I am a huge advocate of letter writing. Does that mean that I write a lot of letters? No. At least not anymore. I used to. Write a lot of letters. Now it is email and messaging and texting. More decades ago than I care to count I was an avid letter writer during the summer months when I was home from university. I missed my roommates and friends and a far flung boyfriend or two, so I would spend a lot of my spare time penning letters that involved perhaps a bit of exaggeration about how wonderful my summer was. In reality I was working at a summer job or two that took up most of my time.
I wrote hundreds of letters and received the same back, because a letter sent was always met with a letter received. Many of the letters I composed were from a small room on the second floor of my family home just down the hall from a bedroom I shared with my sister, Peg. We dubbed this room the “spook room” because before we transformed it with pretty pink rose covered wallpaper it had grey walls and had been used for storage by the former owners. We renovated it and turned it into a tiny getaway, with mattresses on the floor and bright throw pillows. The room had a huge window for its size, and it was in front of that window where I wrote many a letter.
I am reminded of my letter writing days by a book I picked up yesterday at Chapters called “To the Letter” by Simon Garfield. It is subtitled “A celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing”. Not to put too fine a point on the fact that letter writing is a lost art, but the book was only $5, marked down from its original price of $29.
I am guilty of not using a pen and stationary much anymore. If I write a letter, I tap it out on my laptop and then change the font to look like writing instead of printing to make it resemble a more personal note. I know that I fool no one with this tactic, but it does make the presentation a little closer to actual letter writing.
Garfield makes a compelling argument for letter writing—one that has convinced me that I should do more of it—even if it is not handwritten. He says that “Letters have the power to grant us a larger life. They reveal motivation and deep understanding. They are evidential. They change lives, and they rewire history.”
Pretty heavy duty reasons for letter writing, though I do not think that anything I have ever written has changed a life or rewired history—but perhaps I have offered a different perspective or word of encouragement, or even lent a bit of humour to a situation. Garfield believes that at one time “It must have seemed impossible that their worth would ever be taken for granted or swept aside” because “a world without letters would surely be a world without oxygen.” Yet, today many of us rarely put a pen to paper unless we are signing a legal document or for a package that comes to our door. I agree with Garfield that the loss of letter writing has put a strain on literacy and good thinking. The handwriting process is a slow one, and that fact generally leads to more organized thinking—we have the time to think before we commit to paper.
The author also makes an interesting point that one might not come to initially. He believes that writing a book about the magic of letter writing is also writing a book “about kindness.” He says that he is not against emails but calls them a “poke”, and letters more of a “caress” that “stick around to be newly discovered.” He believes that letters are “a form of expression, emotion, and tactile delight we may clasp to our heart.”
I wholeheartedly agree with him. I have kept letters for decades. They are little time capsules that show us what we and our friends and family were like at a certain point in our lives. I doubt that I will return to the handwritten days of yore, but Garfield has convinced me that the written word is one that should be cherished, and one we should share with those we love. Now admit it—it is wonderful to receive a bit of snail mail every once in a while that is not a bill or political propaganda.