From the Basement

June 3, 2010

The Lost Art of Letter Writing

I finished up my graduation thank you cards tonight. There’s a certain pleasure in finishing a handwritten note to someone, in addressing an enveloped and sealing it – even the taste of licking the envelope is distinctive. It’s something I don’t taste very often, mostly because I don’t send cards or letters through the mail very often … usually, I hardly send any at all.

Were it not for years of being trained to write thank you cards (and for a boyfriend who is an old romantic in that he writes me letters when we’re apart), I would not be doing my part to keep the US Postal Service in business. And it’s a shame, really. Letter writing, thank you cards – these are lost arts that are not often practiced, especially by members of my generation. We grew up with computers in our schools; I had my first email account (hotmail!) in fifth grade. Everything’s electronic: we call, we Skype, we text, we email – when do we take the time to sit down with a pen in our hands, a piece of paper (or even – gasp! – stationary!) in front of us, and actually write?

There is power in the thoughts written down by hand. There’s a certain mindless quality to typing, and there can certainly be a mindless quality to writing, but more often than not, a pen forces me to really think – to question, to reflect, to be honest. And there’s such joy in receiving a written letter! I most recently received a handwritten card from a friend on the eve of my graduation, and it was such a beautiful letter. When someone takes the time to buy a card, sit down, and write their thoughts out …

Perhaps I think it means so much because nowadays it’s practiced so little. My everyday approach to email (even blogging) is probably what 19th century ladies thought of leaving calling cards, of writing letters.

But times change, and the old goes through a stage where it becomes unfashionable, but then something happens. It comes back and revisits the present, curiously shinier than it was before, intriguing in its antiquity, waiting to be embraced by the current generation. Just look at bell-bottoms.

I’m waiting for that to happen with letter writing. Perhaps it’s wishful thinking, given the ever increasing pace of our culture. After all, who wants to wait two or three days to receive news when an email can be there in ten seconds?

And yet –

There’s something about handwritten notes that forces us to slow down, in a good way. Maybe that’s the angle that will recall our generation back to this lost art.

Or maybe I’m just being an idealistic English nerd who desperately wants to write an contemporary story told in epistles. Who knows.

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2 Comments »

  1. Nah, letter writing is not just for English majors!! Jamie & I write letters too 🙂

    Comment by Kirsten — June 3, 2010 @ 2:40 am | Reply

  2. I LOVE getting handwritten letters and cards–there’s something that seems just so much more personal about them. At Christmas time, I blow most of my budget on sending cards to people. I’m glad you see the beauty in it, too!

    Comment by Chrystal — June 3, 2010 @ 4:08 pm | Reply


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