The Art of Letter Writing & Postal Fidelity

Ink pen explosion–all over my hand and fingers. That hasn’t happened in a long time since the computer took over and I usually type out most of my work. I was addressing an envelope to my friend who inspired the concept of postal fidelity in the last chapter of my novel.

I’ve been writing letters since I was in third grade. First, to my pen pal, Victoria, who actually goes by the shortened name, Tori, and has for many years (decades in fact) but I’ll always know her as Dear Victoria. She made the writer in me materialize early. Complete with a penchant for exaggeration, her name inspired reverence and intrigue. I was really putting letter writing to practice by addressing someone as Dear Victoria. And, she was mysterious and exciting simply by living in California, with the name Victoria. California was a state I had never visited and doubted I would ever visit since a weekend in the Great Smokey Mountains was as far as my parents were going in our Ford Pinto at that time in their lives. Now, they’ve followed me much farther than they ever imagined.

Though we no longer write letters, Dear Victoria kept me writing for decades, trying to tell her stories about my life and make it seem more exciting. My letter writing expanded to include friends in school and elaborate notes with secret codes and nicknames. Love letters to a boyfriend and recorded cassette tapes of poetry readings and love songs, my letter writing grew and grew. Envelopes addressed to soldiers from my family–in Germany, Kosovo, Iraq. I bought quill pens, wax seals, and parchment paper—got all fancy. I decorated the envelopes & called it Happy Mail. And then, email came along and took over. Facebook status updates. Tweets. I lost my touch, and put all my efforts into fiction and editing. Writing interviews.

I finally saw letter writing as a prelude to my creativity with a longer work. However, my mailbox (the real one by the road) was empty for too long. Sad even, flag always down. A friend from graduate school moved away and sent a postcard, and I sent a card back, and then a letter arrived, and I scurried to write a response. And one of my close friends deployed to Afghanistan, and I berated myself for not writing to her enough.

Hand-written letters allow us to get lost in writing, to forget about editing, to avoid our reliance on the delete key, and to allow the ink to flow across the page. Within letters, I can see the way my friend’s pen strokes show that she is tired, or annoyed, or angry, and they also show how excited or frantic she might be. A sealed envelope invites anticipation and personalization that email cannot offer.

Now, my grad school friend and I write back and forth with dedication for a while, but life takes over periodically and we stop writing, then we pick it back up again. We’ve written two letters in about a month. The pen explosion felt like an old signal, the start gun of a long run with writing and creating.

What gets your creativity in motion?

2 thoughts on “The Art of Letter Writing & Postal Fidelity

  1. This is so refreshing to me. As I struggle to see even a tiny percentage of the surface of my desk, cluttered with bills, unopened catalogs, notebooks, tools, coupons, pens and pencils, I too, in recent history have missed actually putting pen to paper and communicating. Within the past month or two, I did actually sit down and write a letter to an elderly friend of mine, George, who moved across the country in March to be with immediate family. His wife died several years ago; he is hearing impaired – nearly deaf, and is not in the least techno-savvy. I did my best to explain in great detail the very mundane existence I lead, and hit the high spots of what I thought might amuse him or remind him of his younger years. Knowing he grew up with many siblings in the twenties and thirties, and that he had worked harder than most of us will ever in our lives, I knew that he would have some knowledge of livestock. This spring, in May, my family acquired a couple of rescue horses this and, a week later, a third – a young mare. I told him in my letter, in great detail, how my daughter took her acoustic guitar into the pasture and played a few songs for them. The two rescues were only interested in grazing, but the yearling was very curious and came right up to her, pressed her nose against the strings as my daughter played and seemed startled by the vibrations she felt on her nose. I also included updates to the whereabouts of former work associates, with whom we are both acquainted and had worked alongside a few years ago. It wasn’t long before I had filled the six, double-spaced, hand written pages for his perusal. I was quite pleased with myself, and although the information exchanged might be considered boring or run-of-the-mill, I had a great sense of satisfaction as I sealed the envelope, addressed it, and installed my PIXAR ‘Forever’ stamp to the top right corner. It wasn’t too long before I got a completely unrelated, hand written response, full of requests for me to fulfill regarding local personal business that was a concern for him and to pass along well wishes from him to mutual friends that live just across the street from me, I am absolutely fascinated with snail mail as it is now referred to….how thoughts on paper can be sent to anywhere in the world so efficiently with correct characters and numbers on the exterior. I believe letter writing in general is a lost art. My eyes widened as I noted that you had bought parchment paper and a wax seal for your ‘happy mail.’ I’ve often thought of designing my own seal, or purchasing a wax kit, but just haven’t gotten around to it. In the past, I have resorted plain candle wax with an imprint of whatever ring I was wearing at the time. It made me feel powerful and like I was making a real effort to connect. My creative juices flow more freely when a pen or pencil is in my hand, but as of late, they have been nearer to a keyboard or cellular device. Thanks for sharing your thoughts; I hope I haven’t bored you with mine :0]

    • Kim, Thanks for the comment.This topic is not boring to me at all. Your letters to George remind me of my letters to my grandmother. I wrote her for years and years, almost a letter every week. The mail carrier, in the rural Iowa town where she lived for many years, looked forward to my letters every week because I decorated the envelopes with poems and quotations. I was so happy to brighten the days of the postal workers that I became creative in writing notes on the backs of the envelopes. I wrote my Ma long letters about everything, just like you are writing to George. My Ma died last year, and I always think about her when I write letters now.

      Yes, you should go all out in your letter writing to George. He will appreciate it, especially since he’s not tech-savvy. He’ll be regularly checking the mail box, and so will his mail carrier if you add the wax seals 🙂

      You know, the elderly must miss letter writing more than we could possibly know, especially if they aren’t equipped with the knowledge of emails, status updates and tweets. The internet generations tout, “Communicating on the internet allows us to reach so many more people.” And while that is true, there are people that we have left behind with our changing forms of communication.

      Thanks for commenting about your letter writing. And, that is *so cool* that your daughter takes her guitar out into the field and plays music for the livestock. That would be a great scene in a movie. Music speaks to humans *and animals…*and plants too!

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