The Art of Correspondence

Last night I attended the last Paging Columbus event of 2012 at the OSU Urban Arts Space and was honored to be a part of the panel! Alongside Kaitlin Sockman (of Ink & Ivory) and Professor Beth Hewitt (of OSU) – we discussed the Art of Correspondence and how it fits into our culture today. I was absolutely fascinated by the knowledge and insight that Beth brought to the discussion. Did you know that mail has always been predominately impersonal? It is often romanticized when we look to the past but most people have always received political mailers and bills. When it was personal…sending a letter was a way to express that, while you couldn’t be there in person, this letter should help you feel that I am present.

When I actually do write a letter, I tend to be generic and template-like.

Dear Grandma,

Thank you so much for the gift. I really appreciate it and hope you’re doing well. It was great to see you during the holidays and I hope to see you again soon!

Love,

Allie

BORING. So how do we bring intimacy and thoughtfulness back into letter writing? With Facebook and Instagram – it would seem foolish to write a letter to someone telling them what they already know and see. Are we putting too much out there? To the point that we don’t have much else to talk about in person or through letters?

On the contrary, I do feel that emails, posts and blogs can still have meaning. I try to be very thoughtful in anything that I post online and cherish emails that I have from my grandpa when AOL was super popular (ahh dial up).

What do you think? Is letter writing a lost art form? Is it just as special to pick out a beautiful card/envelope and write a quick note? Do you still send thank you notes via snail mail?

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Comments (25)

  • My family lives in Texas so I always send them (my mom, dad, and younger sister) birthday cards on top of giving them a call. I always go to my favorite stationery shop and pick out cards I think they would like. I think it’s important to do since I can’t be there to celebrate.

    Also, during my last job hunt, I sent out thank you cards in lieu of the traditional email. It might have played a role in getting my current gig; my boss (who interviewed me) still has my card on her desk. :)

    • I love picking out beautiful cards for when I do send mail. I should just do it more often because everyone loves getting mail!

      And good for you for sending out REAL thank you cards. Sometimes I get scared to do that because I’m afraid they’ll think I’m rude for not sending a thank you email…

  • I LOVE this! I have been thinking about this a lot. I try and send cards every once in awhile with personal messages and encouragement. I feel like it builds encouragement and intimacy that you just don’t get in an email or a letter no matter how hard you try. It communicates the, YOU MATTER.

  • I didn’t know that letters were “predominately impersonal.” I really enjoy writing letters, even to friends I see all the time. Sounds like a fascinating event.

    • Yes isn’t that interesting? You always assume letter writing in the 18th/19th century were love letters but really they weren’t!

  • We are BIG on snail mail in our household. We probably send out 2-3 personal letters a week. It’s because my family, in general, though VERY tech-savvy still just does personal letters a lot. And care packages. We’re big care package people.

    It works well for us because we have a lot in our lives that we don’t share on line.

    I just sent a care package in the mail to a friend I am going to see probably 2 or 3 times next week: because getting it in the mail is WAY more fun.

    I’ve actually putting together a mixtape/letter penpal program together on my blog in January! You know, for all 12 people who read it. <3

    • Care packages are SO fun to send. Maybe i just feel like a card isn’t that exciting if I’m just writing the same old things. I love buying little funny gifts for people so I should just do that more often. You’ve inspired me and I’m totally going to sign up for that mixtape/letter penpal program. I’ll be sure to share it on here too.

      • yay!

        i will say with our letters, who we send them to/when is kind of sporadic. some random thing will happen that we’ll want to tell a specific person about. instead of picking up the phone (because i’d rather die), we write it down and send it out in a card or letter. i’d imagine if we actually tried to sit down and write a letter, they wouldn’t be as “stafford-y” as our crazy, spur of the moment correspondence.

        • I like it though. I always see stuff I want to buy for random people. I need to just do it! Sporadic = exciting.

  • Benevolence C.

    I still write letters to my friend even though she lives an hour’s bus ride away. We started it a little while back because we were failing to keep up with each other and emails. It’s amazing to write a letter and then spend a few days waiting for the equally long reply!

    I do think letter writing is on decline with the idea that it’s an arcake method of writing, but I think it actually allows you to think before you write down (when you get a longish one ^.^) since deleting a mistake is a lot harder compared to when using a computer!

    • I agree – the concept of thinking through what you have to say is a lot more meaningful than just typing away at your computer and deleting when necessary. It is almost an exercise.

  • The only person I sit down and write to is my grandmother. She’s been writing me letters every couple months since I was a kid even though she only lives an hr away. My brother gets an occasional silly postcard, but for Grandma, I take the time to find nice stationary and write an actual letter.

    • That’s so special and I love it. When my grandma died a few years ago – we found her stash of letters that I had written her. I loved that she saved them and it meant a lot to me.

  • I don’t really share a lot of my personal life happenings online, so I think I could still write letters if I would just sit down and do it! I actually have a friend in NC who has been my pen pal since 2003. We’ve communicated primarily through the mail, even though we’re now friends on FB and follow each other on Instagram. It’s been really cool to read about what she’s up to in her own handwriting and have physical copies of her pictures.

    I do want to get better about letter writing and sending cards, because I think those are an important, tangible reminder of the people whom we cherish deeply. But I completely agree with you: emails and posts are still important! There are some emails I send that are reminiscent of the letters I would send if I were handwriting instead of typing to that particular person.

    • Yes! in a way – it all goes back to relationships too. If you have a special bond with someone – writing an email or a post can be just as meaningful! But I do what to be better (when I’m a mom or an aunt) to write letters to the special kids in my life. Once my friends’ kids get older – I want to send care packages and fun things like that.

  • I think someone’s handwriting is something that’s very special and unique to who they are, and I think it adds to the meaningfulness of handwritten notes and letters. I know that I will always cherish all of the cards my grandmother sends to me — her sweet, encouraging thoughts + prayers for me written carefully in her beautiful, personal script. :)

    • Completely agree! And with all this technology, it’s actually harder for me to write consistently (visually) which makes me sad. It’s a mixture of cursive and print and often trails off be the end.

  • There is something about old mail that feels a bit like an heirloom, like a secret between friends. Maybe its the texture, the tangibility of a hardcopy that makes it special…I’ve kept my old college letters from my grandmother squirreled away in a keepsake box that I like to dig out from time to time. For posterity’s sake, I suppose they are nice to have. You should check out “Kurt Vonnegut: Letters,” it’s a remarkable compiliation of his personal correspondence if you are a fan. And if not, I hazard a guess it might turn you into one!

    • Oh I’ll have to check that out! I love Vonnegut. And I agree- I also love that letters aren’t constantly accessible. Whether they’re stored in the attic, a closet or the basement…you must seek it out and almost re-discover them.

  • I love letter writing… there is just something about it. I don’t do it as often as I should, but I always appreciate a hand written letter so I figure others will too. I think that email and blogging can still be personal but a letter addressed to a specific person just holds so much meaning.

  • Jessica R

    I asked for a Perpetual Calendar for Christmas so that I can enter all my family and friend’s birthday & anniversaries and remember to send cards starting next year! I’m hoping to bring back the ‘art of correspondence’ to my life.

    In the meantime, I’m trying my best to write thoughtful notes on all my Christmas Cards. Step in the right direction?

    • I love that! I definitely should do that – getting a timely birthday card is the best! I think I’m going to send New Year cards this year. Must start planning!

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