Lettres by Christine Vaufrey

The most interesting thing about letter writing is that it is usually shared with only one other person, unless they decide to pass their letter on to other people, as used to be done in the nineteenth century. It was not uncommon then that a letter writer received a reply from someone he had not written to, which could have been irritating if unexpected. The other case is for a person who is, or who becomes, so famous that their private and public writings are considered fair game by editors and publishers. Or even, perhaps, by the authorities as we have seen in recent months; the justice department in the USA releasing copies of Hillary Clinton’s electronic mail as part of the FBI investigation. I doubt that my letters will ever achieve such a level of fame, and I most certainly won’t. Letter writing today seems more of a hobby for individual friends, or even people who haven’t quite achieved even that status.

Reading is, in my mind, an even lonelier occupation or hobby. Do you know anyone who reads aloud, or as part of a group? Aside from children I certainly don’t. I see, sadly fewer and fewer, people reading books in public on their own, never in groups. In company most people tend to talk to one another, rather than read, unless they happen to all have mobile phones. This instrument is, for me, one of the worst things for friendships. People sit around all day and stare at the small screen, even when nothing is happening within this virtual world. They don’t seem to be able to talk together without checking their status updates every few minutes. I am sometimes surprised that they can hold a real, face-to-face conversation at all.

Having said that reading is lonely: it isn’t really because, although it involves only one person, the reader is being transported into a different world packed to overflowing, hopefully, with interesting characters and events. I tend to read for up to three hours a day and never have the feeling either that I am lonely or that I’ve wasted my time.

How much can a person fit into one life? I think it all depends upon the person. Some are very active and manage either to do many things, or one thing a great deal. Others concentrate on little or have few interests and seem, at times, to be lost for something to fill their time. It is possible to do many things if the available time is carefully planned, or if we have a routine for all our different hobbies and interests. I certainly have no problem keeping up with the usual things in life – such as earning a living – and all the other things which I do more for pleasure. I even manage to fit letter writing into my schedule, although I never know when a letter will arrive, or whether I will receive a reply to one of my letters at all.

I find it interesting that you assume I do not have time to take care of my household because of my hobbies. The daily chores at home, washing, cleaning, cooking and so on, all fit into my timetable without any problems. I have a house with fourteen rooms, kitchen, cellar and three bathrooms and I live alone. If I don’t take care of my household, who is going to do it for me? If I don’t do my laundry once or twice a week, I have no clean clothes. If I don’t wash the dishes every day, I have nothing to eat from. I may not enjoy dusting and cleaning all the surfaces in each room, but I still manage to do it on a daily basis.

Hobbies and other interests, for me at least, come in second place to the things we have to do each day, those things we are almost obligated to do and which fall within the work area. I can read and write only after I have completed my work, in or outside of my house.

For some people it is a show of strength and courage when they get out of bed in the morning. Courage comes in many different forms, whether allowing paintings to be exhibited, standing up in public to read one of your own poems to an audience of strangers, and also in the lesser things we do each day. Some people cannot find the right level of courage to display themselves before the public gaze – perhaps they are afraid of criticism or just wish to work on unrecognised – and use a pseudonym or create a completely new identity for themselves; moving from one personality to another in the same way some of us change clothes.

I was interested to see how you had changed my closing line from my last letter: take good care of yourself. I assume that you translate what you are reading into German, and this gives it, sometimes, a different meaning. Be careful with your life has a different meaning in English, more of a warning, as if there is something which could threaten you or you are about to undertake something dangerous. Take good care of yourself is more a wish for good health as much as a wish that you do those things, experience those things, which make you happy and keep you vital.

Going back to the over-painted, white picture in Bremen – which was destroyed, if you will, rather than destructed – I am sure that there are many other paintings, sculptures, works of art which have a hidden story, something special which only one or two people know, or knew. Some of them are like people we meet for the first time; a story waiting to unfold before our minds and hearts, if we wish to explore.

I cannot remember how long my last letter was, I generally don’t keep an account of the number of words or pages, and just writer according to what I have to reply to, what I wish to say, and how much time I have available. Since letters often come at very irregular intervals, it is hard to set a time to write a reply. Sometimes my letters are very short, four or five pages, sometimes a little longer. If I remember correctly my longest letter was just over seventy pages long, written over a weekend while I was in Ireland many years ago. But, have no fear, I don’t write letters of that length anymore! Although, I am sure, with the right theme, I would have no problem, just as long as my writing hand holds out!

Now the normal routine of my day calls me back and I have a few obligations to fulfill away from my hobbies. Although, since these obligations involve shopping and wandering around a market in Delmenhorst, they could be called a mixture of business and pleasure.

Take good care of yourself.