The Joy of Letter Writing

Sitting down and writing a simple letter requires dedication and focus, and that's why it's so wonderful to get a letter in the mail. Someone took the time to write to you.

The Joy of Letter Writing
Photo by Anne Nygård / Unsplash

When I was in grade school my teacher taught us how to address an envelope, write a letter, and put it in the envelope. Once we mastered that, we were given a list of names of students in a mid-western state to pick from as our new pen pal. Each name on the list had a topic they were interested in. Since I liked science, I picked a boy's name that liked science too.

We all got busy writing a letter to our pen pal the next day. After writing a standard greeting and introduction, I asked what my future pen pal’s interest in science was.

I’m not sure if this was the moment that I fell in love with writing but this moment sure was a big one for me.

We finished our letters and our teacher collected them. She mailed them to her counterpart in another school the next day.

A few weeks later we got our responses.  I remember how excited I was watching her walked down the rows of desks handing out envelopes to all the students.

“Thomas, here’s your letter!” I grabbed it excitedly from her hands, ripped off the top, and read carefully written cursive script.

I’m not sure if this was the moment that I fell in love with writing but this moment sure was a big one for me.

I read his letter with zeal. Travis wrote about how he liked geology and rock hunting. He liked science and space and thought Carl Sagan was cool. At the bottom of his letter was his home address, he wanted to continue to write after we finished this assignment.

Where else can you join or form a community of like-minded people from around the world?

I rushed home, wrote my reply and asked my mother for an envelope and stamp. I carefully wrote down his name and address and then asked her to mail it out for me.

Then, I waited.

And waited.

Then waited some more.

Nothing.

I never received a reply.

My first thought was that the letter got lost in the mail, so I wrote him another one and waited. Still no response. I was devastated.

The Pre Internet World

For all the problems the Internet has, it sure is wonderful sometimes. Where else can you join or form a community of like-minded people from around the world?

In the pre-Internet world, I grew up in a standard suburban town where no one shared the same interests I did. I wanted to talk about science, space, physics, and topics bigger than me.

I played in a punk rock band, did punk rock stuff, and studied Civil Engineering.

When I found a pen pal from halfway across the country that shared the same interests as me, I felt so connected. I felt like I wasn’t alone and that my ‘tribe’ is out there.

When the Internet came on the scene and communities sprang up, it was the first time we could connect quickly to each other. It was wonderful and today I have more friends online than I do offline.

Yet, getting a letter in the mail from a pen pal far away is always a treasure. Although I never heard from my first pen pal ever again, I was intrigued and excited to try writing to pen pals again.

I wouldn’t do that again until I was in college.

College was a fun and weird time for me. I went from having long hair and playing in a speed metal band to being a pagan and punk rocker. I played in a punk rock band, did punk rock stuff, and studied Civil Engineering.

I'm not very crafty but I do add a bit of Washi tape...

I also loved reading Maximum Rock and Roll, a fanzine out of California for Punk Rockers. In their classified section that I found my next pen pal. Her name was Barbara lived in New York City and ran in the same circles I did. Unfortunately, we never met but we corresponded about music, life, and everything in between. It was wonderful.

I never forgot the joy of getting her letter in the mail, it was the cheapest thrill!

Then my life changed. I graduated, cleaned myself up, traded love for money, and moved to New Mexico. She got busy with life and moved in with her boyfriend and we stopped writing.

Pen Pals Come and Go

Many years passed and I didn't write to anyone, I just worked and raised a family. Then, pre-Covid, I was on a cruise with my family in 2019. On a whim, I picked up a few postcards and decided to write to my parents and my sister.

It was only a few sentences, the standard, "having a great time, wish you were here" postcard, but it felt so good to mail them. I know that my parents loved getting the postcard from us and it brought them a little smile and it made me feel good too.

Then I turned 50 and made a conscious point to start doing the things that brought me joy. Writing letters and sending postcards brings me joy and if I could send a bit of happy mail to someone, then it was well worth it.

So I started writing my Facebook friends' letters. We'd correspond back and forth for a bit but then they'd stop writing. Instead, we chat by Messenger now and that's ok too.

You sent them your smile from 1,000 miles away, and that is wonderful.

So I did the next best thing, I joined a Penpal group on FB and put up my profile. I just asked for penpals from around the world and I ended getting about 14 of them.

Today I have about 10 active pen pals and we write to each other every few months. Some of my penpals are very crafty and make personalized envelopes. I'm not very crafty but I do add a bit of Washi tape here and there to send a bit of joy to them. We call it #happymail.

There is a time commitment to writing to your penpals but it's really small when compared to everything else that goes on in your life. Granted you could email them faster but at what cost?

Sitting down and writing a simple letter requires dedication and focus, and that's why it's so wonderful to get a letter in the mail. Someone took the time to write to you.

Think of it in the context of a new lover. Don't you enjoy all the focus and time they dedicate to you? It's the same way when you write a letter, you're giving someone something precious and that's felt in your words.

PS

The next time you go away on vacation somewhere, stop and get a few postcard stamps at the Post Office. When you walk around the shops at your vacation destination find a postcard and pick it up. Then write a few sentences to someone you care about, put their address on it with the stamp, and mail it out.

You just sent someone a deeper message than a mere text. You sent them your smile from 1,000 miles away, and that is wonderful.

You mailed joy.


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