In the digital age, it's rare to see someone writing a letter anymore. With email, text, social media, and video hang outs like Skype and Facetime, letter writing is something of the past. While these modes of communication are easy and functional, they lack a permanence that comes from an epistolary exchange.
There's something so heartfelt about handwritten notes and letters. Even if it's just a scribbled "I love you" on a napkin, writing to someone is a great way to care for yourself and show care for others.
I've always turned to letter writing to let out my deepest and sincerest feelings. When I was young and would argue with my mom, I would always leave her an apology letter. When I was a teenager and felt everything so keenly, I wrote letters to friends; college ruled paper folded into intricate origami-like folds with things like "FOR DANIELLE'S EYES ONLY" written across them in thick black ink. After college, when all my friends moved away, I would send cards during holidays. When I met my now husband, we took to letter writing, despite the fact that we saw each other most every day. We still leave loves notes for each other.
Writing a letter is a surprising act of self-love. The benefits are clear for the recipient: the joy of seeing the letter among the junk mailers that litter our mailboxes, the anticipation of tearing into the envelope to get at the contents within, and then the joy of reading someone's words - their thoughts and feelings committed to the page.
But letter-writing is also an art form and a form of therapy.
When I am writing a letter I am focused on what I am feeling, what I want to convey and how I want to convey it. I'm not thinking about stuff for work I need to get done, or the stack of dishes next to the sink, I'm not numbly distracted by whatever series I'm binge watching next (GLOW, if you're interested), I'm fully present but relaxed, my hands and mind are occupied, but without burden. Sometimes I can get emotional - whatever I'm writing becomes a release. I take as much pleasure in decorating the pages and envelope of my letters as I do writing them: adding collage, stamps, doodles in different color pens. Letter writing is never a quick-thing for me. It's a process that I give myself to fully. From the time I start writing the letter to the time I'm done decorating it, a full 2 hours can have elapsed. I rarely have the luxury of getting a letter done in one sitting, but it gives me something to look forward to.
"When I am writing a letter I am focused on what I am feeling, what I want to convey and how I want to convey it."
My best and longest pen pal is my bestie Nat. Over the course of fourteen years and three different states we've continued to write each other. We started in 8th grade when we met. I've saved everything she's ever written me. Hundreds of pages in her hand amass a drawer dedicated entirely for them in my office.
Nat's letters are a great example of what I mean when I say letter writing is an art form. Reading a letter from Nat has many layers.
There's the first layer of the mail itself. I've never gotten a letter from Nat that just came in your standard white envelope. Frankly, if I did, I'd assume the absolute worse because it would be so unlike her. One of my favorite letters she's sent me came in a recycled plastic Ziploc bag used for packaging. I love the way she uses recycled objects like this for utilitarian purposes.
Then there's the visual presence of the letter. Like the envelope, white space is a rare sight. Between her artfully placed magazine clippings and her cursive like scrawl, I have to unpack her letters. They're like a postmodern map - there are elements to be read everywhere, but the order in which they are read are interpretative - this is not your left-to- right reading experience.
This is a symbiotic and circular ritual. I have the pleasure of receiving and reading a letter, and in turn, get to create my own in response. I find this a profoundly simple and wholly satisfying act of reciprocity.
Our newest method of exchange comes in the form of a shared journal sent back and forth. I love this approach because it binds all our thoughts together into a self-made time capsule. One day, we'll be able to read it like a book: the fiction of our lives.
"One day, we'll be able to read it like a book: the fiction of our lives."
The beauty of letter writing is that it can take so many forms. A postcard from your hometown, a poem you want to share, a handmade card, whatever the form, I challenge you to write a pal for your next act of self care. If you don't know who to write to, pick a random family member or friend and surprise them with a letter. Connect with someone on social media and start a pen-pal exchange. Write an old professor or teacher that was special to you. Write a letter to your local government officials airing your grievances or applauding them on a deed done right in your eyes. Whomever the recipient may be, give letter writing a chance as a new practice for centering and caring for yourself and for others.