Better Left Untexted: The Things We Still Don't Say in Emails, Text Messages, Tweets...

LettersDo people write love letters anymore? And by that, I mean handwritten notes on paper...? Of course they do.

Some people do.

But not like they used to.

Personal handwritten notes in general are trending in the direction of the Dodo. Why write what you can type? In Spike Jonze's recent film Her, the protagonist is a professional letter-writer for a company named He dictates digitalized facsimiles of actual handwritten letters for his clients with the same professionalism and ease as a florist creating a bouquet. And he's quite good at it too, we learn. It's interesting to consider that even in this not-too-distant future setting where everyone, to some extent, is involved in some way or another with their handheld device, there's still some value given to the act of giving and receiving personal, handwritten letters. The irony here is that it's perfectly acceptable to hire a stranger to write them.

For me, biographies that include one's love letters (or even diaries) make the best stories—far better than fiction, simply because they are real. No imagination can recreate the genuineness of those words or feelings, or conjure up what already exists.

When I think of written correspondences between two lovers and the levels of honesty they created and revealed, thoughts of Richard Burton's letters to Elizabeth Taylor, an epic collection spanning the entirety of their relationship—the good, the bad, and the seriously ugly—come immediately to mind, especially Burton's last one. It was quite possibly the last letter he ever wrote to anyone.

As retold in the book Furious Love: Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, and the Marriage of the Century:

On August 2, 1984, Burton wrote Taylor a letter from his home in Switzerland. The following day he went out drinking with his friends, subsequently got into a fight and hit his head on the floor. He suffered a cerebral hemorrhage, and died on the operating table. He was 58 years old. After Taylor went to Burton’s funeral (she was actually banned from the funeral by Burton's current wife, but allowed to visit his grave), she arrived back home to the letter from Burton postmarked a day before his death. And what did it say? Simply that 'home' was where Elizabeth was. And he wanted to come 'home.'

It's one of the most devastatingly beautiful stories I've ever read or heard. And I can't even force myself to imagine how the ending might have changed, had Burton simply dispatched an email or a text—not because that technology didn't exist in 1984, but because it would have barely carried the same poignance and meaning—certainly not to Taylor, and not to us, their audience, for lack of a better word. That letter, and the time that elapsed since Burton sealed its envelope—still living—and its arrival in Taylor's hands made that love story what it was.

I haven't read all of Burton's and Taylor's letters to one another, nor do I necessarily want to. Part of their greatness lies in their sheer number, and simply the fact that they existed, these innumerable leafs of evidence divulging the wildly shifting winds of their tempestuous relationship—as well, as their own individual states at the time—that we know to be so legendary. But if I could, I'd want to read them in their original states, in their own handwriting, with spelling mistakes and deletions there to behold as much as the words that remained. It's what letters don't say, as much as what they do, that can sharpen the entire picture.

I have a small collection of letters that I've kept since high school, mostly from old boyfriends Even if they weren't especially well-written or even profound (a cringe-inducing rap song that one boyfriend dedicated to me especially comes to mind), what makes them so poignant and worth holding onto, and yes, re-reading from time to time, is knowing that the those words couldn't have been said any other way. And to this day, they still haven't—in any form. 




The Archive Exquisite: "The Firebird Tutu"

NYFW = Not Your Favorite Week