My Life in Letters

by Sarah Luna

I enjoy reading biographies. I like getting an intimate look at a person I admire. I like seeing what they were really like. Much of what biographers know about their subjects comes from letters written to and by the subject. From these letters we can see the daily life of the subject as well as the tiny struggles that shaped their character.

Today I started a project that I had been putting off for five years: the organization of all my letters.

I have always loved writing and receiving letters. Today, it takes almost no effort to send off a quick email or text message. While this form of instant communication is valuable, it rarely requires the same depth as transcribing thoughts by hand into a letter. Simply writing my thoughts forces me to make sure that my thoughts are worth writing.

I have kept letters dating as far back as 1998. Over the past 13 years, I’ve received birthday cards, graduation cards, black belt testing cards, sticky notes, post cards, Christmas cards, Easter cards, thank you notes, newspapers, and letters of correspondence. I’ve kept them all. I have most of the original envelopes, too. I brought my collection with me to Texas A&M and now to Cornell.

I brought out my collection once again today in the hope of neatly classifying all of these words that were written to me. It is a daunting task. I’m not sure if I can be my own biographer. How do I organize this information? I have letters from pre-high school friends, college friends, family, and teachers. With particular friends, our correspondence was a true dialogue–it tells a story of how our friendship developed and endured. Other letters relate to events in my life.

A few weeks ago, my friend Drew transcribed every letter  I had sent to him (66,978 characters to be exact)and emailed them to me. It was enlightening and at times really funny to see how my writing (and thinking) style matured.

If I were going to tell my own story, how would I go about it?

I have a binder and fifty sheet protectors. I want to display the letters in a way that I can still read everything in them. What I’m struggling with is how to organize them. Chronologically? Categorically? Thematically? What happens if I treat my life like a work of fiction? Is my character developing? Where am I on Plot Mountain?

How would you tell your story?