What makes a letter captivating? Valuable? Timeless? Is its inherent value defined by its writer’s identity or style? By an important historical moment that’s captured? Or something else more ephemeral and less palpable?
Why should we write a letter of love, admiration, or solace now, when it’s so easy to just pick up a smartphone and text or video chat with someone at a moment’s notice?
There’s a profound irony that we can connect with nearly anyone we want to on the globe at any time of day yet still remain lonelier as individuals and much less connected to others in our immediate and global society than all previous generations. In fact, according to research and experts, we’re in the middle of a “Loneliness Epidemic” that affects all age ranges, permeates our workplaces and personal lives, is responsible for severe health problems with fatal consequences, and costs us billions of dollars annually.
What’s worse is that we were in the middle of the Loneliness Epidemic before the current COVID-19 epidemic swept the globe and forced us to isolate ourselves from one another even more. And while researchers and healthcare experts are still trying to understand the causes and cures for the Loneliness Epidemic, they have discovered that interacting with people in deeper, more meaningful ways while staying away from social media more often is a step in a more connected direction. We’ve all probably even intuited this on some level for some time now too. Sure we’re all “connected” on social media, but none of us really feel connected to one another anymore.
In today’s world, we’re all long overdue for sincere, profound connection with others in our incessant, ironically always-connected globalized world. Even if that connection starts with the connection we have with ourselves. And luckily, since we caused this epidemic of loneliness, we can be the ones who cure it as well. So, where should we start?
It’s time to back away from social media for a bit with a regular cadence. And while we do that we should write a letter of love, admiration, or solace, to connect with someone, anyone, in a more intentional and meaningful way. What better time to do this than during the week we celebrate connection and affection every year? Or at least, during the week we should be celebrating connection and affection.
Writing this letter of love, admiration, or solace, might just be the first step to staving off even deeper isolation and feelings of disconnectedness for many of us. Keeping a regular practice of letter writing could even help end the loneliness epidemic altogether. Who knows? It certainly couldn’t hurt. Why do I think this?
Writing meaningful and timeless letters of love, admiration, or solace force us to pause and reflect, to truly see another person in full-fledged 4D in HD: their feelings, their thoughts, their personality, their mannerisms, their day-to-day concerns, their hopes and dreams and fears, their entire personhood— up close and alongside our own. Because when we write a letter, although we’re revealing ourselves, we’re also wholly consumed by the identity of its recipient as we write. And we’re more deliberate about our communication, the words we use and how we use them.
But whom should you write such a letter to right now?
I suggest writing a letter to the person or persons, real or fictional, to whom you have a message of love, admiration, or solace that’s difficult to put into words. As you write, as long as you’re honest, the words will come. Chances are, the person who popped into your head first when considering this writing exercise is the person to whom you should write. The addressee could be someone you know intimately or someone you have never met before.
What should you include in your letter?
I suggest including those things you know are necessary but difficult to say, while also including examples of why the addressee has caught your attention and time. Be bold. Be unashamed. Be empathetic. Be honest. Be vulnerable.
What will make your letter memorable and meaningful, yet sincere and honest?
I suggest including elements of your own personality and story in your letter. If you have no affinity for poetic language, now isn’t the time to start using it because doing so will come across as inauthentic and insincere. But if writing in Old English seems more genuine to you, then write in Old English.
My suggestions are more intuitive than research-based or data-driven. I also don’t write letters like these very often, if ever. So I’ll also be looking at some of the most famous letters in history to see if they might offer a few clues as to what makes a letter of love or admiration or solace, captivating, valuable, and timeless.
As I review the letters of Frida Kahlo, Abraham Lincoln, Georgia O’Keefe, Maya Angelou, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Vladimir Nabokov, and others, I’ll ask myself: are there certain elements alive in each? Does each of the letters contain similar things like a sense of longing, a deep vulnerability, personalized humor, an optimistic or grave tone, shared secrets, unashamed honesty, hopeful phrases, sincere gratitude, words of encouragement, references to the elusiveness of language?
What are your thoughts on what’s typically included in, or should be included in, a letter of love, admiration, or solace? Share a note in the comments at the bottom of the page to join this dialogue.
Right now all I have are questions to reflect on when it comes to letter writing. Perhaps tomorrow or later this week I’ll have a better sense of what to include in my letter as I complete this week’s writing prompt. I’m still not entirely sure whom I will be addressing in my letter. Do you know whom you’re going to write your letter to yet? If you do, share a note in the comments below.
Write your own letter of love, admiration, or solace this week and share a link to it in the comments on this Friday’s post, when and where I’ll share my own completed letter. And scroll down to subscribe to Daily Drafts & Dialogues posts to get more inspiration as you complete this writing prompt this week, or follow along on Facebook or Instagram.
SOURCES AND ADDITIONAL READING:
- Harvard University, The Graduate School of Arts and Sciences: Loneliness: An Epidemic?
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Loneliness and Social Isolation Linked to Serious Health Conditions
- Vogue: Is loneliness a 21st-century epidemic? Why we’re all feeling more lonely
- Health Resources and Services Administration: The “Loneliness Epidemic”
- NPR: Most Americans Are Lonely, And Our Workplace Culture May Not Be Helping
- The New Yorker: The History of Loneliness
- The Washington Post: Five myths about loneliness
- brainpickings.org: The Letters of Greats: From Ernest Hemingway to Georgia O’Keeffe, a Glimpse of Famous Correspondence
- brainpickings.org: Maya Angelou’s Beautiful Letter to Her Younger Self
- Oprah.com: Celebrities Letters to Younger Selves
- Abrahamlincolnonline.org: Letter to Fanny McCullough
- theculturetrip.com The Most Beautiful Love Letters Of All Time
- Glamour: The Best Romantic Love Letters Ever Written
- electricliterature.com: 11 of the Best Love Letters in Literature, Both Fictional and Not
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