Saturday, February 27, 2010

The Long Lost Art of Letter Writing (on paper!)

copyright aaron paul lazar, 2010

Most of us correspond daily with email. When you take a moment to slow down and examine your email, you may realize you write and receive dozens per day. Some days it’s more, but if we go away for a week or get caught up in life away from the Internet for a while, we’re often buried.

Sound familiar?

How long has it been since you wrote a real live honest to goodness paper letter? On stationary, for that matter? I hadn’t even sent Christmas cards in eons, since life got crazy and I could quickly dash off an e-card or a few lines of Christmas cheer with a bright email. So much simpler, right?

Email became so convenient that we all sneered at snail mail and used to roll our eyes when some venture required us to actually print out a letter and affix a (way too expensive) stamp to it.

But since I got my new wireless printer, packs of fancy paper and envelopes, and started applying for colleges and new agents all at the same time, I got into the groove of typing out envelopes (I never could figure out how to do that until now, LOL!) and letters on nice stationary. Damn, they look so good on that pale blue fancy parchment paper.

Strangely enough, I found the exercise pleasant. There was something satisfying about licking the stamp and putting it in the mailbox. I started to wonder if I was regressing to my youth, because I used to correspond with people all the time. When I left home to move to the Finger Lakes region of New York, I wrote long newsy letters to my grandparents back on the east coast. I’d enclose snapshots (another thing I haven’t ordered in ages! Must do that!) and enjoyed the process of sitting out under a big old maple tree during my lunch breaks at work, and penning many pages about our triumphs and traumas. My handwriting has gone to hell in a hand basket since then, probably because I don’t practice any more. It used to be quite elegant, something like the Renaissance man I’m supposed to be should have in his arsenal of skills. You know, drawing, piano, gardening, photography, poetry, and nice handwriting. Ha.

Since I’ve had a little more time on my hands this year (in starts and spurts), I’ve taken the time to print out well crafted letters to friends I haven’t seen in ages to reconnect with them. My ex-boss from Kodak, a fellow writer who’s in the hospital, my old pal from college… it felt good to create a letter you can touch and feel and save in a drawer. Know what I mean?

When people send me thank you cards – something that’s really almost a lost art, I think – I feel so special! After a library event or book club appearance, I’ve often received these colorful notes from my readers. You know what? It feels great.

I wonder, have you taken the time to pen a handwritten note lately?

Do you notice how much more casual we are in our emails compared to when we type them to print out or write them longhand? We’ve gotten more and more lax in our grammar, punctuation, and now the shortcuts are so common that even in this article I’ve used “LOL”, because I think there are just a handful of people out there who don’t know it means Laughing Out Loud. It’s so engrained now, I sometimes find myself tempted to use it in my writing, which is absurd, of course.

If you can find a spare moment this weekend, go dig up some of your old cards or stationary, and pen a thoughtful note to someone you’ve let drift out of your life. It’ll make you feel real good. And I’ll bet it will make your friend feel even better.


Aaron Paul Lazar writes to soothe his soul. The author of LeGarde Mysteries and Moore Mysteries enjoys the Genesee Valley countryside in upstate New York, where his characters embrace life, play with their dogs and grandkids, grow sumptuous gardens, and chase bad guys. Visit his websites at and watch for his upcoming release, HEALEY’S CAVE, coming in 2010.


Bobbi Mumm said...

I haven't written or received a real, handwritten letter on stationary paper in over four years. My mother-in-law, in Australia, passed away in 2005 and she was the last hold-out. My husband and I had a great time trying to decipher her writing and it gave everyone a lot of pleasure. I still write and receive thank-you cards and notes but no letters. Pity.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hi, Bobbi. Thanks for stopping by. It is a pity, isn't it? But that doesn't mean we can't stop and pen a nice letter once in a great while. ;o) I'm the last person I thought would ever say this. Funny how circumstances provide opportunities for such change. Have a great night!

Kim Smith said...

What a great post Aaron! And so true! My daughter is one of the hold outs. She loves writing actual letters and does it quite often. Thanks for the reminder.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Hey, Kim! Good for your daughter! It's even more rare among the younger generation. Yay for her! Sleep well, my friend. ;o)

s.w. vaughn said...

What is this paper of which you speak? ;-)

You're right, though. The world is moving away from the lovely practice of mailing letters. If the internet collapsed tomorrow, we'd probably all die, because we don't know how to connect with people any more... LOL

I do love getting and sending letters - any time except in the winter. Yuck, snow. :P

This is a great post, Aaron!

Joylene Nowell Butler said...

Thanks, Aaron. I need to do this.

Marta Stephens said...

Do business letters count? Because the Internet has affect our business relationships as well. Hmm. Okay, then.

Aside from Christmas cards, yes, I still send them out to close friends, family and neighbors, I mailed my last hand-written letters this past December.

This past week we received a note in the mail from my nephew and his wife who live in California to announce they just bought a home.

You're so right about the internet. It's convenient, but it's also impersonal. The fact that we take time to pen a note, place it in and envelope, stamp it, and take it to the post office speaks not only of the importance of the message, but how much we value the other person—me thinks, anyway.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Thanks, S.W.! You and snow, oh, how I know of your hatred for that white stuff! We finally got a good dumping on this weekend, and it's gorgeous. Winter wonderland! I can't wait to get out and take some pictures. It looks like Christmas cards everywhere. ;o) But I know if I got like ten feet of snow every day (like you do) that snow would soon lose its fascination. Ha.

Hi, Joylene. Nice to see you!

Marta, I'm not surprised that you keep up with that type of correspondence. You are a super woman, in my humble opinion. You do it all, including keeping up your beautiful house, making meals for the fam, taking care of four dogs, and all the rest. I bow down to you!