The Value in Handwritten Letters

Today’s guest post comes from Kate Wiggins. Kate lives in North Carolina and owns Sugar & Kiki, which supplies avid and aspiring snail mailers with monthly shipments of postcards, stamps, and note-writing tips.

Kate and Sugar

 

My nose loves to be in a book, literally and figuratively. I recently learned that there’s a word for “book smell” – bibliosmia. Books delight all our senses: the sound of a crisp page turn, the pop of a beautifully illustrated cover, the texture of the paper, the mouth water of an enticing recipe.

Long a diehard advocate for physical books, I could enjoy an audiobook occasionally, under the right circumstances – mostly long car trips. My mom and I made a cross-country trip in 1999, and we rented books on CD from Cracker Barrel (yes, Cracker Barrel), which offered an easy return-it-down-the-road policy. Those were mostly cheesy mysteries, almost always with punny titles and the town baker as culprit. No surprise that this didn’t inspire more book listening.

Kate and her Great-Grandmother

 

The audiobook game has evolved quickly in the last few years, with more work being recorded and some serious talent on the mic. These days, books fill my ears as much as my eyes. Mom and I listen to audiobooks on our daily walks. Thankfully, we have many more options than we did in the Sticks and Scones days.

The multimedia smorgasbord serves us in a variety of arenas, particularly in this chapter of quarantine and isolation from COVID-19. Most of us utilize a combination of screen and non-screen activity for our work, play, and boredom-staving.

Enter the world of interpersonal communication. We’re hearing how important it is to check in with your people and to lend support and encouragement through challenges and hardships. My quarantine communications toolbox includes text, Zoom, Marco Polo, email, social media, and my favorite: good old-fashioned snail mail.

My friend Brittany and I lived in the same town until four months ago, when I moved back to my home state. We decided to be penpals, a commitment that we had no way of knowing in December would lead to us chronicling life in the age of coronavirus. She shares anecdotes of working from home alongside her biochemist husband, things she’s scared about and delighted by, and encouragement for me. I tell old stories from before I knew her, things I’m disappointed with and happy for, and appreciation for her. Every missive includes an update on what we’re reading and/or listening to.

We might have built this lovely exchange on email, but probably not. It has an intimacy that digitizing would impair. We text, too, for quick check-ins, because that’s what digital communication is great for (and made for). For instant impact, grab your phone. For lasting impact, grab a pen.

 

 

The most common refrain I hear from would-be letter writers is that they don’t know what to say. Let me liberate you from this worry: The truth is that most people are so dang happy to receive snail mail that they don’t care if it’s boring, silly, short, long, written on the back of a take-out receipt, or even if it has no words at all. (I’m a fan of sending doodles.)

Picture your recipient walking to the mailbox. Maybe it’s the only time they’ll be outside their home today. Perhaps there’s a fresh rain or a neighbor is mowing their lawn. They might head down a few flights of stairs in an old building, or they might shuffle to the end of the driveway in their favorite slippers.

They open the box. They smell the ink of supermarket circulars, which are scrolled around a few bills and…oh my gosh, is that a letter? A real letter? They spot your return address, or your handwriting, and they think of you. They know you thought of them. And that, my friends, a text will never replace.

I leave you with these beautiful words, penned by the fantastically talented Terry Tempest Williams in Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place.

“Our correspondences show us where our intimacies lie. There is something very sensual about a letter. The physical contact of pen to paper, the time set aside to focus thoughts, the folding of the paper in the envelope, licking it closed, addressing it, a chosen stamp, and then the release of the letter to the mailbox – all are acts of tenderness.And it doesn’t stop there. Our correspondences have wings – paper birds that fly from my house to yours – flocks of ideas crisscrossing the country. Once opened, a connection is made. We are not alone in the world.”

 

From my house to yours: happy reading, happy writing, and remember: you are not alone in this world, as long as you have a pen, a stamp, and a good book.

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