There is a quote by Lord Byron that goes “Letter writing is the only device combining solitude with good company” and I find his words resonate with me in a very particular way; as if someone, finally and truly, understands me. Letter writing is about more than a stationery addiction, collection of pens, and borderline juvenile enjoyment of stickers (but those things are certainly fun as hell). It is about slow, analog, deeply intentioned, and well built friendships. It’s about making deep human connections and remaining an introvert (although plenty of extroverts enjoy letter writing too!). When I joined the League of Extraordinary Penpals last year I had no idea at the time that I was joining my tribe. I have never been big on internet group friends and thought that, while I had found the group online, I would mostly be sticking to good old fashioned letters to communicate. It didn’t quite work out that way, though, as I found myself responding to the posts of others, and posting myself to the group page. I found myself bantering often, even with people I wasn’t regularly writing with, and what’s more is I found myself enjoying it.
So, last month, when someone mentioned having a meetup in NYC, I was thrilled at the idea. A quick headcount showed that there were plenty of members in the greater New York City area who were interested in attending – not to mention two members who would be vacationing here. Some minor arrangements were roughed out, a date was set, and my calendar was marked with anticipation. Despite the fact that I had never written to any of the people in this general area, I had seen enough banter to know who most of them were. One lovely lady, an admin of the site, I know from a life before pen pals, as she hails from my native Queens and we share a handful of mutual friends. We’ve been acquainted for about a decade, and knowing that at least one familiar face would be present made the experience of meeting so many new people a little bit less nerve-wracking.
This past Saturday I got myself up nice and early and prepared to head into the city. Our scheduled meet-up time wasn’t until 1 pm, but with the no free time that my life allows, I planned to get in early and take full advantage of a day where I wasn’t in high demand. I have a few items on my list that require a bit of free dedicated time around Manhattan and I keep telling myself how foolish it is that they aren’t ticked off yet. I also wanted to just romp around a few of my old favorite downtown neighborhoods, perhaps reading or sketching and drinking coffee. Family, work and various commitments prevent me from regularly doing this so I really had a good plan for Saturday. As usual, the universe scoffed at my plan and told me to shove it when my train was rerouted AND running local pulling me a bit farther from where I wanted to be. By the time I was able to jump off and gather my berrings a quick time check told me I wouldn’t have time to do much before the meet up. Determined to remain positive and make the most of my day, I headed to Bryant Part and walked to a nearby Barnes & Noble where I spent close to an hour wandering the stacks of my natural habitat, making a few purchases and settling into a cozy chair at the cafe. At around 10 to 1 I walked back toward the library. I spent approximately one minute positioned near out designated meeting area of Patience & Fortitude where I was almost caught in no less than 5 tourist photos shoving a doughnut into my face before moving my ass up to a quiet spot near the fountains.
Everyone else arrived within the next 15 minutes and we greeted each other as old friends. We debated heading into the library for some writing in the Rose Room, but instead opted for a nearby indoor atrium. It combined the serenity of green space with the modern comfort of air conditioning, a must during a New York August. The atrium was full of these delightful little bistro tables and directly next to a Starbucks, so I doubt a better place exists for writing. The 8 of us that showed up promptly set to rearranging the tables so they were together and unloading the massive supply stashes we brought to share. When we were done we each ended up with our own bistro table to use for writing and supply storage. More than one security guard gave us the eye on his beat through the building.
During this time we had together we got some letters and postcards written, but the most enjoyable part was getting to truly know each other better. We were often distracted from our letter writing by anecdotes and comparisons and plenty of good laughs. Here we were, 8 people from vastly different walks of life, connected by our love for all things snail mail and the diverse city we call home. It’s an interesting thing to meet the voice behind the pen and person behind the keyboard with whom you already have some level of acquaintance. Nothing can truly prepare you for the surprises that come with their mannerisms, inflections, and quirks; all of which would remain hidden to you without meeting in person. In our writing we are different and the same all at once, which is one of the beautiful things about writing. After a few hours of writing we headed to Chipotle for food before parting ways, with many promises for future meet ups. It had been so nice to get together and all I could wish was that we had more time.
As I wandered downtown toward the Seaport to catch the ferry, I lamented that I hadn’t done more while out and that I hadn’t written more. Since Nick was away and Nikki was sleeping at grandma’s I found myself in no rush to get home. While it was getting late, there was still sun and so I didn’t mind when I missed my ferry and the battery on my phone died while I was waiting an hour for the next one. I found a surprisingly quiet and peaceful little spot overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge and wrote until the ferry pulled in to port. If only I could shirk responsibility and do this once a week.
The ferry ride, and my rekindled love affair with my city…well that’s a story for another time.