Letter-Writing Nostalgia (My 2015 InCoWriMo 1 of 28)


Dear A,

G’day, greetings from Australia. This is my first InCoWriMo, which is a big challenge. To me, writing is easy, and I am more than happy to write everyday. However, writing by hand is difficult, for I have been writing on computer since my teenage years and my handwriting is lousy as a result. I guess you can see this already. 🙂

Still, I want to challenge myself to write by hand everyday for a whole month for three reasons. Firstly, this seems to be a “writerly” thing to do, a romantic and even nostalgic way to continue the good old literary tradition of writing on paper, in the same way that reading and printing on paper are nowadays still cherished. As an avid reader as well as a publisher of Chinese ebooks, I am perfectly aware of the fact that paper will never die – despite the fact that many trees have died and will continue to die for this. As the renowned Italian novelist and scholar Umberto Eco said in his 2003 essay “Vegetal and mineral memory: The future of books” – once we understand “what we usually mean by book, text, literature, interpretation, and so on”, it becomes obvious why questions such as “Will the new electronic media make books obsolete?” are silly.

Secondly, keeping a journal is certainly helpful for a writing career. It even benefits one’s translation from one language to another, which is what I do most of the time these days. Translation is another form of creative writing, for one has to re-present the thoughts and feelings of the others as faithfully, fluently and gracefully as possible. (“The truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”) Furthermore, as they “crawl through” the writing one word at a time, translators also act as editors and proofreaders who often catch the writers and publishers off guard. Finally and most importantly, translation as a profession helps to inspire those translators who dream of also being writers. Such inspiration needs recording in the form of a journal before it fades into oblivion as translators move on to the next project.

Finally, writing, particularly letter writing, enables people to be spiritually closer to each other even when they are physically miles apart. I, for one, suffer from a kind of loneliness that is only to be found in today’s Internet age. Among the torrents of information we consume everyday, there is hardly a soul that echoes ours and uplifts us beyond our existing dreams and desires. Indeed, apart from tons of words, images and sounds, one would be lucky to find a soul in cyberspace. We are merely dots of nameless dust being blown this way and that by the great trending (or trading?) winds of the World Wide Web.

Letter writing, on the other hand, encourages us to reflect upon our lives – our ideals and pursuits, our voices and unvoiced longings, our silence. By transforming our daily musings into words on paper, we confirm our existence. Even better, by recording our existence and sending it out to someone – even a stranger – we find a purpose. Meanwhile, our decision on what and what not to share with the others helps us to sort out how and how much we will let our purpose impact on our existence.

That is enough rambling. Here is something I found in today’s reading, to share with you. It is a writer’s representation of an African tribal man’s views about reading and writing.

“It was absurd, he knew, but he was wary of anyone who could read and write… He was not sure whether to regard them as normal people or as witchdoctors who could cast spells.”

Yours Sincerely,

P.S. As a writer I have a bad habit of keeping a record on everything I write, both online and offline. It is almost like a need to know that I have existed. I hope you do not mind.


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