13 February 2016

Let's bring the art of letter-writing back into vogue!

I know that Olivia de Havilland will be celebrating her 100th birthday this year, but I hadn't realised there's another Hollywood legend who will also turn 100. To be honest, I didn't think Kirk Douglas was still alive, but he is and will have lived exactly a century on 9 December of this year. And like Miss De Havilland who is currently working on her autobiography, Douglas announced his plans last year to start a new book too. A book after my own heart, I might add, as it involves his personal correspondence. 

The letter for this post is about letter-writing, and in particular Kirk Douglas' view on it. It's an open letter to readers of The Huffington Post written in April of last year, in which Douglas expresses his longing for the days when people didn't correspond through e-mail, whatsapp or twitter. And so, he urges readers to write physical letters again, preferably by hand. Having saved decades' worth of his own correspondence, Douglas also tells of his plans to publish his letters in a new book (despite his statement a year earlier that his poetry collection "Life Could Be Verse: Reflections on Love, Loss, and What Really Matters" (2014) was his last book). Of course, I can't wait for this book to come out...

I am closing in on 100. When I reflect on the many satisfactory experiences of my long life, I must include my correspondence with some of the world's most fascinating people. There is a special sensory enjoyment involved in writing a letter, stamping the envelope and sending it on its way. Whether you are getting something off your chest (some letters are indeed written in anger) or writing a love letter (my own favorite), it remains the most personal way to communicate, especially when written by hand.
After my stroke, I had fans who wanted me to tell them about my road to recovery. Answering their letters became part of my therapy, and signing them in my own handwriting part of my pleasure. 
In a world where "everything old is new again," I am amazed to hear that young people are now buying vinyl records. Does this bode well for the return of letter-writing? I hope so.
Despite the convenience of the new technologies, this ancient form of communication remains impactful and should be used more often.
Imagine a child writing to Santa Claus in a letter parents can treasure; a Dear John or Dear Jane letter the recipient can stain with tears and reread when the heart has mended; a New Testament without the Epistles.
While no one doubts the ego-satisfying thrill of the 140-character tweet sent to a multitude of followers or the convenience of emails complete with acronyms that substitute for words and cute little emoticons substituting for feelings, I urge readers to rediscover the pleasure of communicating by what is known today by the derogatory term "snail mail." 
My wife Anne has kept a trove of letters and poems I've written to her over our 60 year marriage. She can even quote from some of them. She can also see in them the man I was and the man I became. Anne has also meticulously archived decades of letters between me and people like my friends Henry Kissinger, Francis Albert Sinatra, Brigitte Bardot and others, as well as colleagues such as Lord Laurence Olivier and Dalton Trumbo. They all attest to a state of mind; they all reflect what was happening in their lives or mine; they all offer insight into the private thoughts and dreams of that moment in time.
I have written 11 books, and I was sure the one published on my 98th birthday would be my last. However, I have been reading through a lot of that saved correspondence and have decided on another book, much more ambitious than a man my age usually contemplates. I have already begun work on my book of "Letters."
Now, here's my challenge to all of you reading this open letter:
Write a letter today to someone you love that can be kept, savored, and passed along to family members when the time is right. Send a handwritten invitation by mail instead of an evite. Receive a gift and handwrite a thank-you note. Express your feelings to a member of government on an issue you care about and put it in a mailbox. Remember, when you sign a letter in your own hand, you are attesting that you and you alone are responsible for its content. I don't think that's possible with an email.
Let me hear from you, preferably not as a comment, but as a real letter between you and me. At first, rediscovering this form of communication may seem strange -- but I promise you, it gets easier the more you use it -- and ultimately more rewarding. 
I hope you will join my crusade to bring the art of letter-writing back into vogue.
Kirk Douglas
 Source: The Huffington Post

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