As a teenager I had an English penfriend. For years we sent each other monstrous epistles on thin, lightweight airmail paper, sharing our thoughts, our joys and woes and our deepest secrets. My brother Mick and I did the same, packing enormous wads of paper into small envelopes that bulged mightily with closely-written pages and pages of news and secrets. The year that I lived in Japan, the post was a lifeline to home.
The thrill of an envelope hand-addressed to me has stayed with me all my life.
And then came email. How immediate! How exciting! I,fickle creature that I am, and most of my fickle generation, abandoned letter-writing in favour of emails, online chat, sms texts and the biggest letter-writing killer of all – social networking sites. Long, newsy letters to individuals, and the creation of a shared ‘history for two’ have given way to short, pithy status updates or 140-character tweets to an entire network of friends and acquaintances. Intimacy has been sacrificed on the altar of immediacy. It’s sad.
Don’t get me wrong – I LOVE the fact that I can stay in contact with so many people so easily. But staying in touch via a series of generic and impersonal bytes of life isn't the same as the written equivalent of a whispered message in the ear of a friend, meant for them and them alone. Besides, I miss the thrill of seeing my name handwritten on an envelope.
Think about it – when someone writes you a letter, it means that they care enough about you to write something that is just for you; to fold it and address it, attach a stamp to it and take it to a mailing point - each action a ritual of friendship that they have considered worth spending time on. Think for one second about how very special that is!
Every day I put hundreds of postal articles into hundreds of mailboxes. Tragically, the small handwritten envelope is almost extinct. The only things that travel through the post these days (apart from the thousands of parcels - online shopping booty that is killing the retail industry in the same way that online communication is killing letter-writing) are bills, advertising bumf and super-aggressive Readers Digest marketing ‘letters’ masquerading as sweepstake entries. Those are the things keeping the postal system alive – and they suck!
The Readers Digest 'mail' that has cluttered up my letterbox over the last month or so. They must spend a fortune on postage - no wonder their merchandise is so expensive! I'm saving up all my letters, and when I have enough to fill a small box - won't be long now - I will send them back with a nice letter.
If everyone in Australia wrote just ONE personal letter a fortnight, the volume of mail would increase a hundredfold, and the joy quotient a thousandfold.
I read Jane Austen’s Lady Susan a while ago, and the epistolary style of the novel made me nostalgic for the shared world of letters between friends. I was inspired to take up letter-writing again, after many years of thumping away at a keyboard, embroiled in e-comms. Oh, what a pleasure it was, constructing sentences in my head and committing them to paper without the middleman of a keyboard with a delete button! But it was nothing compared to the pleasure when, yesterday, during the execution of my mail-sorting duties, I came across a letter addressed to me in my friend Anna’s hand. I collected it from my PO Box at the end of my shift and, quivering, carried it home to read. It made my day – my week, in fact.
No email, no pithy text or witty tweet can compare to tucking into the juicy words of a real, hand-written letter that is just for you. I am so glad I rediscovered that joy, and I am so so sorry knowing that so many youngsters will probably never know that joy for themselves.
Write a letter to someone today – go on!