Friday, February 11, 2011

Freewrite Friday: The Love Letter

Richard and Arline Feynman

Dear Friends,

I've been anxious to write to you all week.  If you don't mind, I'd like to begin by sharing a letter from the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman to his wife Arline:
October 17, 1946
I adore you, sweetheart ... It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you'll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing. But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and what I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you.
I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector.
Can't I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the "idea-woman" and general instigator of all our wild adventures. When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn't have worried.
Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want to stand there.
I'll bet that you are surprised that I don't even have a girlfriend after two years. But you can't help it, darling, nor can I — I don't understand it, for I have met many girls ... and I don't want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.
My darling wife, I do adore you. I love my wife. My wife is dead,
PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don't know your new address.

(Arline Feynman died of tuberculosis on June 16, 1945. The paper on which this letter was written is well worn, and it appears as though he reread it often.)
This letter--which floors me every single time I read it--can be found in the remarkable collection of Feynman's letters called Perfectly Reasonable Deviations from the Beaten Track.   

I should mention, too, that Feynman did eventually find happiness again.  He and his third wife, Gweneth, were married until his death in 1988. 

I have been wanting to do a Freewrite Friday exercise about letters, and with Valentine's Day coming on Monday, now seems the perfect time.  However, because I am who I am, I would never just suggest that you write a letter and leave it at that.  There always has to be a twist.  Feynman's beautiful letter should give you a hint of what's to come.  Read on if you're up for a challenge, mentally and emotionally:

The Love Letter  

I don't have a warm-up for this one.  Just try diving in.  Write by hand a letter to someone you love or once loved.  The only stipulation is that it must be to someone who will never read the letter.  They may have passed away, as in Feynman's case, or they may no longer be part of your life for other reasons--or they may be someone whom you know very well in your present life, but to whom you would never reveal your true feelings.  This doesn't have to be a romantic love letter.  It could be to a parent or other family member or a close friend.  It just needs to be someone with whom you long to speak.  Freewrite at first, then revise it and take some time to craft it.  You may want to start out in your writing notebook, but you could even handwrite a final version on a lovely piece of stationery that you can tuck into your notebook, or a special book, or in with letters and cards you have received from that person in the past.

If you don't do another exercise from this series, please try this one.  Let me know what happens.

With affection,

P.S. When I'm finished with my exercise, and while I still have the special stationery at hand, I might just write a Valentine's letter to my sweetheart!  :)

P.P.S. Oh, and I have a piece of writing to share with you.  The fabulous Relyn of Come Sit By My Fire fame has shared her Picture Exercise:

Jeffrey asked me why I loved this simple painting so much.  I said, "It whispers a hundred stories."  He said, "Tell me one."

She lives at the cliff's edge in a house miles from town.  It's just a small house.  Really not much more than a bunch of old boards hammered together.  It seems to hunch over in the cold light of dawn; a girl with a too-meager shawl.  Aside from the view, the only remarkable thing about this place she's called home for so long is the curtains.  Lace.  Beautiful lace.  Those curtains always remind her of Mr. Dicken's description of the female Cratchits "brave in ribbons."  Her house was brave in lace.

She was going to miss that lace.  And the view.  And the sound of the surf that is so much a part of her, she breathes in time to it.  How can she leave?

How can she stay?

It's 1928.  Her father is in jail for bootlegging.  Each night her mother coughs blood into a lace-edged handkerchief.  Her brother has taken over the family business and spends most of his time in the woods.  Or on the run.  The government men often come around, asking questions.  A young, good looking one tried flirting with her the other evening.  As though big brown eyes and a nice smile could make her forget herself.  Forget what she owes her family.  

... It was a nice smile, though.  A little dimple at one corner.  Never mind.

She has dreams.  Big dreams.  And no time to waste.  She knows this is the moment.  She knows that if she doesn't leave now, she never will.  If she doesn't leave now, that editor will give her job to someone else.  Her mama will grow weaker and she'll find more and more reasons to stay.  She'll end up breaking the only promise her mama ever asked her to make.  And so she must go.

She places her father's old fedora on her head.  No jaunty angle - she's too nervous for that.  But the old hat warms her and somehow lends a bit of courage.  Her mother is sleeping peacefully for once.  Better not to wake her.  A gentle kiss on the brow and the goodbyes are finished.  She closes the door quietly behind her.

Without looking back, she walks away.  

By Relyn Lawson


  1. i came here from relyn and i am happy to be introduced to freewrite fridays. what a fun idea. and this letter... WOW... i had tears in my eyes by the time i finished. i wrote a letter, a love letter last night. but it doesnt qualify for the prompt you have as it is for my sweetheart, and not someone i dont share my feelings with :)

  2. Oh! That letter! :( My heart shatters at the pain he was feeling. Yet I also find it incredibly hopeful because it is proof that such a deep and enduring love really can exist. :) Thank you so much for sharing this with us. :)

    As for Relyn's story, I read it on her blog this morning. She is SO VERY incredible. I am always looking forward to her next blog post. LOVED her take on the girl in the painting.

    You'll have to excuse me now, please. I do believe I have a letter to write.

  3. Gigi - I just stumbled upon your place, and I am thoroughly enjoying it. I love your writing exercise, and even more so, the letter from Feynman to his wife. I don't often see Feynman mentioned in women's blogs (maybe I'm not looking enough), but I adore that man. After reading the Pleasure of Finding Things Out, I wanted so much more. Glad you posted this here. ;)

  4. Gigi, I read this post early this morning when it first came up. I was so excited to see what you had for us. So, around midnight my time I finished my love letter. I must say, I think it's terrific. Now I am going to take a big breath and show it to Jeffrey. And make sure he's OK with me posting it on my blog. I am loving this, my friend. LOVING IT!

  5. Kamana: thanks for coming over! I think sweetheart letters are among the very best kinds of writing in the world.

    Kelli: I agree with you about Feynman's letter and about Relyn. She's a treasure.

    Jayne: I'm so glad you stumbled upon my blog! I don't meet many other women (or men, for that matter) who know who Feynman is, so it's a treat to hear from someone who's read one of his books. He was a remarkable person, so full of curiosity and a sense of adventure. Speaking of curiosity, I must come over at visit you at your blog, too!

    Relyn: Oh, I'm so excited that you wrote that letter! If one has to be sick, at least one can get some good writing done! :) Make sure you let me know when you post your letter so I can provide a link to it. Yay!

  6. Just loved the love letter...tears were in my eyes also...I will definitely be doing this exercise:)

  7. This is a challenge Gigi....but I love it! Oh the chance to say those things that we wish but don't have the right or the courage or the know how to do....Happy weekend...xv

  8. Oliag: I know what you mean. I've read this letter many times, and it always makes me cry. I'm so glad to hear that you'll be doing the exercise!

    Vicki: Yes, a real challenge for sure! Hope you have a wonderful weekend, too.

  9. I really loved this post and I also loved Relyn's writing piece at the end, what a good idea writing the back story of a picture.
    The love letter was moving, I am glad the ending was a happy one for him.
    I will try to find time to write a letter and maybe do the picture exercise as well, perhaps I can combine the two.

  10. I found you and this beautiful Love Story on face hand was over my heart as I read this......I can feel the PAIN and the cannot have one without the other....

    Heart Hugs,

  11. i am loving these exercises - beautiful post by relyn!

  12. I wrote just such a letter on the anniversary of my husband's passing Feb 22nd...


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