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“Now why don’t he write?”

For some odd reason the scene in Dances with Wolves when Dunbar finds a an old skeleton on the prairie and Timmons says “I’ll bet someone back east is going, “Now why don’t he write?” has stuck in my mind. Out of that entire movie, it’s the only scrap of dialog that has stayed with me, I had to look up the characters’ names but I remember the scene vividly. This morning I woke up thinking about letter writing.

It’s simply mind boggling when you start to think about how much people used to write . People thought nothing of penning letters to authors and maintaining long correspondences that spanned years.Ordinary folk kept journals,teens secretly scribbled their innermost thoughts in padlocked diaries. Receiving letters from home was a celebrated event. Old love letters were wrapped in ribbon and tenderly preserved. Instead of composing missives to our loved ones, we dash off emails, tweet and send text messages (okay, I struggle with texting but everyone else in the world seems to tap out text at the speed of light). All condensed and concise. Sometimes the words themselves are written in a sort of shorthand.LOL, NOB, TIM instead of little old lady, north of the border, this is Mexico. LOL (laugh out loud) is even used as a short hand for saying “wow that was funny! ”.

Don’t get me wrong, even I think Charles Dickens was too wordy. I’m not advocating a return to the flowery prose of Victorian England, but I sure wouldn’t mind a little more Mark Twain.We’re all guilty of succumbing to the modern version of the post card, emailing photos from our vacations instead. Banging out this blog is my substitute for jotting down my thoughts in a journal or scribing entertaining epistles to my family regaling them with our adventures.

Even though it’s often said “the internet is forever”.They say that once you’ve written it online, it can be found. In truth, just how permanent are these thoughts, this post? In the future, no one will rummage through my papers and learn about my life. I don’t have any. Thoughtlessly, I tossed letters away after reading them, never thinking to preserve them, all is that is  left are my memories and those are getting fuzzy, but unlike the quote that starts this post, no search engine will ever dredge up that information for me.

About Theresa Diaz Gray

Born in New York City, I grew up in California, and have lived in 3 countries and 6 states. I'm a first generation Cuban-American who lives in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico. I'm committed to living an abundant and creative life and helping others do so too through DIY!


  1. Norm,
    I use Live Writer to compose my blog posts, I lost posts into the ether before. Also I have learned to use switch from the most common form of back up to actually backing up my stuff.

    I agree, my mom and my little sister still send real cards and I love getting them. My mom always writes letters inside. I wish that I had saved her letters that I used to get before email.

    Madame Pliers,
    I think that I should probably start sending snail mail to the nietas. It may be the only correspondence that they ever get that way. It’s never occurred to me to print stuff out, I have thought about scanning photos and saving them to disks though. I hate hauling boxes of stuff around when I move and have no ancestral home to leave them in. and of course, by moving house to a foreign country, we both made our “papers” less available to any relatives who care about such things

    I think that you tube vidoes,tx shows and dvds and such will still leave clues for our future descendants about us. However, the art of letter writing is dying out. We communicate more but say less, or maybe the other way around? it’s all in sound bites not long and thoughtful discourse.

    Shannon, it’s amazing what you can find via the web. Someone already did original research via paper and posted it. It can be amazing what is available out there!

    email seems to encourage mindless correspondence, the forwarding of jokes takes the place of actually writing a letter. it’s a way of touching base that doesn’t really do anything. However, I think it’s great, and like it especially for committees.
    Texting condenses everything, maybe people are in touch with each other more but it takes less effort, so there is less discrimination on what is said.

    Eric C,
    you are right. Think of all those 8 tracks, cassette, reel to reel and beta-max tapes which some people are turning into craft projects with no thought as to their contents.
    We will probably still be able to read letters written on paper but most people will have no way to view those vacation slides from 1966.
    King Ozymandias was right, This too shall pass.

    Teresa in Nagoya,
    you are a fellow Luddite. I had a boy friend once ask in frustration,why did I persist doing stuff by hand when I could use my computer instead?
    I have a cell phone, of the kind known as a dumb phone.

    I wish I had written letters like that. I never kept a diary either, maybe I should? Who knows what people save? As you can tell by the comments, many people print out emails and save them. I save emails from my family in special folder, but in my email accounts. I seldom reread them, but they are there.


  2. I was amazed when my sister sent me a letter I wrote her in the early 80’s. It outlined my goals that I did achieve and reminded me i have not wavered in my present dreams. After my dater passed I found letters I had written him many years before when I lived overseas. He would reread them and live my adventures. If all these missives had been emailed, would they still exist to be found and would they spark the same feelings?

  3. no tweeting or texting here-heck i don’t even have a cell phone. i must be one of the few people in japan without one, but i manage just fine. i admit i rarely send hand written letters though. i used to be a great correspondent in that respect, now i e-mail and send pix like many folks do. it’s just so convenient.

    have a great week!

    teresa in nagoya

  4. Yeah, digits might survive, but reader devices will become the rare jam, making access a challenge. The Smithsonian has a basement full of readers so they can peek into various storage devices.

    The tiny bit of residue we moderns retain of our ancestors is rather pathetic, when compared to the ancients who memorized details of the past and recited them around the campfire.


  5. I see no major difference between email and hard copy letters – saves some trees and is fast.

    That written – it seems that letter writing in any form is mostly a lost skill.

    There appears to be very few that can compose a decent letter these days ;-(

  6. I recently started an ancestry search prompted by an old letter sent to my grandmother. My cousin found this while going through old papers and it really raised some questions for us.

    The search has been very interesting and enlightening There were a couple of real surprises. Of course all of this would have been very difficult without the internet, but then without the letter, it would never have been initiated.

    Very interesting train of thought Theresa.

  7. A thoughtful post, and very true. I’ve wondered what it will mean in the future that we rarely write letters, and don’t have “papers” anymore.

    Most of what I know about my ancestors comes from a few boxes of old photos, letters and other documents that have been carefully handed down. We don’t keep things like that anymore. No future relative of mine is going to find my hard drive and go through my old photos, although it’s amazing what you come up with when you Google yourself.

  8. I like very much your starting point memory of the lines from “Dances with Wolves” for this post. It is both touching and evocative.

    Oddly enough, I don’t find my email “letters” any less satisfying to write or send than I ever did my handwritten ones. And in my case, access to a computer for letter writing is better for the recipient because my handwriting now sucks big time.

    I do agree, however, that if individuals do not print out their computer-generated typed letter or emails there is much in the way of the archive of daily life in our era that will be lost to the future.

    I currently have boxes of such printed electronic correspondence up in the attic of my house although I suspect that there will be no one who will be particularly interested in all of it unless I commit a mass murder some time in the near future…

    Lovely post, Theresa.

  9. I have one correspondent who does not have access to a computer – and sends letters to me in Mexico. I look forward to them. Just like when I was a kid waiting for that decoder ring from Kellogg’s.

  10. I’ve had a number of blogger friends lose the prose they have composed into the ether. I print off the letters and what not that I want to keep and they go into an old timey file. It does not record the person’s hand but their thoughts are there.

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