Write a Letter!

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All who read this blog are of a generation who learnt cursive at school, progressing from an HB to, at least in my case, the chosen fountain pen. I also, to my teachers’ annoyance, insisted on writing for years in turquoise ink. I have atrocious handwriting – I blame this on having to write one hundred times, at age 6, “I will not forget my library book”!! But, I loved the whole process of writing words on a page, especially a letter. I loved choosing stationary and receiving it as a Christmas gift – moving from the Winnie the Pooh headers to pages with literary quotes or a safari scene! My best friend moved away at age 8 and that is when my letter writing career began… taking a big dip as a teen, but renewing its path when I left for university, as friends where scattered across the big cities of the UK.

Of course the most prolific of letter genres I sent or received in those young adult years, were “les lettres d’amour”, during the long college vacations, when partners were wrenched apart. Each word mattered. The wrong turn of phrase could so easily be misinterpreted by insecure young lovers! I remember wishing for some artistic flair to be able to illustrate these missives! I also remember the battered, old, yellow tin box in which I kept those re-read letters, whose secret place was heavily guarded. With huge regret now, I also remember various occasions over the years, when through tears, I would set alight a ribboned batch of tatty letters, in solemn declaration of cutting my soul free from the scribe! Ah, the drama of young love!

The next season took me across the continents with my work, still pre-computer. I know this will sound almost 19th century Dr Livingstone-I-Presume (did you know he was the first westerner to reach Lake Malawi?), but I can vividly remember the thrill of the week or month in Malawi, when a letter arrived. Of course, as postage could take one to two months, replies like ‘hope you got over your fever and diarrhea’ only served to increase the distance you felt from your beloved friends. Having lived and worked in some pretty isolated corners of our planet – letters were life-essential… I sometimes try and imagine how different all those experiences would have been with instant email? Long distance relationships became the norm for me! Just before moving to Malawi, I had met someone at a conference in the Netherlands, I was living in Germany at the time and then moved to South Africa for six months, before heading north to Mangochi on the tip of lake Malawi. They returned to their native Canada, preparing for a new project in the Xinjiang province of China. A year or so into the relationship we did meet up in Toronto, but monthly letters had not been sufficient to make up for the distance 🙁

I stopped sending postcards around the time I got my first mobile phone, ten years ago. I had rather enjoyed seeing how much I could fill into that tiny space, usually spilling over into the area reserved for the address. Don’t get me wrong, as someone who has friends on every single continent, I am super grateful for all forms of instant messaging, but I still miss letters! So let me leave you with a little challenge for the coming week. Even if it has been ten or even twenty years since you wrote your last personal letter, why not surprise a good friend with something handwritten this week? A deal?

P.S. Thanks to Myra, whose thoughts on my last post inspired this one!

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20 Responses to Write a Letter!

  1. Aww, will definitely send you a handwritten postcard before the year ends (not sure though when it would reach you). 🙂

  2. A deal! Now I need to know your address…lol.
    I always have and still do, send postcards when I am on Holiday overseas. I always think there is something special about getting a postcard from a place you have never been to. My workmates and friends love it. The pegboard at work is covered, literally, of postcards (mostly mine). Somewhere I have kept letters my hubby sent me from Singapore when he was there 3-4 weeks for work, before we were married. A nostalgic post Joanna, lovely.

    • Joanna says:

      Well done, you, for keeping up the postcards. I did send one to my tennis club when I was in the US this summer, as they had begged me to do so! Sure, I’ll send you my address 😉 thanks.

  3. Saba says:

    That is so true! I miss writing letters as well! Thanks for the great idea 🙂

  4. You became a librarian after having to write “I will return my library book” 100 times? I’m surprised you weren’t traumatized for life. LOL

    I miss handwritten letters. My aunt, Ward’s unclde and a friend in Idaho still write them — but they are in their 80s-90s. I remember living for mail, because many of my newspaper jobs were out of town and I liked receiving mail. But, I remember I went from writing, to typing letters on a typewrite (yes I even used a manual on early newspapers) to typing them on the computer. I still send a few typewritten letters a year. I do send postcards occasionally. And, I do send birthday cards with a short note, or typewritten letter enclosed. It amazes me that kids today are printing and not using cursive — so much faster when taking notes. Since I have difficulty using my hands to write, I find printing hard.

    So, we have you backed in a corner — what is your address? 🙂


    • Joanna says:

      I am so thrilled and impressed that those two older ladies are still communicating by letters – how special! Pat, I remember writing my first stories and letters on an old, manual typewriter we had at home. Thanks for prompting those memories. I agree that cards, are one of the few things with handwritten messages these days.

  5. I love handwritten letters, but they’re physically difficult for me to produce these days — between carpal tunnel syndrome and arthritis in my hands, writing by hand quickly becomes painful. I do still send letters on occasion, but they’re generally composed on my computer and printed. It *is* difficult to make that variety of letter seem as personal as a handwritten epistle, however.

    I have a huge binder filled with letters from one of my aunts, with whom I carried on a most delightful correspondence for years. I also have a binder filled with letters from my parents to me during the years when I lived elsewhere. These are now priceless treasures! I used to keep nearly all letters sent to me, but finally decided that they were taking up too much space. It’s really a shame that I felt it necessary to dispose of them, but…

    I will try to write a “real” letter to someone this week, though. On the nice Basildon Bond paper I bought in Walton-on-Thames this summer.

    Have you read Alexandra Stoddard’s “The Gift of a Letter”? The subtitle is “Giving the Gift of Ourselves– Add Richness and Grace to Your Life Through the Art of Letter-writing”. I have a feeling you’d like it.

  6. Joanna says:

    What a delightful, warm response, Beth. And what a wise woman to have treasured and carefully kept all those precious letters from aunt and parents.

    If you think about it, so many biographies are based on correspondence! Email just won’t provide this for future biographers!

    Thank you for the recommendation of “The Gift of a Letter.”

    Basildon Bond – so many memories from this post 🙂

  7. Susanna says:

    I miss the days of looking forward to the mail because it might contain something you actually wanted to read! Oddly enough, my 14 year-old daughter and her friend (who live only about 10 miles apart) spent this past summer writing each other actual letters that traveled through the US mail, in spite of the fact that they both have access to computers and cell phones and could more easily have texted or instant messaged or anything else. Neither I nor her mother had anything to do with it. So there must still be some kind of appeal to the physically written word 🙂

  8. Joanna says:

    I find that surprising and lovely that your daughter and friend chose snail mail communication last summer. I sure hope they keep those letters safe somewhere.

    Yes, bills, tax forms and insurance statements are what fill my letterbox these days *sigh*!

  9. I love letters too, but I must admit I never write them anymore. But there was nothing like the thrill of receiving them – especially from a far-away love. When I lived in England, I remember writing in teeny tiny handwriting on that tissue-weight blue paper to keep postage costs down. 🙂 I still have every letter sent to me during that period.

    • Joanna says:

      Oh yes, blue airmail paper was all I used when I lived in Africa – the ones that folded into an envelope! I am clearly the sad exception, in not holding onto these special scripts! Now I want to know where you were in England and if you were a student at the time?

  10. I love “real” letters, but they are very rare these days. I send a few each month, but communication tends to be via phone calls and email these days. I still love sending and receiving postcards.

  11. I wrote a letter to an old college friend because I had lost her email when it changed, and I had wanted to tell her how much I enjoyed her Xmas newsletter. It was amazing how thrilled she was to get that letter and she wrote me one right back and we got into a whole big conversation about how great it is to receive something in the regular mail. You are so right. The ease of communication through the Internet makes us forget the pleasure of real tactile letters and postcards.

  12. LadyInRead says:

    This is a wonderful idea.. I loved writing and receiving letters as a kid and well into college. When I started working and had ready access to a computer and email, well, my letter-writing days were over (almost).
    I treasure the letters I have received and still have letters from my grandparents which I treasure a lot. Thanks for the prompt – I will definitely work on this to write to a few special people(am sure even my kids will love seeing something in the mail and imagine their surprise when it is from mom!! – now just need to make sure I have enough Forever stamps!)

    • Joanna says:

      Letters from different generations is precious. Your kids would be thrilled to receive a letter from Mom, that’s for sure – do surprise them!

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