As far back as I could remember, I’ve had a fascination with the mail. I loved getting letters and looking through catalogs. Even when I was too young to get anything addressed to me, I’d eagerly sift through the daily delivery. I don’t know what it is I found so exciting about getting mail. I think, on some level, mail represented everything that was out there and a whole world of who knows what kind of adventures. There was no Internet or texting when I was growing up so any big event and news always came through the mail or the phone. I even got a kick out of advertisement fliers! And then the day came I discovered catalogs. Oh, I was in heaven.
One of my earliest catalog memories is lying on my stomach on the living room floor, propped up on my elbows with my knees bent, and my feet kicking each other in rhythmic slaps as I leisurely flipped through the Sears catalog, imaginary window shopping on the things I would buy for my house when I grew up. Nothing could beat that catalog except maybe the Christmas edition.
Sears catalogs eventually gave way to Speigel and Fingerhut. To this day, I look forward to going to the mailbox. My husband kids me saying he’s never seen anyone so excited to get bills. Trust me, I’m not, but I get excited about what’s in between the bills—or what used to be. These days it’s all advertisements. No one writes letters anymore. Do pen pals even exist? When I was in grammar school, I was a pen pal with a girl named Irina who lived in Europe and we exchanged letters for many years, eventually meeting on a trip she took to the United States. Eventually we lost touch but it was fun while it lasted.
I can’t remember the last time I got a letter—a personal letter. Even cards such as birthday cards have been relegated to e-cards or just posts on FB with birthday cake emoticons and texts highlighted with party hat icons. I think the only two kinds of correspondence that still prevail through our mail system are wedding invitations and sympathy cards, but neither of them have completely escaped the keyboard either. I think weddings and death are too sacred to completely go the way of electronic communication.
With cursive soon to be a lost form of writing, I find it sad to think that translates into a decline of letter writing as communication. I recently came across a packet of autographs and letters I received from authors whom I’d written letters to, telling them how much I enjoyed reading their latest book and it reminded me of how fun it was to receive a letter that was sometimes nothing more than just “Hi, how are you? What’s new? Good to hear from you.”
I see stationary sets still being sold in bookstores and card shops but how many people really buy them anymore? I’m always tempted to buy a set just because it’s been so long since I had any kind of official stationary, but somehow I never get around to it.
As much as I love getting letters and things in the mail, I’m just as guilty by not sending out as much as I would like either. Yes, it’s definitely easier to send a text rather than going out to buy a card and then “damn, I thought I had a stamp,” so out again to the post office, and then finally getting ready to mail that card (which by now is a few days late), you stand there in front of the mailbox thinking how late it is and wondering if you should forget this card and go buy another one that says happy belated, or sorry I missed…. and start over. At least you have that stamp now.
Letter writing is fast becoming a lost art and finding those handwritten notes from some of my favorite authors reminded me of something I don’t want to forget or to lose to time or to the Internet.
Putting pen to paper is cathartic and studies have confirmed it. I hope today’s focus on the lost art of mail and letter writing might inspire you to pick up a pen and even a notebook paper and go write a letter. There’s someone out there who would love to hear from you.
Thanks for this post. It brought to mind a couple of posts I wrote two years ago, and also this quote from our erstwhile coworker at Pearson, Camille Trentacoste: “The study of handwriting and letterforms is part of the study of language. For some learning styles, writing words by hand is one of the most helpful reinforcements of learning available. Fast copy typists transcribe character for character without letting meaning slow them down, but when you write thoughtfully by hand, you spend time living inside each character, word, and sentence. Besides making a pretty thank-you note, careful calligraphy is a unique way of interacting with a text.” Best wishes.
Hello there! It’s so nice to see you here and hear from you. I love this. Thank you for sharing what Camille wrote. It truly does capture the beauty of putting pen to paper and I never thought of writing and most especially calligraphy as living within the character, words, and sentences, but it is isn’t it? This has inspired me even more. Thank you Patrick (and Camille). Best….