I currently have someone in my life with whom I can only contact via letters. I am talking about snail mail, meaning hand writing or typing a cohesive self-narrative, putting a stamp on it, and sending it out into the world via the U.S. Postal Service. While this may not sound earth shattering, I’ve experienced a cognitive re-awakening. Living so fully immersed in the world of social media, texting, and email, I forgot what it was like to truly engage in traditional correspondence.
First, it was surreal to sit down with a blank page and attempt to fill it in a meaningful way beyond 140 characters.
I have become very comfortable summing up big thoughts in a somewhat reasonable Facebook post, but I was no longer accustomed to giving greater description to my comings and goings. I stumbled at first trying to figure out how much information was enough. Do I need to explain further here? Or should I transition there? Do I devote more words to one specific area? Or do I try to cover a broader range of topics? And how do you keep it flowing?
I also had to shift my mindset to write for an audience of one. Grant it, you can never assume tons of people are reading your posts, but from World Moms Blog to social media commentary, I craft my messages for possible mass consumption. The intimacy of going back to writing in depth to one person beyond your standard greeting card felt intense, which made me question how desensitized I have become in spewing my thoughts into the blogosphere.
Another point of adjustment was the delayed response time. In communicating digitally, I often receive feedback rather quickly in one form or another. In corresponding via the mail, there is no instant ping back. The mail carrier doesn’t give you a thumbs up to acknowledge your thoughtfully-crafted sentiments the minute you hand her your letter. You think through what you want to say, you write it out, you mail it, and you wait.
During the days in between our communication, I started to reflect on people who are separated for a time. I thought about my grandparents who spent time apart during my grandfather’s war service and how letters were the main way to keep in touch. How precious every word must have been, and how many times must they have re-read each letter. I think of people in the world today who are separated for similar reasons or those for whom technology is still a foreign concept. There are those living at a distance for work in order to provide for their families with no quick way to get in touch. I thought of the person I am corresponding with and how crazy it must feel going from being so plugged in to only writing with pen and paper.
I felt a weight at first to “get it right”….to sum up my life in a meaningful enough way without rambling too much. I also wasn’t sure how to keep my end of the correspondence fresh without feeling like I was rehashing the same “status updates.” But then a fascinating thing happened. We started to slide into focused discussion over a book that I had sent her. Today I received a letter that was so beautifully expressive and personal around a shared passion area that I grew several steps closer to my pen pal. In the past we have had meaningful exchanges in person, on the phone and via messaging, but this letter contained pages devoted to one single idea, written by hand as a window into the soul. A message delivered in what seems a dated, old fashioned way proved to be one of the most human, real exchanges I have had with this person.
And to hold the paper in my hands while reading her thoughts made me I feel like I was in another time.
It’s a funny coincidence with a novel I am currently re-reading that I bought way back in high school. It’s a small paperback with tiny font and smells of dark, dusty book shelves. I have read so many books on my e-reader over the past years, and reading an old book that is in my hands has changed the entire sensory experience of the novel. I am constantly at attention because I am holding the book open. The lights must be on fully bright and my glasses on to make it work. It takes so much more effort and attention, much like writing the letters.
While I wish communication for my pen pal was easier at the moment, the gift she has given to me is a reminder of the lost art of letter writing. As soon as I am done here, I will print a copy of this post along with my latest correspondence to send to her along with much gratitude.
Do you write and mail letters anymore? How does that experience compare or contrast with the other ways you communicate?
This has been an original post for World Moms Blog by Tara B.
Photo credit to redspotted. This photo has a creative commons attribute license.