LETTER WRITING

I recently wrote about the waning art of letter writing and return to it again for this is a subject that resonates with me: I enjoy writing letters. Real letters. Letters that give the recipient a flavour of what we have been doing, what is happening in this country, and that share opinions about cultural and social issues. My favourite form of letter-writing is by hand. I usually sit at the small stinkwood desk that used to belong to my grandmother and later my mother.

Holding a pen in my hand seems to provide a connection of some sort to the person I am addressing. More importantly, sitting at my desk focuses my attention on the act of writing. True, I look up now and then to watch birds as the pass the window or call from the tree tops; to observe the effect of the changing light on the landscape; or simply to gaze into the distance while my thoughts flow.

Letter-writing is a pleasurable activity for me. I have three, maybe four, faraway friends who also still use what has disparagingly come to be known as snail mail. One only writes by hand and another often adds a page or two of handwritten comments at the end of a typed letter – often a ‘one-size-fits-all.

I used to assume that most people resort to e-mail. I certainly type a lot of letters these days and attach them to e-mails – more often because I am unable to get postage stamps. Even these ones though are composed with care, the recipient always in my mind as though we are having a conversation. They are satisfying to compose and I look forward to receiving some interesting replies.

Articles and blogs I have read during recent weeks decrying the waning art of letter-writing and ‘old-fashioned’ face-to-face communication have confirmed that ‘most people’ do not resort to e-mail after all. Like SMSes/text messaging, e-mails have become passé, used for internal business communications and as a vehicle for would-be scammers.

We were discussing the role of Facebook the other evening. One brave soul commented that she had withdrawn from Facebook and faced a barrage of reasons from the others present why Facebook is such an important vehicle for communication these days. I remained silent for I have never joined that community. One person said “I rely on Facebook to remind me of birthdays” while another wondered aloud whether wishing all one’s ‘friends’ a happy birthday through that medium was as meaningful as sending a message via Whatsapp – or even e-mail – might be.

Articles about the benefits of taking a break from Facebook, switching off Twitter, and promoting family time without the ubiquitous cell phones abound. A recent article pointed out that modern society has become so dependent on social media that people feel they are losing out if they are not constantly ‘plugged in’. This reminded me of articles discussing the etiquette of watching television that were published once South Africans were at last able to have that broadcasting medium in their homes!

An apt phrase that is often repeated follows the lines of ‘don’t miss the actual beauty of the sunset because you are so busy Tweeting it.’

I leave you with this thought from Matthew Arnold:

Is it so small a thing to have enjoyed the sun, to have lived light in the spring, to have loved, to have thought, to have done?

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10 thoughts on “LETTER WRITING

  1. I used to be a letter-writer, Anne, during the only-snail-mail days. But sad to say I never found anyone as passionate as I was about letter-writing. Now I am a total convert to the modern ways. Only emails, or messages. My writing efforts go to the blog 🙂

  2. I have some thoughts on that tucked away for another time … I too enjoyed the ‘festivity’ of the cards – many with letters tucked inside – that arrived around Christmas. Charities used to benefit from the sale of reconditioned cards too. Alas, one seldom sees even commercial cards for sale any more 😦

  3. Thanks Anne, this post really resonated with me. I became a keen letter writer in my childhood, initially with regular letters to my grandparents. Then later I discovered the joy of writing to foreign pen-pals… Later when I was in the UK, it was the twice-a-day London mail that helped sustain a burgeoning romance with the man who was to become my husband! Our children continued the tradition of regular letter-writing, especially during their time at boarding school. I have kept all their precious Sunday evening letters: the dutiful ones, the tear-stained homesick ones and the quirkily illustrated ones. While I welcome the immediacy of WhatsApp, nothing conjures a person more vividly for me than the uniqueness of their handwriting!

    • This is an echo of me! I have boxes of letters kept for their content. One day I shall have to turn them into something that may be meaningful to others or else they will simply get tossed. It is the uniqueness of the handwriting that defines a person – and the particular turn of phrase that these days separates one typed (wordprocessed?) letter from another.

  4. Letter writing isn’t completely dead for me. However, I have gotten over cards. I have even asked people to stop sending me them on my birthday.
    For the past mother’s day, I got my mother a gift, but I knew she would like a card. So, dutiful son that I am, I bought her one. She said that was better than the gift.
    I am still learning.

    • As a former teacher, I confirm the greater joy of receiving a heartfelt handwritten card from the boys and girls I taught to the ‘teacher gifts’ purchased by their parents.

      • I might have to rethink this a little. A lot of my students give me “souvenirs” from their countries. Other than the Swiss chocolate, and Brazilian and Columbian coffee, I don’t have a lot of use for most of them. Recently some students have been writing cards–which I know must have taken quite a bit of effort. Surprisingly, I have kept those.

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