The Lost Art of Letter Writing
by Glenn Starkey @GStarkeyBooks
One of my aunts telephoned to remind me of another aunt’s birthday. Horrible as I am at remembering such important dates, I gladly accepted the information.
“Glenn, you know how much she loves to receive one of your letters….”
The telephone call came from the same aunt that had saved letters I wrote to her long ago from Vietnam as a young Marine. While one aunt cherished letters she often referred to as ‘mini-novels,’ another aunt eagerly awaited her annual ‘birthday’ letter from me. I knew a nice Hallmark birthday card with flowery phrases and artwork would be acceptable to send, but it would never be as highly valued as a personal letter. I realized how amazing it was that a personal letter, well-written and comprised of family events and incidents, could bring happiness to someone. The thought kept churning within me for hours.
As a society, we are possessed by the insatiable hunger for advancements that allow us to communicate faster and with greater ease. We are in a technological race we will win in the long run, yet in the end, will have lost the value of one-to-one personal contact, and the importance of our written word. Take a moment to consider the evolution of our communications with loved ones. For this writing I am solely referring to letters to family members or dear friends, not business activities.
We began by calling a letter “snail mail” when sent through the postal service. Delivery took too long, so we introduced email into the equation.
Email was found to be fast, arrived within seconds of clicking a ‘send’ button, and you could address it to as many family members as you chose – and they in turn could ‘forward’ your email on to as many people as they wished. Often you received an email with multiple headers consisting of dozens of addressees, all before you ever received it. That really had a ‘personal’ touch for you, didn’t it?
We were not satisfied though and developed ‘texting’ to one another via cell-phone (which should not be performed while driving.) Next in the mix came Facebook whereby families and friends used it to keep in touch, ‘post’ notes of their activities, to say ‘Hello’ and inquire about each other’s lives or tell of special, personal situations. And of course, all your ‘friends’ were able to read what you posted. Twitter had a similar usage, and Google has joined the technological race as well.
With letters, we typed or handwrote each using full words and sentences to express ourselves, our emotions on a subject. The letters were sent from one person to another, not copied to you on a string of addressees.
When cell-phone texting came about, entering full words became too slow so abbreviations were given birth which spread and became a norm. Facebook allows for full words and sentences, but as we know, Twitter restricts users to 140 characters, forcing U 2 chop ltrs 2 simply say, “OMG, TY” or “O I C U 8 1 2.” I hate being forced to use such abbreviated codes to express myself. It feels like the ‘dumbing’ of America which I also compare to a long list of ‘reality’ shows on television.
I read an article which discussed how high school and college students had difficulty writing required papers because they were so accustomed to daily usage of texting abbreviations. Another article stated a school district in Indiana was considering not teaching cursive writing to students anymore because of the reliance upon computers. I recently learned the school district in my hometown is discussing the same action. If our youth cannot properly write a school paper or do not know how to write in cursive, where are we being led in terms of private, personal communications as a letter is from one person to one another?
While a mailed letter may be considered old-fashioned to some in this day and age, it still holds an important place in our society. The same as a reader may prefer to physically hold a book in their hand rather than a Kindle or Nook, a well-written letter held in some people’s hands is equally valuable. Throughout my life I have grown with the various trends and electronics as they came along. I experienced the evolution of technologies and used them to the fullest in both personal and corporate life. But there is an older generation of people who did not, and they still find happiness in the arrival of a well-written letter addressed to them. I do.
Have you ever witnessed a loved one or elderly friend open a special box and retrieve a bundle of letters, all tightly bound with a ribbon or string? Did you ever watch as their eyes grew wet and their fingertips gently brushed across the envelopes with reverence? Somehow the moment would be lost if they were to open a folder and pull out printed emails to show you.
We are writers. We compose novels and short stories with a variety of events and spectrum of emotions. Our books often overflow with characters and their quirky actions. Writing a letter to a loved one should be nothing more than a simple creative exercise in which you fill it with personal news they should know or would find humorous. Write about the stupid things you did such as locking yourself out of the house or the car. Grandparents love to hear about the antics of their grandchildren. They miss them and want as much news about their grandchildren as possible. I have an aunt who dearly loves animals. She enjoys my tales about our dog chewing and destroying everything in the backyard (and a ninety-three pounds Labradoodle can do a lot of damage!)
Consider your letters to be ‘mini-novels’ for the greatest readers of all, your loved ones.
Granted, not every communication should be a handwritten or typed letter. There is an appropriate time for those special writings, but we need to pause and consider when a personalized letter might bring joy or create a fond memory for those we love.
Don’t let the art of letter writing become lost to society.
Photo credit: Boy writes with pencil, The University of Iowa, ca. 1920-Fredrick Wallace, 1894-1984