Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Mystery of the Vanishing Epistle

I used to be notorious in my family for my lengthy handwritten letters. It started when I was in high school and I had a pen pal in Germany (if I recall correctly, her name was Bettine), and we exchanged air mail letters in German. When I got to college, I wrote to my folks and my sisters and Cousin Shane and other cousins. It was always an exciting thing to stop at the desk of Mysch Hall and get my mail and know that someone was thinking of me while I was away at school. On one memorable occasion, my Mom even sent me a canister full of hush puppies, reminding me of our fish fries in Georgia and Florida! During the summers in Georgia between my college years, I wrote long letters to the aforementioned cousins, as well as friends from college.

After college, I continued to write to my family and friends, but it wasn't until I was on my own after my divorce that I really kicked it in to overdrive. I wrote letters of normal length to my parents and others, but I wrote long, rambling letters to a few people who truly seemed to enjoy them, mostly Cousin Shane and my sister Diana. I found that for my really long letters, small stationery pages weren't adequate, so I kept a three-ring binder with loose-leaf paper for when I wanted to do some serious writing. I would often write a letter over a week or so, resulting in a 25-30 page letter that needed extra postage. I would draw pictures and diagrams, and a frequent comment I got was, "When I read your letters, I feel like I'm talking to you!"

For those of you that have been reading this journal for a while, I know it's hard to imagine that I could ever write that much! <snort> Well, some things never change.

What I find sad is that the art of letter-writing is essentially gone. As much as I loved doing it--and I still hand-wrote 2-3 page letters up until a couple of years ago, to Ken's Mom--my hands and wrists simply refused to continue the tradition. While my profession, with its constant pipetting and repetitive motion, had much to do with it, I realize that those long letters I wrote years ago also took their toll on my hand and wrist health. I find it ironic that something so enjoyable to myself and others would keep me from writing such letters today.

Email has definitely made it easier to keep in touch with others, but I also think that it's meant a huge loss in terms of the beauty of handwritten letters (not to mention handwriting). Seeing an old, yellowed, beautifully handwritten letter gives a sense of presence and humanity that no computer printout can ever give. I look at the letters that my Dad sent from overseas during WWII, and I love seeing his familiar handwriting, set to paper 20 years before I was born. My handwriting is somewhat similar to my Dad's, and my sisters and I all share an eerily similar half-writing/half-printing style. For some reason, none of us inherited my Mom's ladylike script.

The joy of receiving a letter in the mail is, to all intents and purposes, a thing of the past. We still receive handwritten notes from Ken's Mom, because a computer is not and never will be in her future. My letters to her now are composed on the computer and printed out, because I still tend to write long letters, and 4 printed pages would translate to a good 8 or so handwritten pages. She understands and says that she just enjoys the letters, and to keep 'em coming. I still enjoy writing thank you notes and other small notes by hand, but my days of long, long handwritten letters are behind me.

As I sit here at the computer wearing my wrist brace on my right hand, I mourn the loss of the long letter from a friend or other loved one...opening the mailbox and seeing a handwritten envelope and knowing that it's not a bill or charity solicitation, it's a personal letter...sitting down and reading the letter that someone took the time to write out to you and seeing the nuances and beauty of their handwriting. I also mourn the loss of my ability to write such letters, because I know exactly how much they mean and what a treasure they are. We can save computer printouts of letters we've received, but they don't hold a candle to those letters we save that contain the handwriting of our loved ones. That is something special, and something that we have almost lost.

Here's to the handwritten letter. You are missed, my friend.


ziggy2315 said...

I love this entry and they are my sentiments as well. These notes, cards and letters from the past are wonderful treasures. I am glad that I can still remember how exciting it was to get a letter in the mail. For today's generation, that thrill is something they will never know.

krmprm said...

Good morning,
How true it is!  Letterwriting is an art that is declining.
My children have not experienced the joys that you
described so beautifully (of getting a hand-written
letter) and I fear that it has been replaced by an
impersonal technology.  The price of progress can
sometimes replace a treasured relic, and I fear the
hand-written letters that I loved are among things
that will be lost to future generations.  (Sigh!) Pat

shrbrisc said...

Writing is a art that is slowly disappearing , I am lucky to get a email from my children , I myself have horrible writing skills now because of the computer ..

carouselqueen70 said...

I used to love to write handwritten letters. You are right it is slowly dieing. Noone writes a letter anymore. My hands have become so lazy I get tired after i write for awhile. I think a handwritten letter means so much more than an e-mail. I still send out cards though for b-days and such. Some people dont even do that anymore., Christine

madcobug said...

I myself have never been much of a letter writter. Most of the letters I wrote was when a cousin was in service in Germany. I enjoyed getting mail from him with pictures of the place. I commend you on being such a good letter writter. Helen

cayasm said...

Your right of course letter writing is a forgotten art, I remember the letters to Grandparents, Thankyou notes Penpals, it was always such a thrill to recieve letters, and you could settle down for a while to read them, now as you say it's e-mail, moblie phones, you can keep in touch with a drop of a hat, they even used to teach letter writing in school, and of course hanwriting sadly all gone now.


eml625 said...

It truly is sad. As far as technology has come, its also taken away from some truly remarkable ways of communicating.


queeniemart said...

My mom used to write me long letters about once a about every 3 months i will get a package of newspaper clippings and 2 paragraphs written on a scrap piece of paper.
You wrote a beautiful entry here.

rdautumnsage said...

I still do the handwriting thing. I have several people who have given me their address that I've met online. Those letters give us a reality based friendship. There is something to be said about holding a letter in your hand that brings the whole face on the other side of the computer...a touch of realism. One such friendship has flourished to the point we get a couple letters per week from one another. To me when someone hands writes out whats going through their mind and how life is treating them, they are given you a part of them. I have to be careful as well because I suffer from Carpel Tunnel Syndrome on both wrist. Somehow I can't part with the beauty of this artform so easily. (Hugs) Indigo

ma24179 said...

I love writing letters. I am pen pals with quite a few people. You are right, there is nothing like receiving it in the mail. (((HUGS))) -Missy

pchilcoat1 said...

How come we still wait in anticipation for the mail to be delivered, is it the old hope that, a personal letter or note will be awaiting us. Growing up the mailman was just as important to our family as the milkman LOL. June Cleever had nothing on my mom.

southernmush said...

Hello. My name is Monae and I live in Atlanta, Georgia. I have to agree with you on the fact that the handwritten letter writing trend is being missed. I do write to people here at J-Land which is always fun to get a letter in the mail from someone that happens to be thinking of you. I think that its probably getting harder to send a letter in the mail now that the price of stamps is going up just like the price of gasoline. I find that I like receiving a letter in the mail from someone who is in a different part of the world.

If you would like I could send you my address so you could send me a letter and I could send you one if you would like.

I have to say that I think that it is wonderful that you shared this entry with us. I really enjoyed your thoughts on this subject. Do take care and thanks for this entry.

taryterre said...

I still write and send letters, three to six a week. The thrill of getting a response in the mailbox, is worth the wait, it takes for my friend, to write back to me. I LOVE letter writing. But agree with you... It is a dying art with e-mails and text messaging so prevelant nowadays!