The Collected Letters: By Owl Post, Smoke Signal, or Snail Mail

Every summer marks the beginning of my efforts to cut my ties to technology and rediscover that I can in fact survive and thrive without it (she notes smugly as she types up a blog post). This might have something to do with lofty ideals concerning the degeneration of personal relationships through reliance on social media, but to be honest, the lack of cell phone service and adequate internet connections available at my parents’ house plays a much larger role in the decision-making process. This results in minor symptoms of withdrawal (including but not limited to convulsive shaking, headaches, and an irresistible longing for the click of computer keys beneath my fingers) for the first few weeks. Then, the first letter arrives in the mail, the air becomes thick with fragments of ripped envelopes, and I finally begin to let go.

My love of correspondence dates back to my elementary school days, or as I affectionately call them, my nomadic days. I had moved five times before reaching the ripe old age of middle schooler, and goodbye ranked among the greatest hits in my vocabulary. At the risk of sounding masochistic, I loved those two syllables: I loved the change they implied, I loved the act of reinvention that followed, and I loved the era of the pen-pal they introduced me to.

There’s something about opening an envelope that cannot compare to logging in and scrolling down a screen. All the inconvenience of waiting for lost, re-routed, or even the most timely of letters allows for the one beautiful pleasure we’ve seem to have lost in our frantic scramble to keep the present moment always at our fingertips: the pleasure of missing someone. The pleasure of not knowing whether that slight acquaintance from chemistry lab is currently watching Game of Thrones or that your best friend is enjoying an aesthetically pleasing brunch with four other friends (all of whom are tagged for your stalking convenience). The pleasure of not knowing whether you’ll unfold the notebook paper to learn about a strange and unprovoked attack by a rabid raccoon, a discussion of the principles of feminism, the acquirement of a banjo named Quincy Earl, a really horrendous spelling error, some uncooperative data in a Swiss research lab, or an unfortunate date during which your friend fell asleep. And among all the individual details which make for interesting tweet fodder, there’s still word count enough remaining for some ambling, semi-conscious reflection, for noticing what you can only see from a distance.

But enough of my tendency to take everything in life too seriously, including myself! Let’s be real… Although I allow myself the occasional angsty, existential musing, my letters invariably contain valuable tidbits such as the hilarious pick-up line used to no avail by the Panera check-out guy and the fact that my idea of being productive at this particular point in my life is making the effort to put on pants. And on the whole, those I receive contain the entertaining montage of anecdotes compiled above, give or take a few calls for adequate reflection. The letters I savor the most bring me the voices of people I love, whether tinged with gravity or levity, and when days are allowed to elapse with a rare silence, nothing matches the thrill of tearing open the flap of an envelope and letting those voices unfold with their familiar inflections.

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8 responses to “The Collected Letters: By Owl Post, Smoke Signal, or Snail Mail

  1. Nice post, it really made me think about what has been lost in substituing electronic communications for letters. One thought – you might want to remove the picture that clearly shows other people’s names and addresses.

  2. There are friends with whom I still communicate via letter – I love opening the mailbox and actually seeing human handwriting. In fact, my first blog on WordPress was about letters – ironic isn’t it, using technology to write about letters?

    • ‘Tis indeed. There’s something to be said for all forms of communication, but I agree that there’s nothing like the experience of opening a mailbox and finding a little piece of someone you love in there.

  3. Love this post! When in college and later as a young married person, I’d could count on regular correspondence from my mother. Sometimes it might be a short note with a five dollar bill tucked inside, and other times it would be a lengthier missive with perhaps something she’d cut out of the newspaper. Today, looking at her handwriting warms me.

    • My mom still sends me little treats through the mail, as well. Since I don’t usually correspond during the semester, it makes finding a letter all the more special. My grandpa also always used send me long letters , and now I’m so grateful that I have them to remember him by.

      • I know what you mean about treasuring your grandfather’s letters. There’s something so special about their handwriting, so unique and individual.

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