The Arse of Letter-Writing

by Mark Yeow

I wrote a letter last week. An old-school, inked-on-paper, stamp-licked letter. It was a terribly fraught process, for several reasons.

Number One: I am highly insecure about my handwriting. In high school, I used to get taunted by teachers and classmates alike for the hopelessly matted kindling that my letters formed. I was best known for the compactness of my handwriting, which apparently bordered on the pathological. How was I, as a painfully utilitarian Fourth-Former, meant to know that writing a 6000-word essay on A5 sheets of paper – even if they were all I had on the train from Nice to Paris – would be viewed as lunacy by the Music Department and all its denizens? Today, as a result, I only write in caps when writing for other people. But you can’t write a whole letter in caps. Isn’t it ironic that you need umpteen letters to compose a letter? And somehow infinitesimally tragic too, that sometimes no amount of letters are enough.

Number Two: this letter was also an original short story. Usually when I compose on paper, I commit numerous faux pas; scratch out entire sentences or word after word; and, in around 42% of cases, am simply unable to finish the tale because I have plotted myself into an inextricable corner. I couldn’t afford to do any of this here, for obvious reasons. Fortunately, I had the entire story planned out in my head (only happens in around 7% of cases), and I am very good at converting a’s into d’s, b’s into p’s, et c. when I realise that pen and brain are not in sync. Probably owed somewhat to the pathology of my handwriting.

Number Three: You can’t back-up letters. What if my envelope got rained on? What if the ship’s crew accidentally threw the mail-bag overboard? What if the ship got hijacked (I had watched Captain Phillips several nights prior)? What if the receiving Asiatic post-office didn’t understand the address, even though it was in very neat caps? What if the address was wrong, or it went to the wrong flat in the compound, or the owner of the flat omitted to mention its receipt to its intended reader? Releasing a letter into the ether is a leap of faith, and despite my long legs I was always a dismal long-jump failure.

I don’t think the letter has arrived yet. If it had, I would have heard. But if and when it does fall into its recipient’s much-deserving hands, all this arseing around will be worth it.