I remember that when I was a kid all of my notes (whether passed in the hall or mailed to pen pals far away) ended with the earnest request, “Write me back.” And the ones I received said the same. Somewhere along the way, we learned that this was part of kid-note etiquette.
I guess we had to make sure the recipient was well aware of the sacred pact that had been forced upon her or him—a letter received came with a requirement to write back.
Now, as a full-fledged grownup, my notes generally do not end with demands for the reader to write back (unless, of course, I’m writing my young nieces who expect that as a crucial component of a letter!). Even letters I write to people who have not responded to my last missives never contain admonitions.
I write people to let them know I’m thinking of them and to share a bit of what’s going on with me. While I love return letters, I do not send snail mail explicitly to get something back. And I certainly do not write letters to make my recipients feel guilt or shame or anger at the new mantle of responsibility I have placed upon their shoulders from which they can’t wrestle free until they respond!
But you would think that was the case.
After my birthday request for folks to write to me, I received an email from a friend who has actually written me numerous letters over the years. He promised he would write, at some point, but that I shouldn’t get too excited, because it would very likely be six months from now. He wanted to set the bar low so I wouldn’t get my hopes up. He may also have set this expectation to assuage his guilt about the time it might take to write—a guilt he took on himself.
He then sent me an email a month later saying, “I’m still going to write, but just not now.” This made me realize that he’s carrying around this burden of having to write me a letter, it’s another addition to his to-do list. I’ve inadvertently shouldered this man with another responsibility, a man who spends his “free time” chasing a toddler around and probably trying to cook dinner, pay attention to his wife and catch a few winks before having to head to work and then do it all over again.
That was not the reason for my birthday request! I swear!
I also received a birthday letter from a friend who is currently living in France. (She sent the only international addition to my birthday request pile!) She mentioned in her note that she used to be an avid letter writer, but she stopped because sending out letters that that rarely elicited responses made her feel lonely.
I can definitely understand the unfulfilled wish for a return letter creating a feeling of loneliness. But perhaps if she knew that her recipients far away were likely saddled with guilt for not having written back, she would take comfort. Both sides were actually thinking of each other!
Of course, in the best of all worlds, letters sent out are received with joy and returned in kind. Yesterday I received two (!) pieces of snail mail and I am looking forward to writing back. I just bought some new stationery I can use!
But I suppose that just reinforces this vicious circle. Or, because it generates snail mail, maybe it’s a virtuous circle.
To inspire you to approach letter writing with an open heart and without a feeling of dread or responsibility, I leave you with this video:
I know you’ve seen them–in restaurants, on the bus, walking through stores–young folks with their eyes glued to their smart phone screens, texting away. I sometimes worry that all that screen time will have adverse effects on their attention span, social skills, and ability to enjoy what is actually going on around them, in real life. Then I wonder if I’m just turning into a curmudgeon.
But I do know that despite the prevalence of texting, facebook, and email, the kids in my life love sending and receiving letters almost as much as I do! My neice Shawna–a sophomore in high school–just sent me a letter the other day. I had written her a note and she wrote back! In it, she mentioned that she missed writing letters as much as we used to (admittedly, as she has grown up and become a heavy user of instant forms of communication, letters have become more infrequent). Still, despite all the options for instant communication, she still relishes receiving handwritten letters in the mail.
There’s hope for snail mail yet!
Are there any kids in your life? Try mailing them a note and see what happens. You just may develop a new pen pal and it’s a great way to connect one-on-one with a child in your life.
It’s a gray, rainy day. But I was immesurably cheered up by two notes I received in the mail. One from an old college professor just sending a little update and another from my sister cheering me up and cheering me on after a recent bout of self pity. Yay! The healing powers of snail mail!
For my birthday this year, I made a request to friends and family to send me a letter or note via snail mail. I have already posted a picture of a day when personal snail mail rivaled junk mail and I’ve had quite a few other great snail mail days since my request. I’ve responded to almost everyone who sent a letter (Jason and Allison, your replies are on their way, soon!). Here’s a shot of a pile of outgoing snailmail I sent recently:
It was so much fun to have letters to reply to! To date, I’ve received thirty cards and letters.
Responding to them all really put a dent in my crazy stationery collection (you may note the Asian beauty military stationery or the Pankunchi stationery that seems to tell a story about three friends–a slice of bread, a loaf of bread and a panda–going on adventures. I’m not kidding!)
The snail mail I received ran the gamut from touching and sweet to laugh-out-loud funny. Some did both. My uncle, taking my request for a “letter or a note” literally, sent me the following:
He’s always been a comedian.
I’m hoping my snail mail experiment with friends and family isn’t over or just limited to a birthday request. Some have promised to send a letter at some point in the future (adhering to a birthday timeline was just too much!).
But snail mail is always appreciated when it arrives. It has no expiration date.
Helpful hints and interesting insights from our intrepid mail carriers here.
My favorite is number 7: Paychecks, personal cards, letters—anything that looks like good news—I put those on top. Utility and credit card bills? They go under everything else.
With all the letters I’ve gotten lately, I noticed my mail carrier put them on top. It’s so nice to see them first thing when I open the mailbox! It’s also nice to be shielded, even if momentarily, from the less pleasant pieces of snail mail. Thanks Mr. Mailman.
A glorious day! I wanted to share a photo of a good day’s results from my birthday request for personal letters. As you can see from the photo below (with addresses removed to protect the innocent who participated in my experiment), I got a piece of business mail that was actually pertinent to me (marked 1 in the photo), a piece of general mail that had useful information (2), five personal letters (3), and six pieces of junk mail (4). Useful mail WON my mailbox battle today! Take that junk mail!
I love finding handwritten letters in my mailbox. I know I’m not alone in this.
Given the prevalence of email, texting, phone communication, and online bill pay, though, it feels like my daily trip to fetch the mail makes me nothing more than a conduit from mailbox to recycling bin (do you hear me credit card companies? You’re wasting your paper and postage!). Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll find a movie or magazine to make the trip worth it.
I’ve decided I’m not going to give into this new reality easily. I am making it my life’s mission to help people reconnect with each other, and with themselves, through the handwritten word. I want to help save snail mail. I’m doing this because I know in my heart the following are true:
1. Letters forge a tangible, personal connection between two people. You both touch the same paper. You can open it like a gift, enjoy it over and over again, and hold on to it as a memento.
2. Writing and reading letters are great ways to unplug from our increasingly wired world.
3. You can share thoughts, feelings, and memories in letters that some would hesitate to do so via email or phone. A love letter spoken over the phone could sound hokey or trite, but written on nice paper in your best script can bring your lover to tears.
With these thoughts in mind, I made a birthday request this year—sent via email!—for friends and family to send me a handwritten note:
Dear friends and family,
As I walked to my mailbox today, I wondered–as I always do–if there would be any “fun” mail inside. Alas, nothing but Netflix movies and requests for me to purchase more magazines.
I realized that what I wanted most for my birthday was handwritten letters from friends and family, near and far. Will you please write me a letter, seal it in an envelope, buy a stamp and drop it in the mail? The letters can be short or long, funny or sad, in cursive or print, on gorgeous paper or on a napkin. Share what you’ve been doing, what you hope for the coming year, your biggest fear or regret, a story about your best memory, your thoughts about me, or German philosophy, or knitting, your kids, your pets, or crunchy vs. creamy peanut butter. As long as you share something of you with me, in your own handwriting, I’ll be happy.
Some of you will groan at this request, a few will happily take this on. I just wanted to let everyone know what I really wanted for my birthday…a bit more happiness in my mailbox.
I promise to return your kindness with a heartfelt, handwritten note of my own! I won’t expect that this will strike up a letter revolution right away, or expect you to write back again, but I hope it helps some of you rediscover the joy of sending and receiving letters.
Love and stuff,
Future posts will be devoted to the response I get to this little experiment, other mail-generating activities, and progress on my quest to help people reconnect with others, and themselves, through the power of the handwritten word.