Send more #snailmail: National Letter Writing Month

lots of letters

Readers of my blog know all about how much I adore writing and receiving letters. I love it so much that I’ve had two mini campaigns (here and here) to promote snail mail with fellow letter lover Leslie. I love it so much that I have a box overflowing with stationary and notecards, pens and postage, and of course, my letters from others over the years. I think I need a bigger box — collecting letter paraphernalia has become a bit like my book buying habit — I get more before I’ve finished what I have. But I don’t necessarily see that as a bad thing. One can’t have too much stationary, right?

It’s National Letter Writing Month, so I wanted to share a bit more about why I love the special art of snail mail so much. Just in the past week, I’ve received a handful of thoughtful postcards and notes from dear friends back in DC, and after a few weeks off because of my move, I’ve written a handful myself to be delivered to friends across the country. Just the very fact that I have friends who send me mail ( some quite regularly) all because they know I love it, makes me smile  and makes me cherish our friendship even more. And the postcards I get from friends on their travels means even more to me (do you know how much international postage costs?!), coming from Australia and Hawaii and Italy and Mexico, and elsewhere.

I asked people what they love about letters so much, and here’s what a few had to say:

snail mail tweets

fb letters

Pretty straightforward if you ask me. I think a handwritten letter is one of the most sincere and genuine forms of communication, and of respect. It takes time, it takes thought, and it takes feeling. And the memories of both writing it and receiving it are surely to last a lot longer.

So if you’re ready to send out some snail mail, check out my Pinterest board for some inspiration and options to start your own big box o’ letters. Then share in the comments whom you’re writing letters to this month, and why you love snail mail so much. And of course, let me know if you’d like to exchange letters with me!

Some of what's in my letters box
Some of what’s in my letters box

 

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Snail Mail Story Time

typewriterBack in February, I lamented the possibility that the USPS was going to cancel Saturday mail delivery. A long-time letter lover, it was another let-down for an institution millions of Americans have relied on since the late 1700s, and another reminder of how technology, with all of its good intentions, is also changing time-honored tradition.

So another blogger and I decided to rally for snail mail, and offered to write postcards or letters to anyone who wanted one. Writing back was optional. We hoped that our love of letters would spread a little and at least remind people of the joys of receiving mail – the good kind. We were pleased at the results: I think we each sent out a dozen or more notes, to friends, family, and people we’d never met. We loved the letters we got in return, and seeing others inspired to do their own mini snail mail campaigns. Leslie and I have even begun regularly writing each other now – we both wanted a new pen pal! But most importantly, we like to tell ourselves that our little project is what prompted the USPS to withdraw their proposal to cancel Saturday mail. Victory!

Nearly 10 months later, Leslie and I are ready for round two, and this time, we’re kicking it up a notch. We think that writing letters is a perfect medium for storytelling, and that’s why we’re ready to share some of our most personal experiences with our recipients, and we hope we get to learn yours, too. Here’s how it will work:

We’ll take up to the first 10 participants in this first round, 5 for each of us. (don’t worry, there will be more rounds!). Sign up here if you want in.

For each person, we’ll write on a different topic. And to mix it up a little, Leslie and I will randomly select who writes to whom. You won’t know the topic or the sender until you open your letter! Here is the first round of topics:

  • First heartbreak
  • A difficult decision
  • Favorite recipe
  • Offbeat or unusual hobby or interest
  • A vivid childhood memory

We’d love a letter back, too, so start thinking about what you’d share!

So here we go! Let’s get some #snailmailstories going…who will sign up first?

Please Mr. Postman, Is That a Letter For Me?

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Treasured mail

We all knew it was coming. The US Postal Service has been struggling for the last few years to figure out how to keep their jobs in this era of texting, emails, and social media. But they can only shut down so many post offices, and raise the cost of stamps so many times. And now, one of the biggest cuts has been announced: starting on August 5, mail delivery will be cut on Saturdays, and we can only receive packages.

Not completely surprising, but as a lover of letters, I can’t help but feel sad and wistful about this. It’s even more ironic coming from someone who does social media for a living, and finds it hard to be separated from my phone, and doesn’t let a few minutes go by without checking for new emails. I know that with time and technology, the way we communicate with each other must evolve as well, but I guess the art of writing letters or sending a card in the mail will never get old to this 28-year-old.

I got a postcard in the mail just the other day, from my friend Alison. Why? Just because. She knows I love mail, and she knows I’m an old soul in a young body. She just wanted to say she was glad we were friends. I’ll take it. A year ago, I bought handmade paper at a little shop in Rome, planning in my head all of the beautiful missives I would write to the people I love.

I’m the person that pines for a letter like the one Mr. Darcy wrote to Elizabeth to declare his love. I adore that my parents wrote each other a box full of love letters when they were apart for a few months in their short courtship — they were only 29 and 30 years old. I handwrite personal notes to some of our Case Foundation online community members and our peers and partners. Over the years, I have held on to some of my favorite letters and cards from family and friends, for birthdays, milestones, and just because. When I was younger, I became pen pals for years with a woman I met on a plane, and when I moved to a new town in middle school, I remember swapping letters for over a year with my best friend, until we finally drifted apart. And only recently, I used a service called Snail Mail My Email to send a personal note to my friend Julia

postcardThe post office may be cutting Saturday mail, but I’m not ready to give up letters just yet. So today, when I saw that Leslie Farnsworth shared my feelings on a dying service, we decided to try something. We want to show people how wonderful receiving mail can be…and how great sending mail can be, too. If social media can be used for good, why not use it to promote one of the most original forms of communication? Letters and postcards have been used to declare war and declare independence, to show devotion and dismissal, to mobilize for action and change, and to express opinions and creativity.

So, we’d like to write you a letter. If you’d like to receive mail from Leslie or me (or both of us!) just let us know. Put your name and mailing address in the comments, or fill out this contact form with your information (don’t worry, your information will not be shared). And to make this really work, we ask one thing of you: if  we send you a letter, will you send at least one other person a piece of mail, too?

The Lost Art of Penpals

Once upon a time, I was a little girl making trips to Louisiana for the summer from Ohio by plane. I would get to board first with the flight attendant (then called “stewardess), and of course, deplane last and be escourted to the gate where I was I handed off to the family member picking me up. I collected a whole box full of plastic wing pins and buttons from Delta. I speedily read through the Sky Mall and all of the in-flight reading material before busting out my own book, crossword puzzles or word searches, and my trusty CD player.

As I was a chatty little thing, and didn’t have any companions on these trips, I easily made friends with the people sitting next to me on the hour and a half flight from CVG to MSY and back. One nice lady shared her popcorn with me, while another gave me a Susan B. Anthony coin that I treasured for years. Flight attendants and crew loved me – so much so that on a tiny flight once, I was led into the cockpit and hung out with the pilots for about half an hour, telling them my life story.

But there was one flight, and one particular woman that I formed a connection with that lasted more than just a flight. On one of my trips down to NOLA, I sat next to this older lady, someone that could be my grandmother. Of course, my whole story came spilling out within minutes – how I was born in Louisiana, but now live in Ohio, I was visiting my biological dad, I go every summer, blah blah blah. Mercedes Duplantis, short gray hair and glasses, wearing a flowered shirt, was was from Chauvin, La. I heard her story, too, all about her kids, grandkids and husband. By the end of the flight, we had exchanged our home addresses, saying that we’d keep in touch.

As Rick says in Casablanca, it was the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

For years after, Mercedes and I exchanged letters every few months. I told her about school, my family and how I wanted to be a writer someday. She told me about her grandkids growing up and how her husband was getting sicker over the years. When my grandmother died, she sent me a card of sympathy.

A few years ago around Christmas, we had a message on our answering machine – it was Mercedes. Her husband Lloyd had just passed, and she was wishing me a merry Christmas. It had been awhile since I had written her – I’m not sure how soon I did after that phone call.

In 2005, I received another letter. It was written by someone, I think a volunteer at the nursing home she was now in. She reminded me of her husband’s passing, and told me that she had been afflicted with cancer, and a broken hip. Her last line asked me to write her sometime. Her name was the only thing in her handwriting.

I came across that letter last night, as I was going through other cards and letters stored in the bottom drawer of my nightstand. I remembered our penpal years fondly, and looked at the date, and felt bad that it had been so long since we had talked. I couldn’t remember if I had ever written her back, but I immediately got out some stationary, and stamped an envelope, and put it and the letter in my bag to take to work. I was going to call the nursing home and see if she was still there first.

This morning, I Googled her to see what I could find. First, I found the obituary for her husband, so I sighed in relief when I saw that she was a survivor of his passing. But then I looked a little more – she had indeed passed in December 2005, only 6 months after she wrote me her final letter.

I told my mom, who knew of my penpalship with Mercedes – this kind woman who listened to a little girl’s story on a plane and became a confidant through pen and paper. I said that I felt bad because I couldn’t remember if I had ever written her back – and why did it take me this long to realize it? She said that knowing me, I probably did write to Mercedes once more.

I may never know the answer to that. And maybe it doesn’t matter. I know that Mercedes was loved very much by her large family, and that it was nothing for her to write to me, as if I was her own granddaughter. I never saw Mercedes again after that flight years ago. But I hope she knows how much of an impact she made on my life as I grew up, just through a little snail mail.