The (Lost) Art of Letter Writing

“In a generation or two letters will be obsolete. 
Everyone will talk to absent friends the world over by radio.
It will be nice; but something will be lost with letters. 
The world can’t eat its cake and have it, too. 
And none of these things really “save time.” 
They only fill it more breathlessly full.“ 

[Saturday December 16, 1922 -- Volume 3, L.M. Montgomery Selected Journals]

Shortly before Christmas a dear friend wrote to ask me about my new mailing address. When I received an actual Christmas card in the mail several weeks later, my heart skipped a little beat with joy. Of course I showed my gratitude by forgetting to write a note of thanks amidst a more than usually stressful holiday season (the holidays are ALWAYS busy at Ojolie, but this year was crazier than usual as we relocated for the second time in a year). Well past the holidays, I found this little memento and finally sat down to pen a short email. Okay, my better half will laugh and point out that I never write short emails.



It is because I used to write long hand written letters as a child. I don’t feel old, but I realize that probably makes me sound rather old to my own children. My parents were expats and I lived in several different parts of the world growing up. So to keep in touch with friends, this was the only option available. I kept a metal trunk under my bed with all the letters from friends neatly stashed away long after I had lost touch with friends, who likewise moved around a bit. Shortly before I left for college in the US, the letters were tossed in favor of what I could carry in the two suitcases.

If only I had know then that the art of letter writing would quickly become a thing of the past, maybe I would have held on to at least a few of them. I did re-read some before tossing them and there were so many fun details in these letters I had forgotten. I don’t tend to be a collector or hold on to things, but in this case it is not the actual letters I miss, as much as this way of communicating with friends half a world away. Storytelling that is meant to allow us to partake in their life from far away, sentiments committed to paper, dreams and hopes shared.

Even though the format of human communication may have changed with email, facebook and other instant messages, human sentiment and the need to connect transcends time and progress.

I have noticed that perhaps because of this there is a revival of interest in the art of letter writing. To return to a more personal way of connecting. More than ever, it doesn’t matter what medium we use to communicate our sentiment. The sheer act of sitting down and taking the time to pen a personalized message will be appreciated more than ever. It doesn’t mean rushing out and buying special stationary or a fountain pen (although by all means do if that inspires you to write). Although some will hold a more dogmatic view than me, the art of letter writing is not about form or a beautifully handwritten letter. As the word ‘art’ implies, it is really open to interpretation. An art form is something you practice and perfect, find inspiration and joy in - a medium for sharing human expression. What that means to you personally is not for me to say. But I would love to hear what you think.

Mail man in Corsica 1952, photo credit: Prof. emeritus Hans Schneider

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