My dearest R,
How long has it been since I wrote you a letter? Not too long ago, after I saw how you carefully filed and kept all my letters and postcards, including the ones I addressed to you while we were traveling together, you with your eyes on the stamps that you wanted for your collection! Darn! What girlfriend/wife writes to her own partner when he’s just beside her, looking over her shoulder as she pastes on a stamp? I’m that kind of girl.
I think your rational self is aware how silly in love I can be, and you’ve taken advantage of that. Otherwise, how could your stamp collection have grown to what it is? You’re even thinking of unloading it, and with the money, have something to enjoy in our autumn years.
My guess is, it’s why we get along so well. I write the letters; you’re the stamp provider-collector. Most times you drop them at the centrally located post office on top of Session Road and pay for postage costs, refusing the money I offer. How can I not continue this hobby of letter-writing in the age of e-mail, Skype, Viber, Facetime, Twitter, Facebook (did I miss anything?).
While going through the stacks of letters I’ve sent, I found one letter from you, sent in 1983 from Ottawa, Canada, at the height of the anti-Marcos rallies, and one postcard from Hong Kong. I don’t know if I should cry from the scarcity of correspondence coming from you, even in your five-year courtship.
How could I forget your sending an amuyong (a neophyte of Upsilon Sigma Phi fraternity who you were initiating) to Quiapo to buy a bundle, not even a bouquet, of red roses and have him deliver the flowers wrapped in wax paper, yes, the kind I wrapped my sandwiches with then?
The lad didn’t come in to meet me; he stood outside the gate, waving the wilting flowers. There was no card to say from whom they came. Dad shook his head at your ineptness as a beau. But boy, the gesture wowed me because of your admission to being tiope (torpe?).
It’s too late to complain and make public similar incidents from 1979 until 1984, the year we officially committed ourselves to one another. In our own way, always! Despite the weeks of not being together (different cities, different jobs), you’ve chosen to stick with me for almost 31 years. How more glued to me do I want you to be?
Never one for Valentine’s increasing commercialism, you are rolling your eyes at my suggestion that you send me a proxy love letter. You hire one of the Baguio Writers Group (BWG) poetry and prose writers to compose an original and handwritten letter addressed to me. I’ll pretend surprised, pramis!
The intentions are pure, the mechanics of the Commissioned Handwritten Love Letter simple. According to Padma Perez and Nash Tysmans, who drew up the details, “For a modest fee (P300-500) and a little more for a heart-shaped rum cake good for two, one of our members can create a unique message for your Special One. Your letter will be written on good paper with fine penmanship. We have members who can cover three different languages, poetry or prose and any kind of love or lover, sexual orientation or fetish.”
You have to pay up first. There’s enough time to do it, deadline being Feb. 6, 5-9 p.m. That’s the evening when the group mounts its dinner concert “Fever: A Night of Love Songs and Poetry” at Hill Station, Casa Vallejo, Baguio. The writers’ table will be by the fireplace.
As grandparents, we ought to take a personal interest in supporting cursive, even elegant, penmanship and reviving the old-fashioned letter complete with stamp and postmark. I don’t want little Kai to grow up looking at a stamped envelope curiously and asking, “What’s that sticker-like thing on the upper right corner?”—the way some of my former students did when they visited the women writers’ archives at the Ateneo.
Cursive writing vs keyboard
Experts like Virginia Berninger, a psychologist at the University of Washington, say that “printing, cursive writing and typing on a keyboard are associated with distinct and separate brain patterns—and each results in a distinct end product. When the children composed text by hand, they not only consistently produced more words more quickly than they did on a keyboard, but expressed more ideas.” O, ha?
I read in the online Atlantic Magazine how writer Cristina Vanko chose and applied old-fashioned calligraphy in texting (apparently, there’s an app for that). It was her form of “digital detox.” The recipients appreciated the effort.
She discovered some things:
Receiving handwritten messages made people feel special.
Handwriting allows for more self-expression.
The youth culture heavily relies on emojis. She wrote, “I didn’t realize how much I depend on emojis and emoticons to express myself until I didn’t have them. Hand-drawn emoticons, though original, just aren’t the same. I wasn’t able to convey emoticons as neatly as the cleanliness of a typeface. Sketching emojis is too time- consuming. To bridge the gap between time and the need for graphic imagery, I sent out selfies on special occasions when my facial expression spoke louder than words.”
Having pen and paper is handy at all times. “Writing out responses is a great reminder to slow down and use your hands. While all keys on a keyboard feel the same, it’s difficult to replicate the tactile activity of tracing a letter’s shape. For me, the connection between the hand and mind allows written language to flow easier.”
One becomes more careful with grammar and spelling.
I informally surveyed some BWG members to ask when they last received a handwritten letter, when they last wrote one and what they feel about it. Their responses confirmed how much digital communication has taken over our lives.
Padma says she and her best friend “have lived in different countries since I was 18. Our correspondence spans a couple of decades and at least three continents. We’re not so regular now, but we try to snail mail every now and then. The last handwritten letter I wrote was for her. It took me several months to write it. I started writing it in Baguio, carried it with me everywhere in my journal, then finished it in Bhutan and mailed it from there.” That was almost three years ago.
She adds, “Receiving handwritten letters or cards in the mail is always a thrill, especially nowadays when it happens so rarely. They’re much more special than e-mail.”
Jenny Cariño, BWG president, whose mother Luisa A. Igloria and sisters Trixie, Ina and Gabriela all write poetry, says: “I last received a handwritten letter from my partner. I also wrote a letter back to her shortly after… I think handwritten letters are more personal, more connected to the heart and emotions. In my immediate family, we always send each other cards and letters, even though e-mail and other online forms of communication are more accessible. It’s always wonderful to send and receive letters that have been handwritten.”
Grace Subido, a literature professor at the University of the Philippines Baguio doing her Ph.D. work at UP Diliman, recalls that the last handwritten mail came from a friend on study fellowship abroad who was “on my instruction to drop me postcards from everywhere.”
She quotes from one of the postcards from the Tate Museum: “I spent this cloudy morning here at Tate Modern contemplating art and hunting for fresh school boys.”
Grace estimates that her last full-length letter was written sometime in the late ’90s. She says, “Letters reveal nuances that aren’t readily accessible in typewritten form or even face-to-face encounters. So far, per my experience, people with the rattiest handwriting write the best prose. These are the letters I’ve kept.”
Frank Cimatu, Inquirer correspondent and an early Facebook user with over 4,000 “friends” in that social medium, received his last snail mail, a postcard, three years ago from writer Rica Bolipata Santos.
Two months ago, someone said he had sent a postcard to him, but Frank hasn’t seen the postman for the past five months. His mother received three Christmas cards last year when she used to average 20. His request: “Please write to me.”
To whoever responds, this is what he has to say: “I have lots of postcards on which I’ve written messages, but I forget to send them. So I take a picture of the front and back, sometimes with stamps and all, then I post on Facebook and tag the addressees. He, he. I also take pictures of postcards sent to me, then post them on my FB wall.”
I remember translating an essay by retired teacher Rosario Castillo Raymundo from Filipino to English. In her “Lessons in Life from Nanay Rosa and Tatay Nanding,” she described Baguio legend Rosa Bautista, one of the founders of the University of Baguio. Nanay Rosa’s “penmanship was very elegant. She gave daily penmanship lessons to teachers whose handwriting was ugly, and she checked on their progress.”
I have this vision of me in my doddering old age still at it, bent over a sheet of paper, maybe snuck from my grandchild’s collection of Japanese stationery (methinks Hello Kitty will have a long life), and addressing recollections, feelings, impressions to you.
Yes, it’s still you. Tu. Usted. Ikaw.
To continue writing letters without expecting anything back—I think I’ve just defined love in our twilight years.
P.S. But while there’s life there’s hope.
From Padma: To avail of a commissioned handwritten love letter, pay directly to any Bank of the Philippine Islands (BPI) branch to the account of Baguio Creative Writers Group, savings account no. 0573-3448-04. Send a scanned image of your deposit slip in a personal message to the group’s Facebook community page: www.facebook.com/BaguioWritersGroup.
Your handwritten love letter and rum cake may be collected from Mt. Cloud Bookshop on Feb. 13 from 10:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Rum cakes are for pickup only.
Your support of handwritten love letters will help us raise funds for a regional conference on Cordilleran literature and writers in May 2015. Thank you for joining the fun, supporting our cause and bringing love letters back to the world!