Death of the art of letter writing

When was the last time you received a piece of mail that wasn’t a bill or an offer for a credit card?  And if was was a card with a note inside, was the sender under the age of 60?  A postcard sent from a friend who I met in Ireland over Christmas in 2014 got me thinking.  With the advent of the internet and email, the art of letter writing started to slowly fade away.  It very well could be obsolete in the not so distant future, if not arguably already doomed.

But there’s something special about getting a letter, a feeling I personally don’t get when I receive an email.  We’ve become a society obsessed with immediacy and letters just take too long.  I have to say though, there are times where getting that instant gratification of an email is practical — when applying for jobs, for instance.  Being connected to email though leaves you in a state of being always on, always reachable.  There’s a fair bit of stress that comes along with that.

After contemplating Daniel’s postcard, I decided I would write him a letter.  I grabbed a notebook and headed down to one of my most favorite restaurants in the neighborhood, Baba’s Mediterranean Kitchen.  The ambiance and space seemed to me the perfect place in which to engage in something as romantic as writing a letter.  Plus the food is just dang amazing.

As I sat at the small table, pen flying vigorously across the page, the owner Farid passed by.  “Are you working on something for your blog?” He asked enthusiastically.  “No,” I replied with a smile, “I’m writing a letter to a friend.”  He seemed surprised by my answer, but went on to remark that every so often, he liked to sit down and write to friends as kind of a refreshing change.  He then glanced down at the rapidly filling pages and said finally, “that’s a long one.”

Maybe I’m an old soul, but I think certain practices that were once commonplace but then “improved upon” for convenience’s sake, should still be kept around.  With the closing of a used bookstore I used to frequent in Mount Vernon, I mentally shook my fist at the Kindle trend, envisioning a world where one day the printed word would cease to exist.  It was almost too much for me to handle.

I’ve been pleased though with the resurgence of vinyl and somehow hope letter writing can make the same kind of comeback.  It seems like a long shot though.  I suppose it’s the nostalgia or novelty of it that I enjoy, but more than anything, I think I like the time it takes to perform these tasks.  Whether it’s selecting the album and queuing it up on the turntable, or the letter writing process itself.  For me, the time it takes directly correlates to how much care is put into it.  It gives the acts more meaning in the end.

I read a thought-provoking article on the subject in the New York Times a few months back when I became interested in a letter writing revival.  The author raised a good point about the literary letter and it’s importance to the craft itself.

“The publication of Saul Bellow’s letters in 2010 and William Styron’s last year were accompanied by waves of speculation about how many more such collections we can expect. There was also no small amount of hand-wringing about how ‘The Collected Emails of Dave Eggers’ (or whomever) will never cast quite the same spell.”

Maybe this is just the natural progression of the literary scene but I tend to take the view of my father when he says, “old school is the best school.”

That night when I got home, I folded up the 6 pages, placed them in an envelope and carefully added the stamp.  It had taken several hours to write the letter and I developed a seldom-felt hand cramp in the process, but I felt vastly accomplished when it was complete.  Dropping it into the mailbox, I walked away with a certain spring in my step.

I’ve felt compelled, just by sheer conditioning, to send Daniel a text asking if he has received it.  I have to laugh though because it completely defeats the purpose.  We don’t have to wait for many things in this day and age, and this is an important lesson in patience.  Whether he humors me and writes a letter back is something I’ll have to see for myself each day when I open the mailbox.

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