March 1st, 2011

Love song for letters

I am into sending and receiving letters. I am actually into all forms of communication. Writing is (natch) a favourite–but the letter-love originates way before I ever anticipated an audience larger than one at a time. As a kid (and still), I had no family beyond parents/brother/pets in Canada. I wrote a newsletter for the household, but that did not satisfy my need to communicate–I wanted to contact with the outside world. My parents attempted to corral a few recalcitrant relatives into writing to me, and I would get the occasional note (I actually got more gifts than letters in the post, so I shouldn’t complain). By and large, though, I couldn’t get the long-form sustained letter-exchange that forms literary collections (I was, at this point, 7 or 8, so you can’t really blame them–often my letters consisted of descriptions of the houses on our road).

My most attentive relative, a step-uncle who, unsurprisingly, was a writer, used to call me “my faithful correspondant” because I usually responded to whatever he sent by return mail. He also once sent detailed instructions for folding a letter into thirds so that it would fit into a normal envelope–a trick I’d been having trouble with.

In grade school, a popular writing exercise was to pass out overseas penpal addresses to anyone who was interested. I signed up every time the program was offered, and quickly exhausted pals in Argentina, England, and Norway. These days, most people who want to keep up a long term correspondance do so by email, which is fine with me–old-fashioned as it is, I’m more concerned with the medium than the message. But I do *like* getting letters, when someone chooses to send me one. There are a few people in the world who send me mail, and it does make me very happy to see a penned address in the mailbox (unless it is my own handwriting on a self-addressed stamped envelope, signifying literary rejection).

The point of all this is that I was so charmed by Arcade Fire’s We Used to Wait when I realized it was about nostalgia for sending and receiving letters. It’s a strangely sweet song, I think, off the (I hear) Grammy-winning album *The Suburbs*. You can listen at the above link, and/or read the lyrics I will now attempt to transcribe for you below (yes, I still believe the exercise of listening closely enough to transcribe song lyrics is somehow helpful for my writing. I’m just not sure how.)

We Used to Wait/Arcade Fire

I used to write
I used to write letters
I used to sign my name
I used to sleep at night
Before the flashing lights settled deep in my brain

But by the time we met
By the time we met the times had already changed
So I never wrote a letter
I never took my true heart
I never wrote it down
So when the lights cut out
I was lost standing in the wilderness downtown

Now our lives are changing fast (repeat)
Hope that something pure could last (repeat)

It seemed strange
How we used to wait for letters to arrive
What was stranger still
Is how something so small could keep you alive

(We used to wait)
We used to waste hours just walking around
(We used to wait)
All those wasted lives in the wilderness downtown
(Ooo, we used to wait) (repeat 4x)
Sometimes they never came (repeat 2x)
Still movin through the pain

I’m gonna write a letter to my true love
I’m gonna sign my name
Like a patient on a table
I wanna walk again
Gotta move through the pain

Now our lives are changin fast (repeat)
Hope that something pure could last (repeat)
(We used to wait) (repeat x3)
Sometimes they never came (repeat)
Still moving through the pain
We used to wait (repeat)

We used to wait for it (repeat)
And now we’re screaming
Sing the chorus again

We used to wait for it (repeat)
And now we’re screaming
Sing the chorus again

I used to wait for it (repeat)
And now we’re screaming
Sing the chorus again

Wait for it (repeatx3)

2 Responses to “Love song for letters”

  • AMT says:

    i had a lot of international pen pals, some of them longer than others. one of them i actually met, several years after the fact (on my first trip to england.) it was a preview of what it’s like to meet a friend you know only online. in other words: moderately creepy.

    as we were discussing (in person!) recently: i think regular mail-by-post-type-mail is particularly great to make time for when your farflung friends move. if you have a friend with a new place, and you can’t go to their housewarming, send them mailbox-warming-mail. it’s seriously great.

  • Rebecca says:

    This is an excellent tradition and I heartily encourage it. But really, friendly mail is always warming!

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So Much Love by Rebecca Rosenblum

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