Much to my Chagrin

henry miller

Henry Miller is a regular letterer, with his fair share of love letters written to fellow writer Anais Nin

Dear Friends,

I unabashedly declare my love for correspondence. Hell, I’ll shout it out from the rooftops, but I’d much rather write to you about it.

I wrote letters to friends I saw every day in school. We’d even exchange notes in class. I sent letters to a friend who didn’t go to the same school but lived in the same town. (We could’ve very easily met up but what can I say? It was novel sticking stamps and sealing envelopes. We liked thanking the postman.) Some of my best friendships were borne out of long languid letters to each other. I dare say I fell in love with the boy I first seriously wrote to. I’ve been guilty of telling many new friends – the kinds you have an immediate affinity with, but no real time to spend with in the flesh – to write to me. Before I wave goodbye with no confirmation that I’ll get to see them again, I hook them in an embrace, give them a kiss on the cheek and sigh a whisper promise to write.

Moving so often was painful because it left voids in my heart constantly needing to be filled. And filled they were, with notes that reminded me that love didn’t have to travel in person.

Words tasted sweeter when read in a love letter, and venom more poisonous when spat through hate mail. There’s an amplification to emotions when they’re delivered, wax sealed and all, in a letter. Be it joy, grief, rage or pure lust; there’s nothing more stark naked than emotions twinkling on a page through the words of another person.

Letters taught me how to walk through these emotions, so that when I felt them in real life – when I was looking up ahead instead of down and reading them from a piece of paper – I was prepared. The wind wasn’t knocked out of me, and I didn’t feel light on my feet. I knew what was coming from the words, because I’ve read them before.


I don’t hide how I feel about the likes of Hemingway and Steinbeck. Their staid and minimalist writing deemed a little too brusque for my tastes. I felt that my feminine sensibilities couldn’t appreciate the attempts of men trying to become real men. But I caught a whiff of Steinbeck’s letter to his son; incidentally, it was about love. And of Ted Hughes’ letter to his own son carrying advice on life (lest he went down the desolate road his mother meandered which culminated with her head in the oven*). They read like beacons of kindness coaxing the broken-hearted to mend. It surprised me – to see the smidgen of humanity and the capabilities of achieving such softness. I like it when I’m wrong sometimes, especially when I get to welcome warmth with realizing my mistakes.

Letters are invasive but they’re a private shell for just two people. You’ve Got Mail in all its Nora Ephron-Meg Ryan-Tom Hanks trifecta glory gave the glow of consuming words from another person addressed to you like a warm honey drink on a cold day. Ephron may have been right (or wrong!) about email cancelling out the romance of the love letter, but there’s very little in the world that can eradicate the effervescent excitement from reading emotion, whether it’s on paper or screen.

Write to me, write to him, write to her. To your Mum, your brother, your ex-lover. **

The world needs more love letters.



*Nick Hughes committed suicide in 2009. He hung himself and his sister Frieda had said he suffered from depression. I’d still like to think his father tried his best to keep him afloat. It probably made sense to why his letters were just so heavy with love and promise in the only way he knew how.

**Consider it the cheapest, most effective form of therapy.


M will reveal herself at a later stage, when she has decided whether or not this column will be her regular musing space.