Friday, May 29, 2015

Writing Letters - Not an art lost to everyone

Dear Friends,

Here's a bit of that garland
Most of you know I love writing letters. I've been writing handwritten letters pretty regularly since I was a teenager, when many of my closest friends lived far away. Through college I got through the long summer months and Christmas vacations by writing to my college friends, and then in grad school I got so many letters that my coworkers working in the office would tease me about it. Particularly the letters I'd get from Owen. He and I wrote dozens and dozens of paper, posted letters (well over a hundred, I'd say), some of them a decade before we started dating. When we got married we clothes-pinned them into a sort of garland to use as a celebration of our love so far, and also a bit of joy that we'd be having the same address soon.

It's pretty clear that writing letters is important to me. Why do I love letters so much? Why do I like slow, paper letters in an age of texting? Here are some reasons why I think notes and letters are still worth writing.
From one of Van Gogh's letters
  • Letters show another person that you value them. There's a bit of effort involved in writing a letter, and it's even more noticeable now because there are so many more efficient ways of communicating. Putting in that effort is a great way to let someone they mean a lot to you. I've been very moved reading some of the letters Vincent Van Gogh wrote to his brother, Theo. They were faithful correspondents for many years and exchanged hundreds of letters, full of encouragement and steadfast friendship.
Vermeer gets the importance of letters
  • Letters emphasize the importance of thoughtful communication. There are a lot of ways to show a friend or a significant other that you care about them, (giving gifts, spending time, going on adventures) but writing a letter puts a special emphasis on communication. If you write a letter to someone, you're saying you were thinking about them, and that you trust them with your thoughts. To me, this seems pretty special.
  • Letters allow enormous room for creativity and beauty. Most digital means of communication leave little room for creative expression outside of the composition of the message. In letters it's very easy to mix written text with pictures or stickers or crazy paper, or include a bag or tea or an origami piece or drawings or whatever else.
  • Letters acknowledge distance, but fight against its pain. Sometimes when I'm flying a long distance I get a little disoriented by how fast I'm moving. It doesn't seem like it should be possible to scoot over a whole country in such short time, and it makes it feel like the distance is somehow artificial. Like it doesn't exist or something. If I'm driving or taking a train I feel like the distance matters. Emails and letters have a similar dichotomy in my mind. Like riding a train, Letters take a fair amount of time to get somewhere. With email it doesn't matter if you're across the room or around the globe. It's like you're pretending that distance doesn't exist. The message travels through "cyberspace" but letters? I hold them in my hand, write with my hand, put them in a box and it takes effort for them to go via cars and boats and trains and finally a walking post worker putting the envelopes in the mailboxes, and then into the hands of people I love. Sure it's a long way, but this letter can make it.
  • Letters make people happy. Because letters are so special, they can make people really happy! It's happen when you get a letter, and if it's a good letter, it can make you happy again and again as you read it later in life. Here's some examples of incredible letters from The Smithsonian Archives.
If you're interested in doing this, here are some suggestions to help you over some initial hesitations.
Letters we've received in the Netherlands

  • Don't know who to write to? Write to your mom. Or another family member. Write to a kid you know. Or if you want you can even write to me. I'm slow sometimes, but I'll write back. :)
  • Don't know what to write about? Write about whatever you like talking about with the person you're writing to. Or write things you wish you said. Say thank you for stuff. Tell "remember when?" stories. Tell them what you're thinking or feeling or what's getting you excited lately.
  • Don't like your handwriting? It's okay! It's probably better than you think it is, but it's also not required for you to hand write the letters. Printing out a typed letter is also great. If you want to improve your handwriting, there's no better way than practicing.
  • Don't know what to use as stationary? You can buy stationary, but my favorite sort of letters come written on paperstuff from my friends' lives. Scribbled in the margins of a concert program or on the back of a pamphlet for a school fair. One of my friends once bought an old book of nature photography and cut it up into envelopes. I also love letters written on regular old paper. Notebook paper, computer paper, paper scribbled on by two year olds? Everything's good. 

So that's my plug for letter writing. I'm not trying to turn you all into letter writing fanatics, but I think it's a special thing and something that doesn't need to disappear. It takes a little time and effort, but to my mind, it's worth it.

With love,

1 comment:

  1. I need to stop getting re-organized long enough to send you a big Thank You letter. You two are the best! Thanks for a great time. With much love, Mom


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