“What’s your address? I want to send you something.”
Instant intrigue. When an old school friend asks you this question part of you is immediately hauled back a couple of decades to the time when you were most together. Your sprawling hectic languid teens, writing long stream of consciousness twaddle to each other about boys you double-fancy and what a total cowbag Amelia Fairweather is. I’ve got a bureau drawer stuffed full of old letters and notes and cards; biro squiggly throwbacks to a life before email. I like knowing they’re there, these old voices, parts of people preserved, time paused between the pages.
“It’s a letter.”
Such an ordinary thing, and yet it isn’t. Not anymore. And when your friend doesn’t give you a hint of what the letter is about, your brain emits little spurts of permutations of possibility until the imagination gets out of puff and settles in for the two day wait for the postman. Old-school waiting.
When the letter arrived, I plucked it up from the mat and instantly sat down on the stairs to look at the envelope, to honour the loveburst of recognition I felt seeing my friend’s handwriting again. Handwriting has always been powerful, and never more so than when you haven’t seen it for years but know it as surely as you did back when you saw it every day. It is a tiny loop-the-loop version of ourselves, and is evocative and characterful as our faces hands or clothes.
I read the letter and cried. A three page splurge of a lot of things, memories and musings, about the girls we were, about the women we’ve become, about writing and theatre and old friends and struggles and love and our heads and the harm we can do to ourselves as women and the changes we hope to make in the world. I could hear her voice so clearly it was like the paper didn’t exist but that she was next to me on the stairs, getting things off her chest, her letter acting as tendrils of her visceral thought, audio turned ink.
A few days later I received something else in the post, this time from a friend I haven’t known for long but to whom I feel very close. The handwriting was new to me, we live in a world of typing now, homogenised neat and fonted text, but it still came with that delightful shock of familiarity, the person somehow perfectly represented by their long-baked scrawl, the writing style they chose as children, crafted and mangled by time and design and the mysterious language of our hands and subconscious and different pens and how much of a hurry we’re in.
My friend had offered to be a reader of my book, a thing I have been prodding at for a long time which I am bashing in its final edit before I force myself stop tinkering with it. It’s driven me nuts, many times. Books are ruddy hard. He had printed it out, kept it in a filing box, and had devotedly written notes on the pages, a heart-warming mix of short and long thoughts and hand-scrawled emojis. Then he sent it back. Here was my book, decorated in the handwriting of a friend I love and trust, who had been kind and helpful. Plus a typed letter of notes. Plus a photo diary written from the perspective of the book itself whose pages had been on adventures on trains and in cars and was finished sat on the Turbine Hall floor of the Tate Modern. It made me laugh and cry and snot a bit. It was just what I needed, right at the right time, to help me get the buggering stupid head-fucking book about my dead dad finished. Finally.
We can’t all be together all the time. Our lives move on, we live in different spaces, we rarely come together as often as we’d like to. We are not those teens clasped together in a small world made up of nearby streets, nascent freedom, and scant obligation. We are grown up. And the way we choose to stay and be in each others’ lives is important. And sometimes it is in that slow stretched out hand of ink that enters your heart quicker and speaks louder and closer and arrests your ear more than any email in any inbox.