It occurred to me the other day that one of the advantages of letter writing is that your word is guaranteed with a readership – one person at least, to whom your letter is dedicated to. English has become a pragmatic language for me, in which I write academic essays and use to communicate during foreign travels. But I’ve longed for it to become a personal language as well, for example, to be the language of my diary, secrets and irrelevant thoughts in addition to more pragmatic projects. I’ve also hoped for a day when I can write truly free from worrying about making grammar mistakes / word choices all the time. (Just imagine what a burden that is, especially when you try to establish an inmate relationship with someone.) But so be it.
Now I have decided to start writing for myself in English. Although I want to write as well as possible – I did choose English to be one of my two majors afterall – whether my sentences are grammatically correct becomes a secondary concern here. I’ll promise myself to stop checking every sentence for mistakes immediately after I write it, as I often do when I write for my classes, and only focus on documenting my moments of reflection in the way that they occurred to me as genuinely as possible. I’ll do minimum editing, as if I’m back to handwriting a letter to my friend on paper. There I would not dream of producing the most perfect essay. I would rather relax, write whatever and however I want, leaving the task of understanding to her. She’ll understand what I meant – I’d think, gratefully. I can never thank her enough for taking the burden of writing off my shoulders, being always so patient and tolerant with my lengthy and messy style. Now we don’t write letters anymore, but took up instead the habit of blurting out sentences on the web, supposedly “constructing individual presence” on the social media. I do lament this change. And I want the practice of letter writing back.
Words used to mean something. When you read a letter from a friend you take her words seriously, as it is the only chance for the them to be understood. Vice versa, when you write and wait for your words to be read and understood, you know that the process of language can be trusted. This is what we may rightly call communication. Now though, it seems that writing on facebook has made it easier to get ourselves a wider readership. But I wonder, is there anyone at all who would seriously read and try to understand what you write, as a friend used to do when a letter unfolds? How would she be able to think that the words (and visual aids, ha) are not just part of my personal PR? Therefore, is it right to ask her to treat me seriously, as it is no longer certain for whom the words are written?
But to ask anyone to read anyone’s writing is a huge favor, if not friends. I can now only ask for that kind of favor from no more than half a dozen persons. Therefore, for their friendship I pledge to write for no other purposes than try to make understand by the disclosure of my life, or the phenomenal world negotiated in no other way than this, with words. Hopefully all faithful as a letter to you.
“Dear Friend, from My Life I Write to You in Your Life” is the title of Yiyun Li’s new book, a collection of essays “written over two years while the author battled with suicidal depression.” I was very excited to get my copy last week, as I ordered it from amazon as soon as I got back to the U.S. from China two weeks ago. With the workload of the current semester, however, I don’t really have time to read it or any other book. But I promise to report as soon as I get to finish it.