The Lost Art of Letter Writing

By Rhiannon Kirkland

As I wait for my next class to begin, I take out a pen and paper and start writing a letter. I tell the friend I am writing to about what I am doing and whatever is on my mind. My thoughts roll out onto the paper and will end up in their mailbox in about a week’s time.

Once I began university, I faced the difficult challenge of staying in touch with my high school friends, now scattered across the country.

At first I thought Facebook would be the answer. It seemed simple enough to communicate this way, but I soon found that whenever I tried to start a conversation, it quickly died out. When I asked people how they were doing, their typical response was, “good.” I became frustrated.

Part of my frustration was thinking that when somebody asks how you are, they don’t really want to know- they just want to hear “good” or “okay” and it usually doesn’t go any farther than that.

Facebook and MSN look for the simplest answers possible. Short and quick replies are good when passing someone on the way to class, but not enough to sustain a friendship.

As these avenues failed me I turned to letter writing, an old but simple form of communication.

In my letter writing experience I’ve found some people have written me back and we have fantastic exchanges. Others, though, have never reciprocated. As a result, I am now closest to those friends I regularly exchange letters with. I may only see them part of the year, but we always know what’s going on in each other’s lives.

I still enjoying writing to those who don’t respond but miss the interaction. I’ve heard lots of different excuses, ranging from not enough time to a lack of stamps and envelopes. It can be frustrating when people don’t write back, but I keep trying.

“It’s a habit I think. And not only that, it’s a love for writing it too. I never get a lot of letters in return. No one ever writes back to me, but I still keep doing it and I think that people still appreciate it,” said Kari Carvey, Reids on 17th­ sales associate.

Carvey said that often she sends letters or postcards and receives a reply or thanks on Facebook.

“I think anyone has the ability to write a letter, and everyone’s words are a little bit different,” said Carvey.

“I kind of find that’s what makes everyone unique in their letter writing. I love to see people’s different styles of writing letters [ . . . ] Be who you gotta be and try writing out that letter back. You can definitely make the other person quite happy.”

Everyone has his or her own letter writing style. It’s something that is pretty flexible and you can usually hear the writer’s voice in every letter you get. After doing it for a while, you begin to find the style that works best for you. I go with a narrative and somewhat rambling style, so my letters sound a lot like I do in person.

“I kind of do like a stream [of] consciousness thing, or I just rant about whatever, or get to get things on my mind out and don’t really have to worry about them afterwards. I also like procrastinating by writing letters, it’s a fairly good strategy,” said Michael Maher, a third-year French major.

I like writing letters because it’s like a conversation with somebody, except far more drawn out and permanent. You get to talk about yourself, how things are going, addressing whatever’s on your mind, but you have a lot more space to say it than you would in a conversation. Letters let you delve deep.

Writing letters is easy ­and can be done just about anywhere, as long as you have a piece of paper and a pen. Writing letters is also a good way to pass the time during a boring lecture while still looking like you are paying attention, or when waiting for the bus or a friend.

Maher said he has been writing letters for three years. He started when a friend moved across the country and they needed a way to keep in touch.

“I think there’s a lot of people that write emails, a lot more than would write letters, but I prefer writing stuff out. I don’t find it as easy to sit down and type out an email because it’s not quite as portable, whereas I can write a letter in class or I can write a letter on the bus or whatever, and it’s not as big a deal,” said Maher.

“I like that I can actually get what I have to say out. I kind of find it very therapeutic in that if I have something I need [to] say or something I need to talk to someone about, I find that I am more inclined to mention it in a letter than I am in a conversation,” said Carvey.

When you do get a response, often times it’s more meaningful. It can be longer, more detailed and more personal. The letters you receive reflect the person who sent them not only in their handwriting and their voice, but also in the stationary they use.

Another benefit is that letters are tangible- they don’t disappear when you close the window on your computer.

“I like that you kind of have a more permanent record of what’s happening and what your friends are doing, because when you get a text, you clear your inbox pretty regularly so you don’t really keep those stories or those memories as much. When you get a letter you have it and you can refer back to it afterwards,” said Maher.

I like to send things other than just letters in the mail. I have started exchanging mixed cds with some of my friends. I like to send postcards when I travel.

And honestly, there is nothing better than the feeling of coming home and finding a letter waiting. I love the letters, postcards, cds and other things that I’ve received in the mail.

I have been made fun of by my friends’ parents for my love of letter writing. They joke that it is old fashioned and nobody does it anymore. It may be old fashioned, but it seems like people are still doing it.

“In fact [letter writing supplies sales] are probably a little bit on the increase. More note cards and letter sets are going out than it was before,” said Anna Chow, owner of Box Paper Scissors.

“It’s not just older people that come in for the letter writing paper, it’s all different sorts of ages.”

I take my most recent letter, fold it in four and put it in an envelope. I write out my address and stick the stamp on. I drop it into a mailbox and as I walk away am filled with the satisfaction of knowing that when it arrives at its destination, the recipient will get to experience the joy of receiving mail.

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