The Letters Page, Vol 5, #1: “Lol, My Friends. I Was Wrong Again.”

The following is a condensed version of The Editor’s Letter from The Letters Page, Vol 4, which is now available to buy here. It’s also effectively the first letter of The Letters Page, Vol 5, which will be published in email form, as discussed below…

Dear Readers,

I have a confession to make. I am not a good correspondent. There are beautiful handwritten letters on my desk to which I have not replied, and ancient emails in my inbox still marked as unread.
 I’m not sure how well this fits with my role as the editor of a journal of correspondence. Perhaps the aspiration is enough? We’re all trying to do the things we love and trying to find more space for those things in our lives. The contributors to The Letters Page, Vol. 4 have been trying to find those spaces, and have taken the time to write to us about their attempts: a search for the poet Marko Hautala, interrupted by overheard conversation; a yearning account of molecular bonding; and a wrestle with ‘the internet’s weird liminal quasi-permanence.’ There are many more, of course, as you will discover when you order your own copy and leaf through those roughly cut pages; and these are only a small selection of the glorious array of correspondence that came pouring through our letterbox over the course of the last year. A year in which I, myself, editor of a journal concerned with handwritten letters, have written and posted a grand total of approximately two. 
I’ve been thinking about what correspondence really is. I’ve been thinking about all the ways we keep in touch, and how or whether those ways affect the things we keep in touch about. I remembered, recently, that when I first started talking about this project I referred to the attachment people feel towards handwritten letters by saying, ‘Of course, no-one would send a condolence card by email, or WhatsApp!’

Lol, my friends. I was wrong again.

Here’s a tale of correspondence. A friend of mine was very ill recently. He went into hospital for an operation, and, rather than text or call people individually to let them know, he set up a Whatsapp group. For anyone who wants to visit or know my progress, he wrote. I won’t be able to talk for a couple of days at least but hopefully will be able to message a bit. There were about fifty people in the group, and most of them sent encouraging messages of one sort or another. Some emojis occurred. It was vaguely annoying, in the way that over-active WhatsApp groups often are, but it was also rather moving.

He went into hospital on the Monday, and in the evening a message came from a family member to say that the operation had been a success. The group kept ting-tinging with well-wishes, until on the Wednesday it fell silent; he died at lunchtime, and while the news was passed around, by telephone and in person, nobody said a word on the WhatsApp group, or on any social media. The self-imposed and completely instinctive silence was really quite striking, in these talkative times.

At the weekend, his family posted an announcement on the WhatsApp group, and the group transformed into something remarkable and unintended: a bulletin board of memories, shared condolences, photographs and videos. In a very natural and unassuming way, this group of strangers formed into a community of correspondence, in a way that wouldn’t have happened had we each simply sent a condolence card.

I’m telling you this story not to upset you, although it was upsetting, but simply to illustrate the breadth of what correspondence can be. We should be wary of fetishising form, is what I think I’m saying. Handwritten letters are a special form of correspondence, as I believe we’ve discussed before, but we’re living in an age of great connectedness and there are other ways to correspond.

This is a long and roundabout way of saying that The Letters Page is taking a break from print for a while. We’ll still be reading your letters, and carefully selecting some of them for publication, but that publication will take the form of a regular (and impeccably curated) email newsletter. We’re interested in blurring the boundaries again, my friends. We’re interested in developing the sense of The Letters Page as a forum for correspondence, wherein some of the letters you write will be written in response to some of the letters you read. We’re interested in what it might mean to put a letter into an email and get a letter in response; and in where tweets and texts and instant messages and postcards and telegrams and notes slipped under the door might fit into all of this.

Print will never die, of course. But we’ll also always have emails.

Keep in touch.

Jon McGregor
The Editor

The Letters Page, Vol 4, featuring Roddy Doyle, Som-Mai Nguyen, Sarah Whiteside, and many more, is now available for purchase, complete with hand-applied sealing wax. Order your copy here.