Going Postal

I have a confession, guys. Writing is my preferred method of communication 9 times out of 10. I would rather text than call, I write letters to my husband to express my feelings about a situation, I vent my frustrations into a journal, I leave notes on my bosses desk, etc… This has ALWAYS been the case for me, that I am great with words so long as they are written. Perhaps this has to do with the extra thought process that goes into writing; rarely does the written word not carry it’s intended meaning. You have plenty of time to think it out, edit, and re-read when you are writing. Writing allows you to be your best version of yourself. At least, that’s my opinion on it.

Anyway, around the time that I started this blog I was constantly struck by the desire to write. Not just any kind of writing, though; I wanted to talk to people through my writing. Ultimately that is what led me to start blogging in the first place, but there was another option I had considered prior to landing here. That option was pen palling.

I remember the first time I ever had a pen pal. I was in third grade and my teacher was Mrs. Harmon, who has not always been remembered kindly through the years. I distinctly remember hating third grade. I had not yet come into my own sense of identity since my mother had remarried a few years before which left me with a few struggles of my own. Despite my father adopting me, there were plenty of people, adults and children alike, who refused to recognize the legitimacy of it; often referring to me by the wrong name or purposefully trying to confuse me or treat me poorly because of it. People can be very cruel and bullying is not a new phenomenon. It didn’t help that I was a bit of a tomboy, slightly nerdy, and was outfitted with round wire-frame glasses that same year. My closest friends did not go to the same school as me and, more often than not, I felt like an outsider. Being assigned my pen pal, a stranger in California who knew none of this, was truly the highlight of that year for me. Jessica was a third grade girl on the west coast with whom I would communicate until 6th grade. Despite never meeting in person we became friends through our frequent mail exchanges. She wasn’t in the loop of my small town problems and therefore only got to see the best version on me in writing. There was the added joy of getting mail that comes with pen palling. I admit, I was one of those kids who was always very excited to receive even the silliest mail. This moment in time sparked my love affair with letters, which still persists 20 years later.

Other opportunities for letter writing would pop up over the years – letters to soldiers and veterans, hormonally influenced love letters, or gossip that needed to be shared with a best friend in a different class, but the handwritten letter was fading fast. At first it was being rivaled by email as the world quickly evolved into the current society of instant gratification. As the late generation millennials entered their school years, and we early millennials entered our college/post-college lives the letter seemed to be a thing of the past. The late gens weren’t even being taught handwriting, no less told to hand-write  letters to some far off stranger; the early gens were adapting to the newest communication technology known as text messaging which eliminated the need to ever write to anyone on paper. And so, it had seemed as if the art of the letter had been retired to the annals of history.

I pondered all of this in 2013 as I searched for the best platform to write. I did a few quick google searches but most of the landed me nowhere. At one point I joined a site geared toward international penpalling and immediately regretted it as I was bombarded with pornographic requests. In my brief stay on that site I found only one seemingly kindred soul with whom I shared a brief penship, and we exchanged a few letters before she abruptly stopped answering. I left it alone and moved to the widely accepted writing outlet of blogging. I have tried (and often failed) to maintain this site whenever I am able, and while I enjoy it there is no denying that blogging tends to lack the authenticity and personalization of hand written letter.

I tucked away my desire for letter writing into the back of my mind until September, when I was trolling instagram while holding a sleeping newborn and came upon #mailart. I immediately clicked on the hashtag and began perusing the multitude of snapshots. Before long I found myself hashtag surfing through a treasure trove of topics all related to a supposed revolution of snail mail (#SnailMailRevolution), and was eventually led to the den where all the coolest mail aficionados hang out. I set out googling the origin of many of the tags I had come across and ended up finding a number of groups dedicated to pen pals and the (re)cultivation of the hand written letter.

After researching I came across sites such as PostCrossingLetter Writers Alliance, and The League of Extrodinary Penpals, to name a few. There were free sites and fee sites and just mass gatherings of my type of people in all corners of the world. I had found a whole world full of letter nerds and literally could not have been happier. I decided to join one of the sites that charge a nominal fee in the thought that usually people will only pay for something if they’re serious about it. I am also currently a member of two other groups on Facebook that are free but do feel less serious overall. All in all though you have the ability to connect with so many people, each one vastly different from the next. There is no mold for the “type” of person a pen pal should be, there are men and women, old and young, crafty and not… the list goes on and on.

In the 8 months that I have been a part of this world I feel like I am truly home. It has been so great connecting with people in such a slow and gratifying way. I find that each letter I receive possesses something that is only available in this style of communication, some sentiment that the advances of technology have taken away. I have made friends with whom I share hilarious, upsetting, and deep conversation with, and because it will be a while before my news reaches them I have to be both descriptive and anticipatory.

For me, this has been such a remarkable journey and I am incredibly grateful for it. Letter writing has been very therapeutic for me; it has also helped to improve my handwriting and organizational skills. Furthermore it has helped to maintain a bit of my own identity, which is a struggle when you become a mother. It has been something that is uniquely “mine” and almost feels like a lifestyle at this point. It is not a hobby I foresee being pushed aside when life gets in the way, because those sticky real life moments are the exact ones I want to share with my friends.

I set out to write a few letters and instead I found my community, my niche in this connected world we share. The Snail Mail Revolution is by far the one I am happiest to be a part of.

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One thought on “Going Postal

  1. I’m with you, Jill!! I’ve always preferred writing to express myself — I even used to write my mom “apology” letters (without her asking) after getting in trouble as a kid…I’d slide them outside of my bedroom door when I was on “time out” !! And now I’m in a VERY long-distance relationship (NY –> Japan) and even with all of the technology, my preferred method of communication is handwritten letters! It’s so much more personal.

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