Thursday, January 29, 2009

A Lost Art

I was reading a blog the other day of someone who still loves writing hand-written letters. The act of putting pen to paper is considered an art form by some, but it’s a dying art. In our day of Hallmark cards, emails, and texting with short comments punctuated by abbreviations, penmanship and authorship are eroding. It wasn’t so long ago that sending and receiving a handwritten letter was a savored pleasure in life.

Throughout history, handwritten letters have recorded moments big and small, feelings high and low, things mundane, tragic, poetic, romantic. This used to be such an important part of people’s lives. Today these letters are links to the past, echoing of hurts, disappointments, joys, loves, excitements and experiences, pulling us into the writer’s life, if only for a few moments, as we realize they cared enough to put it on the page. They are gifts of the writer’s time and energy.

I’ve had some remarkable letters in my life: A letter my father wrote to his four young children. A flurry of letters between my twin brother and me while he was stationed in Iraq during Operation Desert Storm 18 years ago. A collection of letters my cousin wrote to a French nurse before being shot down over France in 1917 at 30 years of age. I treasure these gift-wrapped memories—powerful and palpable signs of love and life constructed one word at a time—and I reread them often.

I’m inspired to send thoughtful letters in 2009, reaching out to those I care about with handwritten sentiments that share a part of me. Combining solitude with good company, letter writing can allow me to go places while moving nothing but my heart.


Raph G. Neckmann said...

Handwritten letters are special. I love the sentiments of your last paragraph - something I am also inspired to do.

Blogging and email are uplifting too - and can reach folk one wouldn't even know existed! Not as long-lasting as letters, but often apt and of-the-moment.

Anything which can help to alleviate that 'quiet desperation' you speak of in your comments a few posts ago. Yes, I have noticed it too and it has long been one of my aims to contribute in my small way to lifting it.

Reya Mellicker said...

I love handwritten letters, though I can't remember the last time I received one, or even the last time I wrote one!

It's funny that when the mail arrives, I'm always eager to sort through it, even though I should know by now that the only stuff addressed to me will be either bills or junk mail.

Maybe I'll write someone a letter tonight. What a good idea.

willow said...

I recently read through a stack of letters my grandmother had written to her two sons, my uncles, while they were in college. They were full of everyday events and sweet nothings. I cherish them.

TheWritersPorch said...

This is very beautiful. It is a Lost Art. I wrote a short story years ago about this very thing.

The Pink Cowboy said...

Peggy: Your blog is a delight to the senses! Absolutely adore your wallpaper. I agree with you a hundred percent, I miss handwritten letters. I also miss writing with my fountain pen as much as I used to. I always thought that good penmanship was a delight to read. Thank you for visiting my blog, you're always welcome.

Sydney said...

oh, I am all for it! I used to write letters, collected stationery or al colors and textures, enjoyed waiting in line at the post office to pick out special stamps, used a fountain pen. I was really upset when e-mial was invented as I thought, there goes anything but bills and junk in the mailbox... but while that is mostly true, I was surprised to find that e-mail kept me in MORE touch with more people than letter writing ever had.

I love the idea of spending your year taking a little time to write the old fashioned way. Sounds like it will give you as much pleasure as it will the recipient. Can I be one?!?! :-)

Joanne said...

I read recently about a Penn State teacher who received student evaluations from 350 students, and not one critique was written in cursive! He attributed this to limited opportunities to practice cursive with the presence of the keyboard now.

I love your idea of writing letters in 2009. My hope is that letter writing will never be out of vogue, but continue to be a presence we enjoy.

neetzy said...

I totally agree with you. I rarely receive handwritten letters anymore. I still receive wonderful handwritten notes from one lovely woman. She was both my daughter's first grade teacher. She wrote them letters in first grade and she writes to us still. She recently commissioned me for a painting and wrote me a beautiful thank you card. I love her notes. I keep them all. I am guilty of abandoning the handwritten letter, but I think your post has inspired me to make a goal of it. Thank you Peggy!

steviewren said...

My daughter-in-law writes me the nicest notes. They might be short, but they are certainly sweet.

Derrick said...

Hello Peggy,

Your post is lovely and evocative of times past. I loved to receive letters when that was the way the world worked. I do still, though less frequently!

When I read historical books I always wonder at the exchange of letters that could take days, if not months, to reach their recipients and the fact that the world moved so slowly, very little had happened in between to render the news outdated!

There was also a time when a letter posted in the morning would be delivered in the afternoon - some hope nowadays!

I like the fact that e-mail travels in the blink of an eye; that it can be read by the recipient at their convenience, no matter time zones or where in the world; that it can be "dressed" with backgrounds and photographs and even music if wanted; and you still know that someone is thinking about you.

A handwritten letter may be a beautiful thing but I would hope that, even if sent electronically, my words, thoughts, feelings and sentiments would be every bit as sincere and heartfelt.

A Cuban In London said...

I, too, read a blog recently about hand-written letters, it might have been Willow. There's a whole art out there disappearing because of mobile texts and e-mail. Pity, really.

Greetings from London.

Poetikat said...

It has been so easy in the day and age to become reliant on the swiftness of they type-written word, be it through e-mail, or e-cards or even blogging. It's a tragedy that our generation (most of the readers here, I suspect) will be the last of those who wrote by hand on a daily basis. It astonishes me, even the way young people take notes in college/university - perhaps high school (I don't know).
I have a bag of letters that my dad wrote when he was alive - there are so many of them - they were written by hand and then typed by my mother, to be sent to politicos and newspaper people and family.
I, myself, have handwritten letters between me and my Great Aunt, my Grandmother, my mother's sister, my cousin and a good friend in England. You DO inspire me to put pen to paper again, but you know - it is physically a hard thing to discipline oneself to do, isn't it?

This was a thoughtful and perceptive piece.


Sherri said...

From the time I was 10 until computers became so popular, I favorite gift to give and to receive was beautiful stationary and matching pen sets. I still love them, but one box lasts a long, long time now.

When I send Christmas cards, I spend a lot of time writing a personal note on each individual card and never buy the pre-printed ones. Though very popular, they seem very impersonal to me.

Lovely thoughts, Peggy.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

I do still write letters, but I worry that it is a dying art. Between email and the more horrendous texting...I am concerned that the beauty of the language is being erased a bit. Sigh.

Peggy said...

Raph, I consider your blog to be a splendid effort to alleviate quiet desperation. Well done!

Reya, I do the same thing...every day. I anxiously sort through the envelopes looking for a personal missive. Alas, rarely do I find one. My motto for 2009 is this: If I want to receive letters, I shall write letters! :)

Willow, it's true, isn't it? It seems the letters that say the least convey the most.

Carol, I'd love to read your short story. Is it on your blog?

Peggy said...

Pink Cowboy, warm welcome to you! I so enjoyed my visit to your blog. I agree with you regarding penmanship. I have books on calligraphy and so love the art of beautiful handwriting.

Sydney, I'll bet you ran across some exquisite stationery when you collected. I especially love handmade papers. Email is a wonderful technological tool, but there is something so special about a handwritten note. (Send me your address and I'll put you on my list!)

Joanne, when I think of the hours and hours spent in school trying to master cursive, it fills me with sadness that there is a whole generation who will never use it.

Peggy said...

Neetzy, in order to avoid overwhelm, I'm going to start small. I've decided to send one thoughtful handwritten letter a month. One can't rush pell-mell into these lofty new habits! :-) I just want to make sure I continue to enjoy it, and that it never becomes a chore.

Steviewren, I'll bet you keep them, don't you?! Ever since I was a child, I've kept a keepsake box. And after all these years, the only things I continue to keep in it are my special letters.

Derrick, it's true that electronic communication has its place. You can't beat the convenience and immediacy of your message being delivered. However, seeing familiar handwriting on an envelope in the mailbox holds such promise. I set it aside until I can make a cup of tea and "visit" with it. Ah, the simple pleasures!

And rest assured, even if they are sent electronically, your words, thoughts, feelings and sentiments are every bit as sincere and heartfelt. :-)

Peggy said...

Cuban, welcome! Thanks for dropping by. It is a pity. But I intend to single-handedly resurrect this lost art in my little neck of the woods!

Kat, it does take self-discipline, doesn't it? I type so much faster than I write and I often find myself heading to the keyboard to pound out a letter or an email. Interestingly enough, I write very differently when I do it by hand than when I type it. I don't know why that is, but both Julia Cameron and Natalie Goldberg have noted the truth of that. Have you found that to be true also?

Peggy said...

Sherri, I totally agree with you about the impersonal nature of cards. When someone has taken the time to pen something just for me, that alone makes it special. I keep these special missives in my keepsake box. I love taking them out and rereading them. Another thing I do is to tuck them into books. When I open a book, what a glorious surprise it is to have a letter, long unread, drop out!

Peggy said...

Pamela, yes! The beauty of language, as well as the beauty of the written word... In 2009, I will be a small but significant beacon of hope for letter writers everywhere! :-D

Bee said...

I often wonder what the poor biographers are going to do . . . without that cache of saved letters to refer to as they attempt to re-construct a life.

Do you suppose that blogs will become a saved artifact? (How long before an inactive blog disappears? How long might Blogger allow us to maintain a blog?)

I also like funny/special cards - and I DO send and receive these regularly.

Barbara said...

Love your blog. My daughter,age 22, has also decided to write letters to her friends that can be saved and cherished. A friend bought her sealing wax for her letters, and ink. Some kids today recognize that the letters of the past that you can hold and doodle on if you please are very special.

Peggy said...

Bee, I also wonder about whether all these musings of ours will evaporate in cyberspace at some point. I keep a hard copy of each of my posts.

In my genealogy research, I don't know what I would do without old letters, journals, etc. They've been invaluable in putting a human face on history.

Peggy said...

Barbara, how lovely that your daughter is choosing a proactive approach. Good for her! That's my motto, as well: To receive letters, I must write letters! Thanks so much for stopping by.