Long Live the Art of Letter Writing

Growing up in a small-town in Vermont, I was always well acquainted with our local postman. My parents gave him lottery tickets every year around the holidays, and he was responsible for delivering all sorts of news to our big family. Sometimes, I’d run out to the mailbox after school to find just catalogues and bills, and other days (very occasionally) I’d find a hand-written letter from Grammy, or a birthday invitation from a friend. Do you remember having that feeling of excitement when you opened the mailbox to receive something personalized, just for you? That feeling is why I used to – and still do – rush to the mailbox.   

When is the last time you wrote a letter to someone dear to you? Or perhaps to someone you didn’t even know so well? The art of letter writing seems to have gotten lost among the ubiquitous electronic venues of communication on which we tend to so depend. Our attachment to devices, the notifications that go along with them, and our resulting short attention span do not exactly enable original practices such as letter writing. It’s true; it is not easy to sit down and write “snail mail,” given that there are faster, more efficient ways to communicate these days. (Even when I write a letter, I often have to Facebook message or email the person to whom I am writing to ask for an address.) In this culture of efficiency, though, carving out the time to write to someone is just as much a small personal victory in taking a productive pause as it is a fabulous practice in mindfulness. For this, I will always feel strongly that "snail mail” is beautiful and personal (for me and for others!) in a way that other forms of communication are not.   

That said, as part of the generation of “millennials,” I feel fortunate that I was required to learn cursive script as a young student. I rarely use it, but can at least read it and appreciate its complexity when I receive a dainty, flowing handwritten note from my grandmother. One’s handwriting is unique – a personal trademark that nobody else can replicate exactly. A handwritten note is generally uncensored, or one can see most edits made, unlike a typewritten message or email. This can be exposing and at the same time, humbling. Let’s face it, we all had trouble with the “i before e” rule before autocorrect or spellcheck, right? For me, the handwritten letter is also a rarely seized opportunity to embark on a monologue of sorts, a simple stream of consciousness as my pen scrolls across the page uninterrupted by another voice or message.

Currently residing in Nice, France, I find myself both physically and temporally distanced from friends and family. And, this opportunity to embrace distance has only grown my love for the precious art of snail mail. Throughout the years, I have exchanged written notes with all sorts of correspondents, and no matter how well we know one another, we connect in a special way that starts intentionally with pen and paper. I have sent postcards from Madagascar and Corsica to former employers and cousins, exchanged notes throughout college with a sweet lady from my church, continue a goofy back-and-forth with my childhood best friend, swap stamps and stationary with a fellow self-proclaimed letter-lover, and even correspond with a curious young girl whom I've never met but whose floating message in a bottle warmed my heart 8 years ago. So, why do I continue to write and to lick the often-bitter adhesive of an envelope? I believe in the art of snail mail because with each letter I send, I share a little part of my heart with the person on the other end gathering up more credit card preapprovals and impersonal publicities and...AH! They're reminded that they are responsible for motivating my pen.