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A trip to the porters is usually, as we all know, a pretty mundane experience. You sift through the bank statements, the twelve ASOS catalogues and the occasional birthday card until you find your name on… yes, probably something from the bank again. Lucky you.
Last year, I would search laboriously through this pile every few weeks and find, the address hand written, a cream envelope stamped from home. It was a letter from my sister, and I would write back. Admittedly it was one of the nicer parts of my week, despite the protests of my flatmate who would insist that it was too sickly for words. It wasn’t as if either of us sat in a rose garden under a lace parasol to write them; it was simply a means of communication that, to us, meant more.
Obviously this is subjective. I wouldn’t expect every reader to find such value between a biro-scrawled ‘dear’ and ‘lots of love’, because arguably it’s more about what you say than how. Nevertheless, that is exactly why letter writing still has such worth. It’s a lost art. Letters are about what they don’t say just as much as what they do. I don’t seal my envelopes with hot wax and the family crest, but there is something much more satisfying about posting something through the post box than simply pressing ‘send’. Having a physical object means more to me than looking at a rectangle of pixels in my hand.
Letter writing is easily dismissed as unnecessary. It’s more expensive, and it’s not instantaneous. However, letters are not about ‘just saw someone on the spine fall over LOOOOOOL’. They’re about speaking to the other person in a way you perhaps wouldn’t normally. You learn how they are instead of just a ‘fine, thanks’, and it doesn’t feel as invasive as a conversation because you’re not putting them on the spot.
There is a freedom in writing letters that is lost in other forms of correspondence because even an email, no matter how thoughtful, appears within a millisecond of sending it. Writing a letter is a way of showing someone that you have time for them. It’s a simple way of showing how much you care.
Out of curiosity I Googled ‘letter writing’ and instantly was instructed how to write one. This seems to say a lot about this day and age, without sounding like I was born in the 1800s. I can remember numerous times when in Primary School we were taught how to write a letter – granted, it was always to ‘sir or madam’ at the council rather than a sibling, but Google still surprised me with how many websites were keen to offer their help. I’m not ashamed to say how long it took me to get yours sincerely/yours faithfully the right way round (even today I feel dissatisfied with their contexts), but for such a seemingly basic part of our culture, it is mystifying that the concept of writing a letter has been somewhat written out of society.
I’m not saying you should go the whole hog and pluck a goose feather after reading this article. I will, nonetheless, make a feeble attempt at guilt-tripping you into thinking about how much your grandma would love to receive a letter from you. Whilst my mum was in Australia under a more youthful moon, she wrote to her grandmother every fortnight or so. She tells me about how it was one of the best things she ever did, because of how happy it made her grandma before she passed away. If you have an older person to write to, without patronising the generations above us too much, chances are they’ll be a lot more appreciative of knowing that you’ve taken a decent chunk of time out of your day to think about them and get the letter in the post.
Handwrittenletters.com is understandably madly enthusiastic about the practice of writing letters, with many comments on their homepage talking about how they ‘do not know of a richer and more satisfying way of getting to know a person’. And this seems to be exactly it. They’re really fairly easy, but are often regarded as complicated. Where is the complication? Are we worried we won’t have enough to say?
Perhaps. Sometimes I worried about that when I wrote to my sister. However, I never did run out of things to say. The ridiculous comments we make to each other just formed themselves on the page in front of me instead, and it was incredibly satisfying knowing she would open them in two days and laugh, not now, but then. It’s saving a moment for longer.
If you’ve read this like my flatmate and creased your nose, that doesn’t bother me; this envelope wasn’t addressed to you. If though, by some miracle you have no work to do, or you’re endeavouring to find a new form of procrastination, write the name of someone you love at the top of a page. Watch how the words fall underneath.