Poet Willie Perdomo on the value of writing letters in a digital world


JUDY WOODRUFF: Texting and e-mailing technology
have revolutionized the way we communicate. It has permitted us to be more efficient,
to stay in touch easier, and has likely changed the dynamics of some of our most important
relationships. But within that revolution, have we also lost
something? Tonight, poet Willie Perdomo urges us to take
up pen and paper because, in his Humble Opinion, a letter expresses more than just words. WILLIE PERDOMO, Author, “The Crazy Bunch”:
These days, humans are growing lonelier by the gigabyte. Hookup and social apps connect us before we
actually meet. Bullies thrive anonymously. Google completes our sentences. It takes only three emojis to say, let’s have
a martini and dance. It’s going to be lit. Words have lost their intent, their impact. The role of writing letters has become an
almost extinct practice in our daily lives. The envelope in the mail is just a bill. I used to be a passionate letter writer. I wrote my letters by hand, so my friends
were able to see my redactions and second thoughts. They were privy to my flaws, celebrations,
and conflicts. One friend told me she carried one of my letters
from East Harlem to Paris like a charm. I wanted my letters to be a familiar voice
in a new city, a blues song replayed in a strange village. On occasion, I sent and received letters from
friends in prison. They liked to call letters kites. For them, ink and blank pages were at a high
premium. Their letters were usually full of promises,
epiphanies, and requests for poetry. I would return their kites with shout-outs
from the city. Here, I would say, fly the kite for a day,
if not your full sentence. Letters are where we argue, say goodbye, dream,
fail, forgive, and tell our secrets, and send regrets. We can’t filter our lives or curate our feeds
in letters. Letters are where we attempt to tell the truth
and wait. People tend to believe handwritten letters,
or, as one friend suggested, you can’t hide from a letter so easily. Recently, my wife wrote me from her childhood
home in Puerto Rico. She could’ve easily sent emojis of sunshine
and palm trees or a squared photo of her doing a mountain pose on a local beach. But, instead, she cried post-Hurricane Maria
tears in her letter. She left splotches of coffee stains and smudges
of ink on the margins. I believed her. Some of us still write letters. It’s our resistance against loneliness, where
we witness. Write a letter to someone you love, and if
you can’t write, have someone write it for you. Surprise a friend, a classmate, a coach, a
beloved, a mentor. Tell them a story. Let them know you’re paying attention. Letter writing is a pure act of devotion,
a place where, if not storytellers, we all become human again. JUDY WOODRUFF: Great advice. Pick up a pen and paper.

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