Alright, so here's the thing. This is the first love letter I've ever tried to write. As such, its probably going to be awkward. Now, I could spend a bunch of time writing through drafts, but the truth is, Meagan is moving through post-its pretty quickly, and I don't now remember how early this URL post-it showed up in the stack. So, instead I'm going to go the more distinctly Marshall route and just lean into the awkwardness of a first attempt at letter writing. How? Well, anything in black is the actual letter. Anything in red is my own asides; commentary, if you will, on the letter. These asides will present, hopefully in a humorous way, the inner deliberations that characterized the writing process.
Dear Hannah, Is dear the right opening here? Maybe I should do something that adds in some Victorian affectation as an inside joke? Like, 'My Dearest Hannah,' Nah, lets save the Victorian affectation jokes for a later letter. We will just go with a standard opening this time around.
Fine, writing a URL might sort of be cheating. I was trying to write short messages that I could fit on post-its, and this is certainly not a post-it length letter. But hey, I set the rules for myself, and so I get to break the rules when I want.
But this does create a problem. There was actually a good reason for the post-it rule. Restrictions prompt artistry. When one is limited to a small canvas it helps focus the communicative act. (I presume this is why twitter has become so popular.) Limitation forces brevity, and brevity enables art. Chesterton, of course, says it best: "Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. . . . If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. . . . The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the THING he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless."
Hmm, but now that I look again at that Chesterton quote, it won't do at all for this letter. Why? Well two reasons. First, its too short to be a block quote, and I have a deep and unreasonable love of block quotes. Hannah and I have discussed my love of block quotes, so including a block quote early on would also be a subtle sort of inside joke, or at least it would be if I represented via some sort of external annotation that that was how it was intended. Second, and more importantly, its not at all clear why that random digression on the philosophy of art has any place as the opening to a love letter. How in the world am I supposed to transition to other things?
Well, there is only one thing for it, we are going to have to quote Chesterton at length. From the third chapter of Orthodoxy then:
All the will-worshippers, from Nietzsche to Mr. Davidson, are really quite empty of volition. They cannot will, they can hardly wish. And if any one wants a proof of this, it can be found quite easily. It can be found in this fact: that they always talk of will as something that expands and breaks out. But it is quite the opposite. Every act of will is an act of self-limitation. To desire action is to desire limitation. In that sense every act is an act of self-sacrifice. When you choose anything, you reject everything else. That objection, which men of this school used to make to the act of marriage, is really an objection to every act. Every act is an irrevocable selection and exclusion. Just as when you marry one woman you give up all the others, so when you take one course of action you give up all the other courses. If you become King of England, you give up the post of Beadle in Brompton. If you go to Rome, you sacrifice a rich suggestive life in Wimbledon. It is the existence of this negative or limiting side of will that makes most of the talk of the anarchic will-worshippers little better than nonsense. For instance, Mr. John Davidson tells us to have nothing to do with "Thou shalt not"; but it is surely obvious that "Thou shalt not" is only one of the necessary corollaries of "I will." "I will go to the Lord Mayor's Show, and thou shalt not stop me." Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffe with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature. You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called "The Loves of the Triangles"; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which is in some ways the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the THING he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless.
Yep, this will work much better. Why the passage even mentions the subject of marriage!
So if Chesterton is right, then there is a freedom made possible by limitations and restrictions. Though of course, they need to be the right restrictions; a fish is free so long as its swimming, but not where it somehow restricted to dry land. The right restrictions open up space for beauty and uplift human personality, the wrong restrictions destroy what is beautiful and degrade human personality.
Why bring this up in a love letter? Well because, in a sense, to love someone is just to see them as a good and proper limit and restriction on your life. Probably getting a little too philosophically abstract for a love letter, time to make a transition to the interpersonal. What I want is to marry you; put another way, what I want is for you to be a limiting factor on my life. I want to limit where I live to places where you live as well. I want limit how I think to thoughts we can discuss and share. I want to limit who I become to someone you can respect and love. Putting the point more generally, I want to limit my life to a life spent with you.
Wait, Marshall, stop for a second. Did you really just write three paragraphs in which you develop an extended explanation of how awesome Hannah is by metaphorically comparing her to a rule? Sure, metaphor in a love letters is a classic, but most of those metaphors are to things like sunsets, flowers, the ocean, the night sky etc. Sure, YOU might love rules with a deep and abiding passion, but that's also super weird, and are we really sure Hannah will appreciate being compared to a rule? There may well be good reason Shakespeare did not write:
Shall I compare thee to the sixth commandment?
Thou art more binding and more bridle.
Never has a commandment been patient,
Nor can it evoke joy by just a smile.
Ok actually wait, that's pretty good, especially with the double meaning on bridle. Alright, lets just go with it. Hannah knows you love rules, and also likes rules, so will probably appreciate what we are going for here.
And I want to so limit my life because, in limiting my life around you, i'll have found one of those good and proper limits. One of those limits that creates, rather than destroys, good and beautiful possibility. Why do I think so? Because you are both good and beautiful. Hmm, good and beautiful are already two of the three transcendentals. I wonder if there is a way to tie truth in there as well, and then we can go super neo-Platonist in this letter. Ehh, I don't see a good way to tie in truth. We will save the neo-platonism for later.
I have loved getting to know you, as I have loved coming to love you. And those are tied together because I have gotten to know you as someone very much worth loving. This is specially apparent in those large facts about how you live your life. I love how intentional you are about your relationships with others, and I deeply admire both your compassion, thoughtfulness, and intellectual honesty. But your loveliness is not just revealed in those large facts. While we were driving to the airport at the end of my trip, you shared several small things you appreciated about me. I began to reciprocate, but then stopped myself. I wanted to give myself time to think over the trip and really decide what it was that stood out, not in the moment, but upon reflection.
Ok, so now this is tricky. There are too many things that come to mind, so how am I supposed to focus down to something that fits reasonably within the context of a letter? Its that sort of problem that Chesterton identifies. "And the more converging reasons [a man] finds pointing to this conviction, the more bewildered he is if asked suddenly to sum them up. Thus, if one asked an ordinary intelligent man, on the spur of the moment, 'Why do you prefer civilization to savagery?' he would look wildly round at object after object, and would only be able to answer vaguely, 'Why, there is that bookcase . . . and the coals in the coal-scuttle . . . and pianos . . . and policemen.' The whole case for civilization is that the case for it is complex. It has done so many things. But that very multiplicity of proof which ought to make reply overwhelming makes reply impossible."
Ok, so I need to find some natural way to focus down from the list of all possible small things which incline me to love Hannah, to some subset which provides direction for the list. Well, it will be easy enough to restrict the reflections to stuff related to the trip. But still, there are so many different ways to go. Hmm...
Well, its now past time I reciprocated. So what were some of the small things I loved about you? First, I loved how happily you embraced hiccups while we were out and about. You were not fazed when repeated sushi plans fell through, nor when Torrey Pines was closed. Was tide far higher than anticipated? Great! It gave us an excuse to get soaked. Its a small thing, but it stood out because life just always goes better when your with someone good at adapting to changing situations. I should know, because I'm just not good at it. I get easily and irrationally overwhelmed when things don't go as planned; and so when I'm on my own, or with others like me, life is just worse. Its a small thing, but its also the sort of small thing that I know would have an out sized positive impact on my life.
Second, I loved the way you laugh, and in particular, the way that you would lace levity through what we did. Too many L's in this sentence? No, I think its just right. Kissing you was amazing, and at least part of that was because your first instinct was to laugh, rather than grimace or groan, when things would go wrong. Should I include other examples here? There were some great moments while dancing, but they are hard to pick out. Nah, i'll bring dancing in at the end of this section. There is a line in the Great Divorce that I've always liked, but never really understood: "For one moment he did not at all misunderstand her laughter: he too must once have known that no people find each other more absurd than lovers." I like the idea of a couple that can laugh at themselves, but why the connection between lovers and laughter that Lewis here draws?
I'm not sure I see it yet, but I think it might be something like this. Laughter is often best when it is laughter at oneself. Why? Well first it is freed from any fear of misinterpretation. There is a freedom in laughing at yourself, because you can do so without worry that the other person will misunderstand or be upset. Further, there is a transparency to laughing at oneself. You know yourself and so you realize just how ridiculous you really are. You can peel away all the accretions of plausible excuses and see the unvarnished absurdity of the human soul.
But there is a problem with laughing at oneself, its a laughter that is always, in a sense, alone. A friend might also laugh at me. But of course there it is different. They are laughing at another, I am laughing at myself. They can join me in laughter, and even join me in the object of laughter, but they cannot quite join me in the laughter's mode. So laughter at oneself is best, but it also leaves one laughing alone.
And that, I think, is what I find so wonderful about laughing with you and about us. It's that it has all the honesty and freedom of self-laughter, but is also a laughter that can be shared in it's entirety. Too abstract again Marshall, you need an interpersonal anecdote. But do I look forward, and talk about how I'm looking forward to future awkwardness, maybe with implicit or explicit allusions to future sex, or do I look backward and take an example from the trip... Eh, since the trip is the theme of this letter lets go with the backward looking one, and I'll save some jokes about future sex for later letters. And so I'm actually glad we are both such awkward dancers. Because I'd rather laugh well than dance well, even while I am excited to both laugh and dance with you. No people find each other more absurd than lovers; why? Because there is no other absurdity quite so satisfying to the soul. It was not something I expected to find in a relationship, nor was it something I had picked up on when we were just video chatting and talking on the phone. But having spent time with you in person I can honestly say I love how you laugh and love to laugh with you.
Third, I love that I like sitting in silence when sitting with you. Should I expand on this? I kind of like the idea of not, leaving the rest unsaid. It would thereby evoke the sense of silence. Of course, that would only work if I then DIDN'T immediately follow up the paragraph with self-referencing annotation about whether I should end the comment in silence. Oh well...
Ok, I actually have no idea how to transition to the end of the letter here. So I mention three small things I loved about you during our trip. That was following how much I've liked coming to know and love you. And that was following the philosophical digression in which I articulated the sense in which you are like a good rule. And that was following the dangers of long letters. I could transition out with some comment about how this letter is already getting long, but blah what a boring transition. And it only weakly evokes prior themes. I could just extrapolate out from these small things and tie them into a bigger picture of what I like about you. But I worry that is going to mess with the focus of this letter on reciprocating those small things you mentioned in the car. Ah, wait... hmm, I could transition out the way I came in to this section. I transitioned from saying I've loved coming to know and love you. Now, both 'loving' and 'knowing' someone are sometimes used as euphemisms for sex. So there is a way to get an almost poetic transition from looking backward with joy at having come to know and love you, to looking forward with anticipation at coming to know and love you in that different way. The problem is, it feels super weird being forward about physical things. Like I still find it tough to complement you on your appearance, just because I DON'T complement people on appearances.... I'll send you a text and see how you feel about more physically forward stuff. And then return to write this transition.
Ok, so you seem on board with more physically forward commentary. Let's try it.
As I look backward with fondness about coming to know and love you; I can't help but also look forward with anticipation at coming to know and love you in another sense. I am incredibly excited at the thought of being able to know you physically, and in general to grow in intimacy with you. Indeed, I'll have you know (ordinary sense), excitement at the idea of having sex with you has been kind of distracting at multiple points while trying to write this letter. (So you can just blame any uncaught typos on that.) Too informal? Nah, better to be safe and add in a joke (even if its kind of a weak joke) here. For Aquinas, to love another is to both see the beloved's good as your own, and to desire union with the beloved. And when I say things like wanting you to be the rule that sets limits on my life, what I mean to be expressing is, I think, a desire for just this sort of unity. That we might be united into one family, united in purpose, united inextricably into one another's lives, and yes, united physically. That just as we form one family, that we might also form one flesh.
And so, summing up this letter let me just say: