The Joy of Correspondence (In Praise of Snail Mail)

When I quit my job a few years ago, I had some specific goals for the year I was going to take off. I planned to read as much as I wanted to, and I wanted to learn to cook from scratch (beans and whole grains, soups and such). I wanted to learn more about medicinal herbs and make some simple remedies, preferably from my own herbs. And I wanted to start a blog.

I did not have correspondence on my radar. However, correspondence has become a major part of my life over the last few years, a huge unexpected joy.

It started with the haiku project in 2013. Write a haiku a day, put it on a postcard and send it to a friend. My Montana friend gracefully agreed to be the recipient of said postcards, and I decided to try to do a postcard a day for a year. I missed only a very few days, and I’m still doing it.

A friend in Colorado read about the project and started her own version of a postcard project with a variety of recipients (some receiving daily postcards and some receiving weekly postcards). I was one of the weekly recipients (and some weeks I received more than one). I am still one of the weekly recipients (we postcard project people clearly are not quitters), and she started her project back in August of 2014.

Fast forward to the fall of 2015. I started having serious computer problems. Email longer than a few sentences became untenable. It took a few months to figure out, but in the meantime, I was losing touch with some of my out-of-town friends, including Jami in Colorado.

So I started sending letters and cards via snail mail. This might seem extreme, but when it is taking two or three days to send an email, snail mail begins to look quite inviting. And I had an entire drawer full of cards that I had collected or received as gifts over the years, so there was no expense except postage. (Oh, and the obsession I developed with finding fun writing pens—you may not realize it, but sometimes you need to use different kinds of pens on different kinds of paper. Slippery paper requires special care.)

Jami (Colorado) almost immediately asked if I wanted to move completely (almost) from email to snail mail for the duration of my computer problem. Yes! And so it began.

With a weekly postcard and a weekly letter or card from Jami, plus occasional mail from other friends that responded in kind, getting the mail became much more fun. And the more fun it became, the more I wrote. The computer got fixed, and Jami and I continued our snail mail correspondence and still do. But now, it’s more like three or four cards a week (blank notecards that we usually write on both sides and the back), and it’s come to the point where I’m more likely to get something personal in the mail on a given day than not. And it’s not just Jami. I have several friends in town who send occasional cards and notes, and just today I got a postcard from a friend visiting Hawaii.

Sometimes I run across a funny in the newspaper that makes me think of a friend, and I clip it and send it to them with a note in a card (and it usually ends up being a longish note, because these are friends, and there are always things to say; also, smaller cards can be used if you are feeling somewhat less verbose on a given day).

I have one friend that I like to send scandalous postcards to because they make her burst out laughing when she finds them in the mailbox.

The payback? The payback is pure joy. First, I love writing (hence blog), so there’s that. But writing to close friends is more personal than the blog, and it can help me process feelings simply by writing them down, which is very grounding, so that’s a second thing.

Third, I get to support the U.S. mail system, which I think is one of the best things in this country. (And it also gives me an excuse to buy lots of the fun stamps the post office puts out, which I am tempted to count as number four but I won’t.)

Fourth, it brings joy into other people’s lives (a funny postcard, a poem, various goings-on, updates on important things like cooking successes and failures)—it singles a person out, and that means something; when the card is from a friend, you know it was chosen specifically for you; the words are written only to you. This primitive act of finding just the right card (or stationery), writing it, putting it in the envelope and addressing it (which of course means finding the address book), stamping it, and dropping it in the mailbox—somehow this primitive act does so much more than email. (I’m not sure which end experiences the greatest benefit, but I’m guessing the writer.)

Fifth, if you’re lucky, you might find a bit more personal mail on your porch floor (or wherever your snail mail lands). It’s fun. You pick it up, hold it in your hands. Read it (or tear it open and then read it), and if it’s a card, you often prop it up so you can enjoy it—usually for several days. (When’s the last time you propped up an email?)

Sixth, even if you don’t get more snail mail, you might strengthen relationships. I copied Jami’s weekly postcard idea and started sending a weekly postcard to my niece. This has led to a lot more correspondence (via text and email) and we’re both learning more about each other, which is a lot of fun.

Seventh, the correspondence can also be a form of artistic expression (especially with postcards). On my best days, the postcard picture reflects the haiku, and on the very best days, the stamp does too.

If this is new to you and you’re intrigued, you might want to consider starting small. Dig out some old postcards you got on vacation; send a note to a friend you’ve lost touch with.

Or perhaps you jump in with both feet and start your own project. A weekly postcard to an aunt or an old high school friend. A monthly riddle to your family….

If you like to write, you might be surprised at how much fun this can be. Addicting, really. Don’t say you weren’t warned.

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3 thoughts on “The Joy of Correspondence (In Praise of Snail Mail)

  1. Our snail mail experience, which has turned into our snail mail way of life, has enriched me (and my husband) in so many ways. And the continual snail mail correspondence with you, Liz, is one of the true major joys in my life. The first thing people notice when they walk into our house is that it’s filled with books. Then they see the movies and the music. But then they start to wonder about all these organized bins of postcards and stacked boxes of note cards! Artistic expression! (We even have framed postcards on the walls.)

    I work at a computer screen all day long, so it’s wonderful to switch gears into a different part of the brain by actually writing. And there’s science behind the link between retention and handwriting when it comes to learning and development!

    I’d like to add to your list of the pleasures and paybacks of sending regular correspondence. Vern and I give each other a postcard (sometimes more than one) every day. A friend said this felt like a chore she would come to resent, but we don’t feel that way, even after 3-1/2 years. It makes us pay attention to small things. And even when we’re a little grouchy with each other, we still get and give a reminder that we love each other. Doing The Postcard Project together has also given us a hobby that feeds on our love of learning. We’ve discovered artists/writers/explorers/scientists we never heard of until we found them on postcards. I like to think we’ve spread that learning around.

    We’ve certainly spread the joy of snail mail around, as you mention too. Vern had lost touch a little with his five sisters after their parents died, so his weekly postcard list began with them. Now we get regular postcards from several of them, and occasional ones from the others. And they send to one another now too. Vern’s list has expanded to several friends he made through work at Whole Foods (one in Canada) and they too now write back, either by email or snail mail. It’s deepened their friendships. And the same for me: I’ve deepened older friendships and made new ones. I met someone I liked at the Colorado State Democratic Convention two years ago and we’ve become true friends thanks to a weekly correspondence. I have one old friend who never, ever responds to a postcard, even though she’s gotten one from me every week for over three years. But when I walk into the house she shares with her elderly father, I see various framed postcards in places of honor. That says a lot.

    We also wanted to do the postcard project to keep in touch with three elderly women in our lives. Vern’s aunt is one of them. She just turned 94 and she sends us a postcard several times a month, from a stash she has obviously kept in a drawer for many years. She’s become so invested that she also writes to all of Vern’s sisters now. Maybe it’s even extended her life, right?! I know for her and the other two women in their late 80s and 90s, it takes them back to an era when people took the time to write. They feel overwhelmed with technology, but they love getting snail mail!

    And, finally, we feel we’re throwing something good – that anyone can read – out into the universe. It needs that right now.

    A long comment, I know, but it’s a subject I feel passionate about. And I only came to it because of you, Liz, so thank you. Getting snail mail has become such a part of my life that I feel positively bereft when I don’t have something personal come through the mail slot! But not today . . . I got three cards from you last night. 🙂

  2. Ah! You would probably love Postsecret (if you haven’t already seen it – Google it.)

    Lovely post. There’s something so truly wonderful about good old-fashioned snail mail.

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