Monday, January 16, 2012

[1232] letters

I have become completely obsessed with letters. Formal, witty, intelligently written letters.

You see, it started with a box sent to me by my dad's best friend Weezie. I receive packages from her sporadically, filled with little things that belonged to Dadoo--photos, newspaper clippings, books, etc. One of the more interesting packages contained a section of this genealogy book that my Aunt Irene compiled a while back. As a sidenote, before I get to the letters, I discovered while thumbing through this genealogy book that a good portion of my family is from NORTHERN Ireland. I mean, they came to America quite a while before the Anglo-Irish Treaty, but still. It's like my love for Norn Iron was in my blood. And here I thought all our blood had in it was alcoholism.

But back to the letters.

"I ain't even mad." 
In the loose pages packed into the box from Weezie, there was a series of letters from my grandpa to various relatives, mostly his sister Joan. And they were funny. Articulate. Full of cutting jabs in elegant and refined prose. My family's love language is mockery, and I marvel at how effectively my grandfather employed it. In one exchange, he writes, "After the cracks you made in the letter, I wouldn't count on any more revelations. That little piece of blasphemy ranks with the choices bits of Voltaire + Bocaccio." (Man, would I ever like to know what blasphemy was in her letter.) Later, he tells Joan, "If you're passing through Pennsylvania anytime before I get a chance to, you might do one of your special rock-and-window jobs on Carlisle Barracks -- the stinkers haven't forwarded any mail yet and I know there was some to be forwarded. I'll give them another 2 days + then I'm joining the Japs." I hope you'll pardon the language. It was 1944 and Grandpa was obviously in the military.

In one of my favorite digs, Grandpa all but calls his sister a drunken hussy: "Have you sobered up yet -- you seem to be making the rounds, from the Biltmore Bar to the Old Brew house... Such frivolity in a med student -- tsk, tsk! Of course, as Ogden Nash says -- 'Home is Heaven and orgies are vile -- but you need an orgy, once in a while.'" And in a bit of snark that sounds like something I might say to my own sister, he writes, "How are the exams coming? You must have been awfully worried to consider, even momentarily, studying."

"Go kill yourself."
- H.L. Mencken, the original troll
One of my favorite blogs is Letters of Note, which posts letters to and/or from famous people, often in the period before they gained any form of notoriety. This makes for good reading, as the letters are often painfully discouraging and incredibly myopic--if only in retrospect--on the part of the senders. A recent posting contained a letter from H.L Mencken to aspiring magazine editor William Saroyan in 1936. Mencken writes: I note what you say about your aspiration to edit a magazine. I am sending you by this mail a six-chambered revolver. Load it and fire every one into your head. You will thank me after you get to hell and learn from other editors there how dreadful their job was on earth." 

I want to write letters like this. And receive letters like this. I mean, the other day I actually used the phrase "fo sho" in an email to a professor. And to another professor, I wrote an email with the subject line, "Ostrich love. Guh." WTF, mate? Surely I can do better than this. I'm a Vaughan, dammit! A proud yet self-effacing Vaughan with the excessively extensive vocabulary and penchant for harassment trademark of our clan. So who wants a pen pal? 


AmericanStudier said...

January 17, 2012
From the Needham Public Library
On A Wet and Snowy Massachusetts Tuesday

Dear Ms. Vaughan,

Having made note of your desire to receive comments on these interesting and engaging blog posts, I set out to leave precisely such a comment.

And yet now having read this post, I find that what you are truly seeking is perhaps the exact opposite of an internet comment--a letter in ye style of olde, before we 21st century blasphemers devolved to our fo' sho's (always use the apostrophes, it's classier) and, well, ostrich loves.

Since I am nothing if not a complex combination of anachronism and modernity, luddite and technophile, nostalgic historian and forward-thinking progressive, I have decided to honor both of your requests, and leave you this comment that is also an olden letter.

You are most welcome.


Ben Railton
Your e-pen pal

craiglaub said...

You know, as much as the English language has been bastardized by the fairly recent internet driven social media revolution, I personally believe that I read and write far more than I used to. And I might even say that I read extremely witty and intelligent comments from time to time. And every once in a while, I'll even write one. So yes, we all can agree that the average quality has diminished, the opportunity for developing and reading high quality quips and jabs is infinitely higher than it used to be...regardless of the media. Not to mention, I don't own a stamp, envelope or even non-printer paper. And I hate cutting my tongue while licking sticky things

Corrigan said...

Dear Railton (years of British costume dramas have led me to deduce that by surname is the most appropriate means to address a man),

You are quite correct, sir! The comment drudgery to which I have become accustomed is, to be sure, quite dull. What pervasive vanity within me requires such validation, I do not know. I thank you for endeavouring to accommodate it, nonetheless.

I find myself envious of your wintry surroundings; I often reminisce quite fondly upon my own Massachusetts upbringing, and the pure elation that would fall upon us all when the arrival of a winter's snow would herald the temporary postponement of our studies. Do make good use of the weather for me.




Corrigan said...

Indeed, I find myself constantly thwarted by the lack of proper supplies for sending any form of correspondence. And I, too, dislike licking sticky things. I've seen that one Seinfeld episode, after all.
I will also concede that I do encounter some incredibly well-written comments on the old interwebs from time to time. So then, I propose we simply build upon such commentary. Here's to bringing quality back!

craiglaub said...

I'll liken it to having babies. If all the unsmart people continue to out-procreate the smartiest people, then the world will soon turn into the Idiocracy the movie so eloquently described. And in the same vain, if only people who use ur because your and you're are just too damn confusing, the online universe will be eating out at Carl's Jr. for every meal. So basically, the only way to combat the downfall of our entire society is to have the smarterest people post...and post often. So post on Corri. Post on. UR one of the smartiest people I know.