Monday, January 30, 2012

For the love of letters.

Those of you who know me, or who have been following the random comments that make up my Penny Drops, will know I am a sucker for snail mail. I love the postman, anticipate the parcel lady’s arrival and drool over note-cards and paper sets in my favourite store. I’ve even found a blog/store called the Letter Writers’ Alliance and am wondering if Australia Post would be able to handle their Pigeon Post option. I love it!

But seriously, letter writing – that ancient art of pen and paper in a literal envelope, decorated by a stamp and carried by a number of vehicles over a period of days or weeks to its destination – is the very essence of what it means to write. Writers write to be read; one person to another. And this is exactly what letter writing is: raw, relationship driven communication.
Some people may draft their letters to friends. I don’t. And here is an interesting fact I learned recently: a letter’s copyright belongs not to the writer but the recipient. This highlights the trust implicit in letter writing, a trust not so present in the world of social media.
Despite the many relational opportunities offered by email, facebook, twitter or texting, there is something about the act of writing by hand that makes a letter more of a gift than plain communication. Perhaps it is the slowness of it for those accustomed to high speed typing, or the thoughtful recipient driven approach to word formation. When I write a letter, the person I am writing to is in my thoughts from the moment I write (okay, scrawl) Dear... to the time I drop the letter in the post box and count the days till the letter may be received. Perhaps I approach the process slightly religiously, but this is the luxury of friendship at snail mail pace.
And it’s this same thought and time that allows the letter to be a powerful tool for approaching politicians. Emails just don’t carry the weight that a physical letter does. One initiative our family has been involved with is the Micah Challenge Offering of Letters. It is a beautiful thing to read the letters written by my children asking their nation's leaders to make decisions considering the poor.
Historically speaking, the letter has always been used to carry important messages. The majority of the Bible’s New Testament was written as a letter. Its personal form is perfectly suited to carrying the enormous, life changing news about Jesus as seen and experienced in the writers’ lives. I’ll admit my letters are not divinely inspired as those in the Bible are, but they do give me the opportunity to share my faith and encourage those I love.
Letter writing also reminds me (as one who considers herself a writer by vocation) that I don’t just write for myself, for publication, for approval, for blog comments or facebook likes. I can and will put pen to paper just for one person.
And, if I ever needed more justification than that, I’ve always got a Jane Austen quote to back me up: “A person who can write a long letter with ease, cannot write ill” (Jane Austen via Miss Bingley in pride and Prejudice. )
So, fellow writers, share a story about a letter that meant a lot to you. But here’s the catch; you are not allowed to comment until you write a piece of snail mail first. Happy letter writing!



Penny Reeve is a children’s author currently living with her family in Western Sydney. This week she hopes to weed the front garden, read something other than the big truck book to her toddler and write a decent letter to an overseas friend!

18 comments:

  1. I do agree that there's something more significant to a hard-copy letter. The last one I wrote was to thank a company that provided outstanding service, well above the level to which they were obliged. I could have sent emails, but that would have seemed cheap and insubstantial by comparison.

    I suspect that the day of the physical letter will pass. At the moment, we're clinging to a historical form. When it goes, something will be lost.

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    1. I think it's appreciation expressed in time that makes the hard copy thank-you letter more meaningful. The receiver knows there was physical effort involved. Your thank you letter seemed certainly appropriate.
      As for losing the historical form... I hope it doesn't happen. I'll be a little stubborn rebel for now and keep writing them pen to paper, paper in envelope, envelope in the red mailbox for as long as the mail box stands!

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  2. Oh, yes and amen. I love receiving a handwritten letter or even a small note. It shows that the person cared enough to take the time.

    In my historical novels, letters took months to arrive, with the anticipation of awaiting the reply, yet today it only takes a mere few days. Uh-oh, I'm afraid I have already slipped into the easy email frame of mind. But after reading this, Penny, I'd better change my ways. And so, I've begun writing an epistle to a friend right now!

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    1. Epistles are the best sort! We had an old lady supporter while we worked overseas who, with her arthritis crippled fingers, wrote us two page 'epistles' several times a year. And epistles were exactly what they were, full of encouragement, reminders to persevere and stay faithful to our Lord! Happy writing Rita.

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  3. A clever ploy, Penny! And having now written a thank you letter to a friend, I can comment! A little note that meant a lot to me was one I received from one of the main young 'musos' at our old church when my first novel was released. Being a wonderful composer and musician himself, I think he understood what this book meant to me. I so valued the fact that he took time from his busy schedule to write. I might add too that for many, many years after my husband and I moved away from our home town, I wrote a long letter (four large pages in small handwriting) to my mother each week without fail, telling her about all the doings of her grandchildren etc. I now believe that all that writing was part of my developments as an author and paved the way for my future novels. And a few years ago, I took part in a week long writing course called 'Catch the Whisper' in which we were encouraged to write by hand. I found the experience so fulfilling--kind of liberating after being at the computer for hours on end.

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    1. Glad I got you writing, Jo-Anne! :)
      I have an old fashioned pen and ink pot and have recently been experimenting using it to 'think' on paper. There is something special about handwriting, and the continual need to dip for ink makes me slow down even more and to think about not wasting words. I'll never write a novel that way, maybe not even a letter, but it has been a good teaching experience.
      And I agree with you that letter writing is good writing practice! Just another reason...

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  4. Hi Penny,
    I'm going to cheat! Sorry! I haven't written a snail mail yet, but have one on the cards as part of my To do list today. I have to say I love letters but don't like writing by hand. Perhaps it's because I wrote too many snail mail letters in my growing up years. I used to write 30 page snail mail letters to my best friend when I was growing up. And she reciprocated with the same. My husband and I were separated by distance for 15 mponths, just a month after we became engaged. We both write long snail mail letters every night to each other! Ah - what a feast it was to sometimes have the postman bring me 4 fat letters from my fiance at a time! :) So yes, I did enjoy writing back then. Now my hand writing is so bad that even I find it hard to decipher what I write. :) So I resort to typing even my snail mail letters.
    Personally, I have found that emails also can be just as good (or better) than smnail mail letters because it's how and what we communicate that matters. Since migrating to Oz 13 years ago, my Mum and I have written daily emails to each other that have built up our friendship so much. She's not only my Mum but also a very close friend and our daily emails have made it happen. So while agreeing with you that snail mails are unique and special - I have to say that I am so glad I am alive in this day and age when I can not only type all my letters, but I can also send them instantly. :) I've bonded and grown in my relationships with many through my emails!
    Thanks for taking me on a great trip down memory lane Penny and also one down the path of Pondering!
    Blessings,
    Anusha

    PS Oops! forgot to answer your question. The snail mail letter that meant the most to me was one from my Dad. He'd written a very moving letter to his 7 children and hidden it in a secret drawer so we found it a few months after his death. It was the best gift I've ever received! He told us how proud he was of us and went on to explain why. I cried and cried when I read it - but they were good tears. Easily the best gift of all! :)

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  5. Ahh, Anusha, the story of the letter from your dad is really precious! Thank you for sharing.
    I agree with you about emails being special too. (Funny, my romance with my husband was done primarily via letter and email also, did you keep yours for a record?) I too am glad we have email, but if it comes to the crunch, I'll take a letter in my mailbox out the front of the house, please. :)

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    1. I love the sight of a friendly looking snail-mail envelope covered with cheerful stickers. My daughter has an American pen pal so we still get a few, but even then, both girls are sometimes able to chat live on FB. Thanks for the quote too. Miss Bingley wasn't the most lovable character but she did say some sensible things.

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  6. Paula, Miss Bingley is one of the characters that drive my husband mental each time I make him watch P&P with me. He can't stand the class society and uppitiness (is that a word?)!
    Glad to hear your daughter has an international pen pal. My daughter writes letters to a couple of friends too, but they are all Aussies so far.

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  7. I'm sorry, Penny. Technology is my friend. I have horrible handwriting (well, I think so).It's a symptom of brain quicker than hand I suspect. The only way to know what I'm saying is if I type it. Although, I recently had to give up the keyboard on my IPhone – hitting the wrong button was making me look too bad. I do love receiving mail though, (other than bills!!!!)

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    1. Don't be sorry, I don't have a problem with technology. It's my friend too. We don't have to slow right down to the literal pen and paper to be snail mail senders! Personally, it's the way I prefer to work, but if someone sent me a typed letter, I'd probably be just as chuffed. :) (and my handwriting is pretty bad too!)

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  8. I was impressed by the fact that I'm a copyright owner. I have some precious letters received over the years and found your comment Penny about the recipient, not the writer, holds the copyright very interesting. I wonder if in decades to come e-mails will be auctioned for costly sums as have been correspondence from years ago?

    Thanks Penny for reminding us of the importance of pen and paper in a techno world!
    Ray

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    1. Hi Ray, the copyright issue made me pause and take a deep breath when i first read it as I hope no one decides to publish my many written letters! (I sound like a goose when I reread my letters!) But I suppose that is the trust factor I wrote about, and when I die then maybe it would be ok for the world to read my goose-like self after all. :)
      My wondering is: in 100 years will people browse antique shops and say "Oh wow! Look! I can't believe I'm actually seeing a 2012 ipad! Isn't it quaint."

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  9. Hi Penny,

    Even though I'm a Gen Y, I remember the days of having pen-pals and writing loads of snail mail letters!

    Do you know, that email is almost classified as snail mail these days? I was sitting in a business conference a few years ago and they were already talking about email being a surpassed medium - people want FASTER ... text messages, IMs etc.

    So whilst yes, receiving a letter in the post is a rare and special treat, I'm finding a decent sized, thoughtful email is becoming just as rare. I try to maintain my email communication and use that to write lengthy letters to some of my close friends. I find that in this day and age of facebook, email is the more intimate and sincere platform - whilst maintaining the benefit of speed. However, when I want to give extra special attention to my friends, I always post greeting cards and short notes with gifts in the mail :)

    So unfortunately I have cheated and not written a snail mail before writing this comment, but I HAVE written 3 lengthy and heartfelt emails to friends this week :) And as a surprise gift for my dear friend, I created a photo book online which had beautiful scenic photos on each page, with a corresponding bible verse on the opposite page, and had it delivered to her.

    One major downside to the dwindling of letters is the historical aspect. How likely do you think it will be for someone 100 years from now, to "stumble" across our email accounts and say, "wow! look at these great emails! I had no idea great-grandma had travelled to France and met great-grandpa along the way!"

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    1. I think you're right about heartfelt emails, Helen. It sometimes seems like the email is going to be passed over soon. I too like a decent email. So perhaps it is more the time and effort taken by our friends (ie your photo book) that makes the difference and not so much the medium?
      Still - there is something very tangibly gift like in a physical letter. :)
      Thanks for your comment.

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  10. I lived in Bangkok in 1998, just as the internet started making its appearance in homes around the world. It was in my home, but not many of my family or friends had it then, so we wrote letters, cards and aerograms all year long. I have a treasured box of ALL these letters, but my favourite are from my best friend. I read them all again last year and almost died laughing... and crying at how we viewed life back then as mums with babies on our hips and in our bellies. I smuggled one of these letters into a school information night last year and slipped it to her during a lull in proceedings. She almost went purple trying to keep it together! Much laughing later and I wondered about MY letters to HER? What had happened to them? They had been laid to rest in a cleaning frenzy years ago. Good thing too, as I also sound like a goose when allowed to prattle too long...... :)

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    1. Aerograms! I remember them! Do they still exist? I might have a look when I'm down the post office later.
      Your story about your friend's reaction to her old letter was brilliant. But isn't that also what friendship is about, laughing at how we've changed, and how much we've been through together? Love it. Thanks for sharing.

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