Magic of a Writing Hand – Part Two

Hand with pen, copyright 2011 by Alicja Mann

Submerged in the nostalgic thoughts triggered by my previous post of this blog, I found myself on a tiny “island” surrounded by piles of letters, postcards, photographs, tapes, and newspaper clippings. My brave attempt to organize them ended up with reading them! Special attention went to a relatively new pile of letters written by my own hand and which were mailed to Poland years ago. I retrieved them after my mom’s death (my father died several years earlier). I was surprised by the length of the letters I wrote at that time. My parents and I had very few chances to visit each other due to the great distance, cost of travel, and political atmosphere between Poland and the United States. Telephone communication was not available or not reliable. So we wrote letters…. Mine were written mostly at night as I was busy with my professional work in science and raising two small children.

Here are some pages of my letters, some photos, and in the center a letter from my father.

Collage of letters, envelopes and photos

His letter was written on pages pulled out from a notebook. It appears that the pages were torn out impatiently and that the writing was done in a hurry, as indicated by numerous corrections so uncharacteristic of his other writings. The letter was written in 1980 and the poor quality paper has yellowed considerably after 31 years. I read with great curiosity his hurried words of concern and worry about my future. He was upset about my decision to separate from the father of my two very young sons. I was touched by my father’s concerns which I dismissed at that time. Mostly I was touched by the authenticity of these pages demonstrated by their ruggedness and imperfections.

Many memories were awakened and I was falling down into a big dark hole of sadness. I was drowning in the past. An invitation to a friendly, colorful Memorial Day party offered a great escape from it.

After such a welcomed break, handwritten letters from the past were again on my mind. The books of published letters by some well known and not so well known persons suddenly became more visible among the other books in our home, as if asking for special attention.

Four books

Above we have:

Letter to Mother, an anthology of over 100 letters that start with the words “Dear Mother.” They are written by well known politicians, poets and writers, painters, musicians, scientists, and philosophers. Among them are letters of Henry Adams, Susan B. Anthony, Anton Chekhov, Walt Whitman, Ezra Pound, Henry Thoreau, Helen Keller, Tom Wolfe, Franklin Roosevelt, and Richard Wagner.

The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh — this book is well known and does not need any explanation.

Letters to Olga is a collection of letters written by Vaclav Havel, a playwright and Czechoslovak dissident at that time (1970s). He wrote them from prison to his wife Olga. After the fall of Communism Havel became President of his country.

The Letters of Rosa Luxemburg is a very recent publication by Verso. “Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) was a Polish-born Jewish revolutionary and one of the greatest theoretical minds of the European socialist movement,” as the publisher of the book introduces her. It is a huge collection of Luxemburg’s letters to her friends, lovers and colleagues. To describe this book is impossible in this space, but I would like to salute my friend George Shriver for his excellent translation of Luxemburg’s letters.

My very favorite books of published letters are pictured below:

Two books

Mother and Son: A Wartime Correspondence of Isoko and Ichiro Hatano. I simply love the tenderness and kindness of the words exchanged by Isoko Hatano (mother) and Ichiro Hatano (son) in the period 1944-1948.

Letters from Prison and Other Essays by Adam Michnik is one of my favorite books of political writings. Period! And who is Adam Michnik? Another impossibility for this small space. Starting in the late 1960s Michnik played a prominent role in the political opposition in Poland that subsequently gave birth to the Solidarity movement. He was a major intellectual force of that movement. One of the best minds of Eastern Europe, he was often referred to as a tactician of the non-violent struggle against the Soviet totalitarian system.

Regardless which letters one would read — Van Gogh’s, Michnik’s, or one of the Hatanos — there is an aura of the author’s personality and a feeling of the moment in history in such letters. Their authenticity and their permanence are their greatest assets. Those letters survived years in their handwritten form and will survive much longer in printed book form. No special technology is needed to read them now or will be needed to read them in the future.

So I wonder what will happen to our contemporary electronically written words and images stored in the corners of our own computers or on Facebook or some other social networking contraptions. Will we be able to find them and read them twenty, thirty, or fifty years later?

Tucson’s poet Judy Ray ponders a different, yet very relevant, question:

Ink of the ballpoint fades and is gone.
The pen continues across the page
with little pokings up and down,
circles left and right, pressing firm
on paper its invisible message.

I can get up and fetch another pen.
But what if I were in prison
And this my sole, rationed tool?
Like conserving water in the desert,
there would be only sips of words
written small….

Copyright © 2009 by Judy Ray

If we could not write or our writings were to be lost, we would feel that thirst for words. A power of the handwritten word lies in its endurance.

* * *

Fragment of the poem titled Written Small is from the book of poems To Fly Without Wings by Judy Ray, Other text and photos copyright © 2011 by Alicja Mann.

Explore posts in the same categories: Essays, Feelings, Memories, Opinions, Photo stories, Writing

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3 Comments on “Magic of a Writing Hand – Part Two”

  1. Alicja Mann Says:

    Thank you Valerie! Thought provoking – that is my intention.

  2. Marina Says:

    Outstanding, Alicja.

    Um, well, for what it’s worth, I shared this and the previous blog on Facebook. 🙂

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