashioned girl.


“Nothing is so dangerous as being too modern; one is apt to grow old-fashioned quite suddenly”

Oscar Wilde 



 I love receiving letters. Written in ink and filled with words carefully chosen and eternal. I'd be happy with just one page -- I'm not hard to please. Maybe I'm just a hopelessly romantic dreamer…

With Twitter, Facebook, emails and instant text messaging, writing a letter is so very old fashioned. Hardly anyone writes letters any more: at least not the kind of erudite, humourous missives that are the hallmark of great correspondence. As we are so often told, we live in the digital age. Now we correspond with friends, relations and businesses through email, not snail mail.




Quelle tragedy! Nothing will be left for posterity. Think of those wonderful exchanges between Evelyn Waugh and Nancy Mitford for example, or Kinsley Amis and Philip Larkin, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath; the letters of people like Oscar Wilde, the Bronte sisters and Noel Coward. Entertaining, informative, sad, witty and even rude – and each a precious slice of social history.

letter books


The other great thing about letters is that they have the advantage of being tangible objects. You could treat them like the latest novel, curl up in your favourite spot in the house, and devour the thick wad of paper full of gossip and news. You could create a mood with your letter the same way you could create a mood with a novel - this is much harder with an email which will have to be read off a screen, in a no doubt office-like environment, while pop-ups go about their business, browsers crash, and instant messaging partners interrupt you.

I sent my brother-in-law a book a couple of weeks ago for no special reason other than the fact he had once mentioned that when he watches the swallows leave at the end of summer, it makes him cry a little. I found Horatio Clare’s book ‘A Single Swallow’ and, along with a little painting I did, popped it in the post to Peter.

It’s important to explain here that Peter is a truly magnificent mix of Rex Harrison and Winston Churchill. Looks like Rex, talks like Churchill – and holds fast to the lost age of chivalry and so eschews the age of technology with a shudder. He will positively not correspond via “that blasted electronic mail nonsense”. I’m so glad he doesn’t, because I want to share with you his beautifully written thank-you note.


p.letter1p.letter2 "One swallow does not a summer make"  Aristotle


Emails are great for getting in touch quickly and easily, but as literary vehicles they are severely lacking. Digital messages tend to oscillate between the deathly dull and formal and the blithely irreverent (complete with BTW, FYI, LOL's and garbled text-speak) with precious little middle ground. Letters can be revealing, expansive and humorous while emails, even at their best, tend to exhibit only one of these characteristics of good writing. Of course, many of us use social media such as Twitter and Facebook, sometimes to great effect; but publishing revolution or no publishing revolution, I find it hard to imagine that generations to come will one day download the "Collected Tweets of a Literary Genius" on to their e-reader.

**Post Script.  Thank you all for standing by while I underwent horrid treatment, drugs and a myriad of tests.  I will never be able to express my gratitude for your loving wishes and warm thoughts.  Every friendship is my very special treasure.**


K Spoering said...

I agree about letters. What a lovely illustration for this week, too. If I knew your address, I'd write you a letter!

Ces Adorio said...

Hello Tessa, darling! Thank you for your thoughful comments and I just realized you have been commenting on my Facebook account which I keep forgetting, I have. Thank you very much.

I love old fashioned letters. I still write mine in fountain pen or roller ball pen.

Emails are okay, they are rude, expecting to be answered soon but I have to confess that I love receiving emails from a beloved friends and sisters which we exchange several times a day and then some exchanges of art and other sweet notes via snail mail. I kept all the letters I received from my sisters and brothers from years back and also from my parents'. They are in a box. I reread them now and then.

I don't keep all the letters sent to me.

I lit a winter fire with a slew one time, to put an end to a friendship that turned out to be naught.

I also got rid of some love letters from suitors that made me cringe because they had atrocious grammatical errors. Why did I even entertain them?

If you send me your address, I will write you a letter and send you some acorns.


Ces Adorio said...

Oh drats! I got caught in the words and I thought to myself, I forgot to say something about the illustration. Oh yes, I write just like that, but there would be a cup of coffee or tea beside me that matches my clothes. HAHAHA! TSUP! I love your painting!

Lorac said...

How good to see you back Tessa! I haven't written a letter in a long time. Never really thought of the paper trail disappearing either. What a shame!

studio lolo said...

How wonderful to see a post from you as you have been in my thoughts.♥

I agree totally about writing letters. I have always been and will always be a card sender and letter writer. There's nothing better than opening a piece of personal mail that someone took the time to sit and write just for us!

Like Ces, I often feel pressured by emails. They do seem to say "hurry and respond!"

I hope you're feeling more like your old self these days. I also hope the treatments have helped and are long behind you.

I love the painting that accompanies this post. She is a wise woman!

Blessings and hugs to you,


studio lolo said...

P.S. And now I'm quite fond of your brother ;)

Rosaria Williams said...

You are so right! We are losing tangible words, and the concreteness of paper and pen, each stimulating the other to come together and mold thoughts. Yes, Dear Tessa,a world is dying and another is taking its place. Digital evanescence is what we are creating.

p.s. I have enjoyed your facings on Facebook!

Carol said...

So glad to see your words and art again. Hope you are feeling better and all the horrible treatments were worth it.
I agree with you about letters. The only time I actually write a letter anymore is to my nephews who are in the Army and I don't do that often enough. I'll strive to be better in the future.

Elizabeth said...

Tessa darling,
what a super post.
Yes, I have caches of letters from all sorts of people.
I love reading collections of letter too.
What penmanship!
I've become ax and awful
and hate the physical act of penmanship though I used to write Italic with the best of them.
Claudia is on a calligraphy course --amongst her other activities.
Much love

Elizabeth said...

I meant LAX!
hee hee

Elizabeth Musgrave said...

I am so glad to see you blogging again and what a lovely blog too. I adore receiving letters and yet hardly ever write them, to my shame. I do send cards as well as the ubiquitous emails but I can't remember the last time I sent a letter. You have inspired me to commit to putting that right.

rossichka said...

HELLO, Tessa! I'm so glad and relieved that you are here, looking at your wonderful colourful drawing and reading you wise, although a little bit sad words... I do hope you are feeling better now and that the long and maybe painful treatment has given good results!!!
I absolutely agree with you about letters. I am one of those persons who like to write and receive letters, but to be sincere - it hasn't happened to me for a long, long time. The only person who still sends me letters is my English friend Fiona (we had a long correspondence when we were school-girls). Receiving letters by email doesn't bring the excitement of unlocking the mail-box and opening the envelope, the joy of feeling the smell of the paper or finding different objects - flowers, photos. drawings that are usually enclosed. Well, well, I must write a REAL letter pretty soon!! Just like Ces I keep a lot of boxes full of letters, even those that I wrote to my parents during the years I studied and worked in another towns. In fact all of them depict different periods of my life!! I have to re-read them! (Have you read the correspondence between George Sand and Gustave Flaubert? Or Emily Dickinson's letters to Thomas Higginson?)
Hugs!!I wish you health and love with all my heart!

Cynthia Pittmann said...

Oh Tessa, isn't it funny that some of us know what we are losing, while others jump irreverently away from the page and into the screen? I'm afraid I have gone into the e-screen too completely now. There is no turning back- except for the total loss of accessibility-maybe an apocalypse? I tried to write a letter recently, and found it arduous. Where are the stamps? What is worthy of sharing on paper? I used to write long letters, full of detail, and deeply personal. Turn the page- that's GONE. I have no talent for writing, finding the address, and then most challenging of all-getting to the post office. I'm so glad to read that you are well again. And your charming armadillo with its timid face looking down from the flying zebra (painting on the header) makes me think of your own recent life experiences. I appreciate your connecting with me through Facebook-even if it is the inferior social media. I love your comments. And your brother, Peter, is so charming. I noticed two finches during my walk this morning- I wonder if they have returned to wait out the colder seasons? Love the letter, too.

Kathleen said...

Well put, Tessa, so well put. The speculative fiction novel I have under way (forever!) nods to this phenomena. I recently came across some research that explained from a neuropsychological perspective the growing obsession with social networking, including e-mail. In a nut shell, we (and I am among the indulgent) get a burst of of some neuron-tingling substance when people respond to our virtual scribbles. It becomes so intoxicating, we come back for more and more and more. I think it explains why I find blog comments so addictive as well. I can't remember the last letter I wrote. But the last one I received was from my 9-year-old nephew. And while I began a letter, I have never finished it. Shameful, isn't it? Thank for your elegant paeon to the written and posted letter.

Anonymous said...

I am blessed as I still have several friends that write letters. We got in the habit before the event of computers.
Love this post. I sincerely hope that you are mending.
In Icelandic it is Svala.

L'Adelaide said...

you are so very right and i am so very sad just now so maybe if i weren't, emails and texts wouldn't seem quite so they are words on a blinding white computer screen that i have come to loathe.

my dear sweet, yes i did[believe it or not!!! no texas in the lot either!!] and, just as you write about here, i had thought i MUST do just that to you and so i will soon :)

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

What a lovely letter. And you're so right, there's nothing quite as wonderful as opening the mailbox to find a fat, handwritten note hiding inside. I just purchased a book of love letters penned by Dylan Thomas. I think they'll be perfect for a autumn evening, don't you?

Linda Sue said...

LOVE your lady writing a letter- The colours are as stunning as always! LOVE! I do agree about the letter getting and letter sending...I treasure the hand written letters I receive. Must say that I rarely write now- my penmanship has turned into scribbles because of this damned key board! BUT I swear to you- if you send me your mailing address I will send you a hand written letter! I will!
LOVE YOU, Beauty!

Caroline said...

Dear Tessa

I so enjoyed this post of yours - your vibrantly colourful illustration, your thoughts and your brother's wonderful letter! When I was at boarding school each weekly letter from my parents was eagerly awaited and read curled up on a window seat in the dorm! Then when I married and lived in Angola, again the weekly diplo bag with mail from family in Europe was a highlight and helped keep me going through the hardship!

Some people write so well that you feel you are with them - you do that!

So good to knowthat you are feeling well now. x

kj said...

tessa, first, your painting. you capture people so so well, and in this one the background is its own character. the colors are amazing.

such an interesting post. since blogging i feel i now write more actual letters than i did over the last 25 years. i love to write them and i love to receive them. i will include cards and small tokens in this exchange. anytime i see a handwritten envelope from a beloved name, i am dancing at my mailbox.

i too don't save all letters. i also had a relationship that turned out to be naught, and i have wisely saved those letters, even the steamy ones.

it is always so refreshing when you post, tessa. and you're right: i like this so much better than facebook (even though i love to see you there as well)


Carol said...

I have always been a terrible letter writer! An ex of mine used to send me long letters and I always responded with a phone call....he always gave me into trouble for doing it but I'm just not good at putting words down on paper!

I do however but people little gifts and cards when I come across something that I think they would like and pop them in the post!

C x

Bonnie Zieman, M.Ed. said...

Wonderful to have you back Tessa. Your painting is simply lovely. And I so agree that letter writing is an art and one to be treasured. It's up to all of us to not let it become a lost art.
Hope you are feeling well.

Tessa said...

Hello K! Thank you so much for your visit. I'm glad you like letter as I do - they are everything special. Memories, laughter, maybe tears, mental pictures, little bits of gossip. Wonderful!

Ces, my dear supple oak - how good it is that you are out of hibernation! Yes, I have been Facebooking quite often lately...a lazy way, I suppose, of keeping up with friends all over the globe on a day to day basis. Makes me feel less far away! xx

Hello wonderful to see you again. Yes, the letter trail is shrinking rapidly. A sad fact, but maybe...just maybe it will be revived one day. are an angel heart. Thank you, again, for your warm, heartfelt wishes. Now the treatment is over (for the time being) I feel wonderfully wonderful again. Maybe not turning cartwheels just yet, but long beach walks with little stops to study shells and flotsam are perfect. So, so nice not to be locked indoors...and particularly not to be locked in the impersonality of a hospital room!

Tessa said...

Darling Rosaria! As always such an absolute pleasure to read your comments. Perhaps blogging has become the new letter writing, do you suppose?

Hi there Carol - thank you so much for stopping's been so long since I've had contact with all my special bloggy pals. And boy, did I miss you all! Keep writing to your nephews...I can just imagine how important it is for them to receive your missives.

Elizabeth! Oh how I wish I could be a part of your Writers' Workshop in Morocco next February. Heaven! Maybe another time, if I can keep this lurgy at bay!
You still have lovely writing despite the rigors of the keyboard. I know because I have a special message on the title page of one of your books, 'Jane and the Essex Serpent'

Hello Elizabethm - yes, I too have been a bit tardy about writing letters although, years ago, I used to write book length ones to my poor friends and family which they bravely waded through! I discovered many of these in my father's desk when he died, so he must have treasured them just a little! Nice feeling, that.

Very dear Rossicka - what a wonderful friend you are! All through these weeks of pretty average hell, you have been there for me - little notes on my blog to keep me smiling. Thank you.
No, I've not read George Sands and Gustave Flaubert's letters...I'm off to order the book right this minute!

Cynthia! How could you say that you have no talent for writing!! Good lordy, girl, you write most beautifully. Your posts are always a source of wonder and enjoyment for all. I do, however, know what you mean about the art of penmanship. I too find my handwriting has deteriorated into a kind of wobbly scrawl...horrid!

Tessa said...

Kathleen, hello. Sage words indeed. I'm convinced it's true that we get a burst of adreline or something when people respond to our comments and opinions via this medium. I for one, love the immediacy of it...very satisfying to know someone is 'taking note'!

Moaromingboyles - so very many thanks for visiting and thank you, thank you for your kind wishes. I am mending for now, but I need to be aware that each good day is vitally important and so I need to grab it all and fly with it. Salva!
I have a South African friend - Lesley Wales - who married an Icelandic and now lives there...she loves it. Our younger daughter visited Reykjavik recently to film a music video...she was awestruck by it's remote beauty.

Linda my love...I'm so thrilled that your dream horse finally arrived, albeit not the original which is now hanging on a wall in Texas...or maybe not. Perhaps they binned it!
Love, love, love those wonderful photos of the grape harvest. Oh, oh the memories. (I'm going to have my ashes scattered in a vineyard in the Cape within sight of the sea and the moutains. The party is all arranged!!)

Ah simply perfect a book of love letters written by Dylan Thomas! To be read while cuddled up in a cosy chair near a crackling fire, a window slightly open to let in the scent of autumn. Perfection.

Cue music...Linda Sue, Linda Sue I love YOU! Gawd, you do make me laugh until my tummy aches - you are absolute magic, girl! Yes write me a letter (then we can sing that postman song together...what was it again?)

Caroline, yes, yes! I so wish I'd kept my parent's letters to me while I was at school....particularly my father's as he wrote every single one in VERSE! But, like you, we have moved so much from place to place, things do get mislaid no matter how precious they are. (PS. Bustopher, the cat about town,is on his way to you!)

'Ello, 'ello my lovely kj! Yep, blogging is a great way to get the letter writing days going again. Well, I've sent little goodies to friends, along with a handwritten card. Not quite the same thing, I 'spose...but better than an impersonal email. Tsupmwah!!

Carol, loved reading about your trip back to Thailand. No need for you to write letters, your blog is a constant source of delight! xx

Vanessa Brantley Newton said...

The Letter is lovely. I love it. It's still better then email on any given day!!! Wonderful Tessa. Oh How my heart just jumped and leaped inside my chest when I saw your comment. I have missed you and prayed for you as well. It is good to hear from you my darling! Oh how you made me smile big. What a fabulous birthday wish. Thanks so much. I send you healing hugs and best wishes. You are so very sweet to me. Thanks again from the bottom of heart Tessa.

Linda Hensley said...

Great post. I love your use of color, and I agree with you and everyone else about writing.

Karina Russell said...

Not only are we losing letters to preserve our history, the handwriting gives a glimpse of the person. I am reminded of finding old letters in a trunk after my aunt died. They told us details of our family history we weren't aware of and we could hear the personality in the voice of the written words.

I am glad to see you are back. I didn't know exactly what you were going through, but have been praying for your recovery and hope you are doing much much better.

kj said...


i am so happy to see your painting, read your thoughts, and savor your comments. your response to lolo is my favorite--knowing that you are feeling well and seing shells. and please don't forget our sky tessa. i love sharing it with you.

tsupmwah! love!

justdoodleit said...

Totally concur with your point of view about handwritten missives.

Had it not been for those intense, invaluable letters to Theo, our understanding of Van Gogh - the sensitive soul behind the tormented artist, would have been a lot poorer.

Letters are like first class tickets to a journey in our imagination. They are like blank cheques to dream and reflect in leisure. Technology on one hand is killing the depth of thought and feeling, but on the other hand is showcasing the ephemeral nature of all impulses quite clearly - in bits and bytes.

For me, the added incentive about old fashioned letters are the colorful postage stamps as well.

Nice of you to stop by my blog. Thanks!

Cindy said...

A very happy welcome back! I'm so glad to read your post--both because you're simply posting again and because it's so very true! I vowed to bring back the handwritten note a few years ago, and it was a fabulous decision. I'm glad to see that you're doing the same. Now I think I'll brew a cup of tea and catch up on some correspondence!

Glad to see you back, friend :)

Lori ann said...

When you moved I didn't get your new address, but i wanted to write. I don't have f.b. or twitter, i guess there's only so much time in the day. A letter written by hand and sent with love is a joy indeed.

I cannot imagine all you've gone through these last months, and i hope and pray you've seen the worst of it.

This is a brilliant letter by your brother in law, i can see why you wanted to share it.

This painting might be my favorite.

keep well dear tessa,

Bella Sinclair said...

What a beautiful painting! And you are SO right about letters. She must be writing something very juicy and wonderful. I can tell by the way she is talking with her hand, even as she writes.

The letter from your brother in law is wonderful! Not very many men these days who will sit down to write a letter.

I loved receiving letters in college. I squealed in delight whenever the envelopes were nice and fat. I loved shuffling the papers and folding them back in. I really should sit down and pen some more letters. Thank you for the reminder.

Tsup Tsup Tsup to you!

Angela said...

Dearest Tessa, I have written you numerous letters in my head these last weeks and months. You got them, didn`t you? Now I am off to write you a real one! All my love and blessings to you!

Robin said...

Tessa, it's Robin...your new friend from San Francisco. First, I must say how thrilled I am that your treatement is behind you and that you are feeling BETTER! Long walks on the beach with loved ones are now exactly what you need as you continue to heal.

I love your is full of YOU....bright, passionate and strong!

I, too, am a devoted letter writer.....there is something so satisfying about selecting the right stationery, the right pen...then sitting down and letting the words flow from oen to paper. I have, though, now become so used to e-mails....the convenience - for the most part..... but, one does feel 'rushed' when writing...and this is such a shame....why are we always in such a hurry to do everything..... savouring (such a delectable word) anything and everything is so much more satisfying.

I am going on far too long....but I have to say again - how happy I a that you are improving.....receiving this news is a real day-brightener.

I send you a big hug and love,

♥ Robin ♥

Heiko said...

I should send you a postcard at least to comment on this. An electronic response just doesn't seem right. Your ramblings and photos/paintings would certainly deserve to be out there in bookform. I've still not worked out how to do twitter and a blackberry is something I make jam with. :)

Mim said...

Tessa - lovely to see you post again and such a wonderful post. I too love letters, both writing and receiving them - but it's rare these days. I admit to guilt on this also, e-communication is so much easier! I do have a few friends with whom I continue to write to and receive letters but the spread between the letters get's longer and longer. I still have many of the letters from my adolescent years from my girlfriends - and how they make me laugh. A few from old boyfriends too and sadly...they make me laugh too!!
Glad you are feeling better - I have thought about you often and prayed you were doing well.

Herrad said...

Hi Tessa
Please visit my blog and pick up your You Inspire Me Award.

Val said...

i used to love writing letters - reams and reams of them - and diaries. what happened to that? now we have all these super fast communication tools, and labour saving devices and have LESS TIME for handwriting. wierd. So so happy to have you back 'on the air' Tessa. missed you xxV

Tessa said...

Hello dearest Bonnie - lovely to see you too! Yes, you're so right - it is up to us to keep the pen, ink and paper letter writing up. It would be such an awful tragedy to lose it all. xx

Big hugs across that sky we share, Vanessa. You are such a huge inspiration to so many of us…in so many ways. Bless you for being you, sisterfriend. I am feeling mucho better. Thank you for your warming wishes.

Hello Linda – wonderful that you stopped by, thank you so much! So glad you like my very saturated colours. Many people find them a bit ‘in yer face’ – but they remind me of home so while I paint and listen to music, I feel like I’m right back there in that African sunshine!

Karina, you’re so right. People’s handwriting is a window to the soul…the writers personality shines forth.
Thank you to for your kind wishes and prayers. My friends have truly been the wind beneath my wings during this long dreary time and now the dreaded lurgy has been slowed down by treatment and horrid drugs, I really do feel so much more like me again. Huge relief because I thought ‘me’ had disappeared!

Oooh KJ – so many tsupmwahs! My cheek are glowing! Yes, each day I look up at that sky and wave to my wonderful friends. Xx

Beautifully and eloquent put, Justdoodleit. You have absolutely caught the essence of what I was trying to say. Oh yes, those stamps….all little works of art.

Lori, my darlin’! In my treasure box I still have the lovely letter you wrote a year or so ago when Zuri and the others came to stay. It is so precious to me. You like our letter writer…you shall have her! (She and Zuri are best mates…can’t part them…oh no!)

Very big TSUP to you Bella Bella! I find that I too gesticulate when I write to someone…when I’m having a think about how to express something funny/important/loving…y’know? Kind of air painting, I guess!

My lovely beach companion..yes, yes, I have received ALL your head letters and they have kept me flying!

Robin…I’m wearing flowers in my hair for you! I do so agree about the right stationery. It just has to be perfect…like choosing exactly the right card for a particular friend. In fact, I’m a bit of a stationery freak…I love the smell, the feel of it. My creative juices get up and dance, y’know?

Heiko, my dear fellow jam maker…..that make me chortle madly. As for twitter…it is as it says…a lot of twitty, meaningless soundbites for the most part - aka gobblygook.

Mim! Sending flurries of love to you and thank you for stopping by. I’ve kept many letters, but some have been lost along the way sadly. (We have moved so much!) The ones I do have are truly my absolute treasures..kept in a very special wooden box which I guard with my life!

Herrad..good morning! Thanks for your visit and the great honour of receiving an award from you. Big hugs and happy smiles.

soulbrush said...

At last some news, and it seems good too. So relieved. I am not blogging at all right now, but kept coming along to check on you. Hope the beauty of autumn will soothe your soul and that this winter won't be too tough here.. Please e mail me your address as I have something small for you. lotsa big big hugs from me in London

soulbrush said...

Ooops, forgot to say, I do love letters and, as a teacher I can see the downhill slope of the English language! It is criminal what these modern kids are being exposed to!

karen said...

Great to see you back again, Tessa!
Real letters are wonderful, don't know when I last received one. Actually, I think it was a little handwritten note from my mum, tucked into a businesslike package sent out to me. Very heartwarming!

xxx said...

I'm very late here and a lot of lovely has been said.
I'm delighted to read that you are on the up and that you have a love of hand written letters.
I too love them as treasures.

take care
love to you

Bee said...

will you please send me your address? I'd like to send you a letter (a swallow of sorts).

ceecee said...

Dear Tessa,
Something led me to this post this afternoon. I woke (late...I'm still in pajamas at quarter to one)and was thinking of John Lennon and his birthday and the song 'Mr. Postman' started going through my head. I felt as if I was standing at the edge of two worlds. I will miss those times. Thanks for this wonderful post.
Wishing you a beautiful day,
Catherine xx