Texts and emails don’t re­place grand ges­tures

Regina Leader-Post - - Front Page - Chris Morin writes.

Derek Sand­beck is cer­tain the love let­ter may be one of the most grandiose ro­man­tic ges­tures ever. That’s be­cause it’s a dy­ing art. No one writes mash notes any­more, at least not the way they used to, he says.

Love let­ters have be­come a piece of nos­tal­gia go­ing the way of the di­nosaur, the type­writer and film pho­tog­ra­phy. The lan­guage of pas­sion, it seems, has changed dra­mat­i­cally.

“Love let­ters are texts now,” Sand­beck sighs.

“As much as that sucks to ad­mit, it’s where they’ve gone. It’s im­me­di­ate and easy now. We email, text or talk love through a com­puter.”

That’s why a year ago he, along with Saska­toon art col­lec­tive BAM (the Bridges Art Move­ment), at­tempted to get Saska­to­ni­ans off their phones and onto pen and pa­per. The group un­veiled an in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tion based on nos­tal­gia at the fi­nal LUGO fundraiser for the Men­del Art Gallery.

The piece, dubbed Yours Truly, urged par­ty­go­ers to write love let­ters to ran­dom other at­ten­dees. The in­ter­ac­tive el­e­ment had the writ­ers de­liv­er­ing those mes­sages to a stranger.

For the most part, the woo-pitch­ing pro­ject was suc­cess­ful. Hun­dreds of let­ters were writ­ten with type­writ­ers, mark­ers and cal­lig­ra­phy pens. Many peo­ple adorned their pa­pers with stickers. Some of the more ad­ven­tur­ous signed their notes with lip­stick.

“I saw you here tonight, but you didn’t rec­og­nize me. You are as beau­ti­ful in per­son as you are in your pho­tos,” reads one let­ter.

“You are the most cap­ti­vat­ing per­son in the room,” reads an­other. “Maybe in the whole world.”

Un­for­tu­nately, many of the let­ters are un­de­liv­ered. Some are still un­read, sealed in num­bered en­velopes.

Th­ese are words no one cared enough to take home with them, even just for one evening, Sand­beck says.

Call it un­re­quited ro­mance, but that’s what makes th­ese let­ters worth hold­ing onto. Sand­beck hopes to see the love note make a re­turn this Valen­tine’s Day.

“I think peo­ple still long for the phys­i­cal thing, though. Text mes­sages aren’t ro­man­tic.”

Pen and pad have been re­placed by the ubiq­ui­tous phone, a mo­bile ma­chine built to flirt in real time. Nowa­days there’s an app for ev­ery as­pect of ro­mance, in­clud­ing clan­des­tine meet­ings and send­ing glimpses of skin that are only meant to be viewed for a few sec­onds.

Love may have be­come in­stan­ta­neous, and dis­pos­able. But for some it’s a prac­tice worth preserving.

Ken Dahl of the City of Saska­toon Ar­chives has worked to cat­a­logue a se­ries of love let­ters that date back to the De­pres­sion. The col­lec­tion, painstak­ingly hand­writ­ten be­tween Jean and Ralph Foster, helped launch a ro­mance that would last half a cen­tury.

Ralph and Jean met, and ul­ti­mately fell in love, while he worked for her fam­ily on their farm out­side Saska­toon. He even­tu­ally left the area to start a life for him­self and his bride-to-be, but the in­ten­tion was al­ways that they would even­tu­ally re­turn to be to­gether, Dahl says.

The cou­ple wrote once a week, since Ralph likely didn’t have a phone. It’s ul­ti­mately what kept the re­la­tion­ship to­gether.

“It’s a prac­tice that cer­tainly seems like a world apart from where we are to­day,” Dahl said.

While wist­ful and sweet, the let­ters be­tween Jean and Ralph have a value that goes far be­yond a decades-old ro­mance.

“Th­ese types of records are quite rare, which makes them a unique way to study civic his­tory,” Dahl says, adding that the city ar­chives typ­i­cally keep records on taxes, prop­erty and sew­ers.

Jean and Ralph mar­ried in 1936, even­tu­ally set­tling near Meota be­fore start­ing a fam­ily. The cou­ple ex­pe­ri­enced a lot of things the av­er­age fam­ily would have gone through, such as drought, war and the ups and downs of the weather. But the ten­der­ness makes the his­tory so much more im­me­di­ate, Dahl says.

“It gives a sense of strong feel­ings amid a time that’s so dif­fer­ent from our own.”

Sand­beck agrees, and is still hope­ful that love let­ters, and true ro­mance, will make a roar­ing re­turn.

“When some­thing is about to die, peo­ple fight to bring it back. When they see it about to go ex­tinct they dig in and say ‘No,’” he said.

He, along with the BAM col­lec­tive, he also hopes to see the lost let­ters re­united with the ad­dressed lovers.

“It would be nice to do an­other love let­ter writ­ing ex­er­cise again, and hope­fully bring more of the jux­ta­po­si­tion be­tween the phys­i­cal and dig­i­tal realms,” he said.

“We just want to see more peo­ple to in­ter­act with one an­other.”


A col­lec­tion of love let­ters makes up the in­ter­ac­tive in­stal­la­tion Yours Truly, a fundraiser for the Men­del Art Gallery.


Love Let­ters is a pro­ject of the Bridges Art Move­ment to en­cour­age peo­ple to re-em­brace the art of putting pen to pa­per to ex­press our af­fec­tion.

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