Tuesday 13 March 2012

letter writing

In the long and lazy past; in those almost unfathomable pre internet-and-e-mail days, I used to get great pleasure from writing and receiving letters.

It started when I was quite young, perhaps grade two, when my best friend Zeenat moved away from Toronto, to Nairobi.  I used to love receiving her whisper-thin, crinkly blue, self-sealing air-mail letters.  On the front were stamps showing animals I'd only ever seen in books or on nature programmes.  I'd tear the edges open, and on the inside would be stories about her life in a land half-way around the world.  We did this for a few years until the letters petered out and we eventually lost touch.

Since then, I've had letter exchanges with a few friends, but in the past few years - and I do blame e-mail for this as much as my own confounded laziness - it's dwindled.

I love the physical act of writing on paper.  I love being able to tuck photos, drawings, other miscellany into an envelope and post it to a friend.  But I haven't been doing that lately.  It is so much quicker to fire off an e-mail.  (I rarely use the phone - I have an almost pathological dislike of talking on the phone.)

Recently I was reading a post on Alisa Golden's blog.  Alisa is an artist, writer, and maker of beautiful books.  Her post  "Save The Paper Mail" was an answer to recent concern about the trend away from letter writing.  I was so gung-ho that I posted a comment, and as I was one of the first three to do so, was lucky enough to receive a lovely hand made postcard.  Did I mention she's also a fabulous calligraphist.

In my comment, I mentioned that my dear friend, Kristin, who lives in Vernon, British Columbia (a world away it seems), knows a woman who's started a once a month letter writing club there in the Gallery Vertigo.  Cards made by local artists as well as stamps are available to purchase; there are tables and chairs; and most importantly, an environment to encourage the art of letter writing.  Groups like it exist in many places as people are drawn, more and more, to putting pen to paper and stamp to envelope.

So, last week I bought a pad of paper and a packet of envelopes.  It's good to get back at it.  I just hope I can stick to it.

I would also like to offer, in the spirit of Alisa's post, to send off hand made postcards to anyone who might be interested.  Just let me know in a comment (e-mail me your address) and I'd be happy to do so.


  1. I used to be such a letter-writer in my teens but of course, the older I got, the busier I got, and now email has completely substituted all my letter-writing. There are times when I see pretty stationary that I think, oh, I should write a letter! But then I think of my hand getting cramped and I wouldn't know who to write to... so yes, sad but unfortunately, I suppose it's just not convenient for me anymore.

  2. Hi Lynn - great post! I'm going to go follow the links after commenting. I do miss handwritten letters, I wonder at how sped up everything is now. Seems time slows down in my studio, though, thank goodness for that!

  3. As much as I applaud the communication value of e-mail, I think there is still something extraordinary about "old school" paper correspondence. Perhaps it is the tactile-ness of it, (like the difference between reading a book vs. a screen of some sort), or maybe it is knowing that each card or letter has had its own journey before it comes to end up in your hands. It's good to know that others still appreciate the magic of ink and paper :~)

  4. lynn--so many people i've let dwindle in my knowing by not continuing to write to them. this is a lovely thing. better yet, i will write back!

  5. I'm slacking in the letter-writing department too.
    It is too easy to email or "chat" sometimes!

  6. I have been exchanging snail mail letters with art work with one friend for years. We create one work a month. She binds her's into books. I keep mine in boxes. In between we do email and if it is a juicy enough email I print it and add it to my box. This practice of ongoing correspondence is part of what keeps my world spinning. We also find "inclusions" to add - bits and bobs, a poem.

  7. What a great offer Lynn! It seems that I only get regular (snail) mail from my younger sister, and then only occasionally from my last living grandparent. My other grandmother - while she was living - wrote me short letters on a regular basis. I still have a bundle of them in my momentos box (don't/haven't kept a lot of momentos otherwise.)

    Yes, please, on the post.

  8. Sonia, I must confess to hand cramp stopping me part way through my latest letter. So frustrating! E-mail is so convenient - I use it all the time. Hard to imagine life before it.

    The speed of things is quite something, Valerianna. On moving from Toronto to Munich, I immediately noticed a slower pace to things, which I really liked. But still, I'm craving more slowness - I find that I'm not productive in a hectic environment. Could never be a New York or Berlin type artist. Your studio looks the perfect place to escape the hectic nervous-making distractions of this fast world of ours.

    I agree, Donna, it's so much to do with the tactile-ness. E-mails are great for ease of keeping in touch and I use them all the time, but I don't think I could read an e-book. I usually have to print out any articles or stories that are too long for me to read on the computer screen. (And then they're on yucky, cheap computer paper...)

    It is unfortunate, Velma, that loosing touch. I sometimes wonder where that long young friend of mine is...

    That's just it, gz, it's so easy with e-mail - although I am guilty of letting e-mails go unanswered for far, far too long.

    Leslie, that is such a beautiful thing! LIke a two-way living diary/art journal. I love it. Thank you, also for your comment on my last post.

    Jan, how lovely to have those letters from your grandmother. What a very special thing. With letters, as apposed to e-mails, you have the person's own writing - their own unique marks on paper. That's a magical thing. Not the same with e-mail.

  9. I also think that with the internet and email, we are losing the art of letter writing and mail... I belong to an envelope exchange group...and look forward to receiving my envelopes for the month.

  10. What a lovely idea, Donna, of an envelope exchange. Always something other than bills and pizza-joint flyers to look forward to!

  11. I've come to this post a little late, but just wanted to say you've inspired me to try and set aside time for letter writing again. I've always kept the letters and postcards I've received, but they are so few nowadays. I have letters my great-grandparents sent to each other. Being able to hold the paper they pressed words into feels amazing. I don't suppose people would want to inherit email inboxes. So much is lost if we don't write letters.

  12. You're so right, Claire, there will be no inheriting of email inboxes! That's wonderful to have the letters your great-grandparents sent to one another. Jan, above, mentioned that she has letters from her grandmother. It's such a lovely, personal thing to have - the paper that that person once held, and the marks made by their hand...there is a magic in the marks that people make and the words that they write.