Reclaiming the Lost Art of Letter Writing
These days, anyone can speed-type a text and push send. But not just anyone sits down and handwrites a letter anymore.
In our instantaneously digital, fast-paced world, I’m feeling more disconnected than ever, partly because I can’t remember the last time I stopped long enough to have a lengthy and non-hurried phone conversation with my dear friend, JR Rapier – a talented artist and painter whom I’ve called my BFF since the age of six.
Truth told, I feel caught in a dizzying conundrum of managing kids, family, writing, blogging, tweeting and facebooking that has left me with a rise in my anxiety quotient - and a burning sense of urgency. Not only from the fear of losing myself, but of losing that delicate and precious connection to the people I love.
In the last six months, I’ve lost three uncles, who at times, I failed to call or write as much as I believe I should have. You see, none of them had email or Facebook accounts or had learned how to text. So at times, reaching out to them took more effort than I often had time for, or at least more effort than grabbing my iPhone and tapping out a few lines of impersonal banter.
It seems that in my life, text and email has virtually wiped out all former ways I used to communicate. Although I still take the time to hand-write thank you notes, text and email – along with social media – are by far the chief means in which I communicate with those around me. I won’t deny or argue that technology has helped make communication and doing business easier and faster. In fact, for authors like me, social media is a godsend, allowing us to spread the word about our books in an almost viral manner. But what, may I ask, are we sacrificing in return? Is it the time it takes to cultivate meaningful relationships? Or analyzing it one step further, is it also the physical connection of placing pen to paper? That sensation of gripping a writing instrument with your fingers and feeling the friction as it glides across the page? In other words, is our way of digital communication desensitizing our lives, both physically and emotionally?
Signs of Our Times
Case in point. In general, schools are starting to place less emphasis on cursive and handwriting skills, with some even doing away with teaching cursive altogether. That’s in vast contrast to a generation ago, when flowing script was the mainstay of both grammar schools and the professional world.
But researchers say handwriting helps children develop in other areas, such as reading, writing, memory and critical thinking. So where does that leave letter writing? And where does that leave our kids with the ability to pick up a pencil and write legibly across a page?
The other morning as I was handwriting my morning pages (that’s right, Artist’s Way author Julia Cameron REQUIRES that you write your pages in longhand), I remembered how JR and I used to write letters back and forth to each other when we were kids. I’d usually get a few from her during her summer vacations with her family, which always took her away for a couple weeks at a time to either the Grand Canyon, Colorado or some other National Park. In these letters, she would detail to me everything she saw and experienced during those travels, making me feel at times as if I was right there with her. Finding a letter in the mailbox from her would always send me bounding to my room to tear it open and flop belly first onto my bed. And just as quickly as I would read it, I would write a reply, mostly on stationary adorned with kitties or other cutesy images and colors. I always loved a trip to the Hallmark store where I’d get to pick out stationary – my very own letter-writing paper and envelopes that would reflect my interests and personality. JR would always do the same, sending me letters on her latest stationary of her choosing and creation.
I still have those letters in my attic and plan to dig them out for a good walk down memory lane. In the meantime, I’ve decided to ask JR to be my pen pal again. I even went out and selected some stationary that reminds me of Paris – and a fancy set of pens to go along with it. For me, letter writing is as much for cultivating my friendship with JR as it is a creative exercise for myself. It not only will help us focus on our friendship outside of the chaotic lives as mothers and artists, but it also is a way to get back in touch with myself outside the dizzying digital age where I sometimes feel drowned. Although I can’t change where technology is taking us, and honestly, I’m not sure if I even would if given the chance, what I can do is change how it affects my life. We all have the power to set boundaries, and perhaps it’s time to set a boundary or two for how far we allow the digital age to invade our space.
It turns out I’m not the only one thinking about letter writing again. In researching this post, I found several resources focusing on this very thing. In fact, there’s a entire book dedicated to the personal a letter, which according to The Hand. Written. Letter. Project., “is currently drowning in a tide of depersonalization, with junk mail and automated correspondence.”
So what’s your thoughts on the fate of the handwritten letter? When was the last time you took time to write one? Do you sometimes feel disconnected and overwhelmed as I do in our digital world? Would you ever consider becoming a pen pal with an old friend? If so, who would it be?