The Meaning of a Letter

(Stay tuned til the end… I have a question to pose!)

L is for Letters

L is for Letters

When was the last time you got a letter? Not a bill or advertisement or obligatory birthday/Christmas card, but a real, handwritten letter, sent with no particular holiday or duty in mind?

When was the last time you wrote one yourself?

Technology may have increased the speed of communication, and some people truly do prefer the electronic form of salutations, but for many other people the speed has done little or nothing to increase the quality. We forward jokes, “like” memes, retweet marketing tips, post quiz results, occasionally type a few lines via email… yet rarely do most of us having something meaningful to say through technology.

Closing the Distance

One of the joys of email is the ease with which we can communicate with people who might be very far from us. But nothing really closes the distance more than the tangible.

Back in 2005 I gained a pen pal from Holland. I have binders full of our emails from the days when we stayed in touch nearly daily, but one of my favorite letters from him is the one I got in the mail. It was a simple letter, containing nothing as personal as many of our emails, but it was my first chance to see his handwriting. To hold something he had held. To see something he had spent the time on me for. Handwriting a letter does, after all, take more time than typing an email. That one letter closed the distance in a way even phone calls and video chats couldn’t. It was something tangible we’d both held. That alone made it different.

A few of the post cards I have received in Postcrossing. All of these are international cards.

A few of the post cards I have received in Postcrossing. All of these are international cards.

A pen pal can be a difficult commitment for some people, and for those people (or those, like me, who simply love real mail) there is a great hobby known as Postcrossing. Postcrossing works like this: once signed up for an account, you request the address of someone in the database. This address is chosen at random. Once given that address, you are to write a post card to that person and drop it in the mail. For every post card registered as received, your name goes back into the database to be pulled by someone else in the world. The more post cards you send, the more you receive. You never know what you will find in your mailbox. The first five cards I sent went to Russia, China, Germany, Belarus, and Ukraine. In return I’ve had recipes, children’s drawings, mini-language lessons, and general greetings from all around the world.

When There’s No Distance to Close

Not everyone in our lives is at a distance. There are people we see or talk to every day or every week, people we care about, and those people are often the first ones we forget about when it comes to keeping correspondence. If we talk to them so frequently, what more can we do, right?

A small stack of letters from Serena

A small stack of letters from Serena

I think letters can be even more meaningful and unexpected when it comes to those most closely knit into your daily life. I have left note cards on the steering wheel of my husband’s car before, so he’ll see it when he leaves for work. I write to one of my best friends and fellow Ferret, Serena, frequently. We like to treat our letters as though we don’t talk every day. We write as though our only correspondence beyond seeing one another in person is our letters. Her letters are my favorite part of going to the post office, and writing to her in return is one of the most calming things I can do.

My last thought is this…

I think our society could benefit from a bit more time and care spent in our interpersonal communications, and I believe going back to our roots of the handwritten letter is a great way to do this.

Question Time!

I have been working on and outlining a writing project on the concept of letters — the writing of them, the receiving of them, the meaning of them, and all things involved with them — for awhile now. But as we often know, writers’ brains can get stuck. This is where I am asking YOU to give me your thoughts on letters. Any thoughts. All thoughts. Real world thoughts. Fantasy thoughts. I am counting on your thoughts, dear Reader, to kickstart my brain once again.


7 thoughts on “The Meaning of a Letter

  1. I can’t remember the last time I actually got a letter from someone in the mail, but that’s okay because it would mean I had to respond to it and my handwriting has grown worse over the years. I’m much better off with email and the recipient doesn’t need to decipher my mess.

    As a kid, my best friend moved across the country and the only way we had to stay in touch was by mail. At that time I loved getting a letter from her and writing one back. We’d include jokes and make up word searches along with the actual letter to make it even more fun.

  2. Alex Hurst says:

    I got a whole bunch of postcards this year, and I exchange letters with a couple of friends in Finland that I met in Japan a couple of years ago. Getting letters in Japan is still a huge thing. There are stationary stores everywhere, and postcards are basically obligatory in the New Year. I sent out 54 postcards all across the world this year.

    I think that letters are terribly important, but I think that text messaging has replaced a lot of the charm of the letter. Emails are still quite formal, and there is this pressure to have a full thought when sending them, but text messages are an immediate form of intimacy–that little buzz in your pocket, or ring tone in your ear, alerting you to the fact that someone was thinking of you.

    My GF is Canadian, and I am an American. We met online, on a fiction forum, when I was about 18, roughly. We became fast friends and exchanged emails… LONG emails, every day. Then, we started texting each other, and using chat clients at night… I talked to her more than the people I saw every day at work and school…. and then we fell in love, and well… almost ten years later, we are living together in Japan–and still leaving each other little love notes around the house… on stationary and everything. Words on paper are very important to us. ^^

  3. When my computer illiterate sister in New Brunswick first got the internet, she made me promise that email would never replace snail mail – and it never has. I just sent her an 8 page letter last week. 🙂

    I also have a friend in Germany who keeps in touch through letters and postcards.

    I actually enjoy sitting down with pen and paper to write letters.

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