I have a friend in Vermont whom I lovingly refer to as My Crazy Friend Marianne™. She is a total quirkfest. A skilled seamstress who is as likely to appliqué aliens on a hand-stitched quilt as flowers, she is also a classically-trained artist who once made a paint-by-numbers of JonBenét Ramsey on a piece of wood that she colored in with nail polish. She sews many of her own clothes and throws separates together haphazardly in a style I can only describe as “Pippi Longstocking let loose in Oilily.” She talks a mile a minute, reads even faster, and has varied interests ranging from UFOs to homesteading.
I met Marianne when she was temping at a record label where I worked in Los Angeles. We remained good friends after we both left the company, until one day when she suddenly announced that she was moving to Vermont. She’d visited a friend there and made a spur-of-the-moment decision to pack up her son and her few belongings and relocate to New England. The residents of her small town did not know what to make of her at first, but they have embraced her in the years since she dropped into their lives.
Marianne is something of a Neo-Luddite who goes online at her local library only when absolutely necessary and can usually be found in front of the woodstove in her one-room cabin with a cat and a pile of knitting in her lap. I could give her a call anytime, but she prefers to exchange letters—“real,” handwritten letters, not emails or computer printouts. She is the last holdout in my life to the art of written correspondence.
We have been exchanging letters for years, sometimes regularly, often sporadically. I find that I resist sitting down to write a letter, thinking that I don’t have the time, but once I have pen in hand and a blank sheet before me, it feels like a meditation. The act of putting ink to paper is deeply satisfying. Words flow directly from my hand to the page and each letter has a different shape and feel. It’s a more honest form of communication, since there is little opportunity to edit. Sometimes I’ll think, “I should have left that out,” or, “I could have said that differently.” But I’m halfway down the page and I’m not going to start over, so it stays in.
When I’ve finished a letter, I experience a true sense of accomplishment. I have created something tangible that will now travel across the country and soon be in the hands of my friend. There is a feeling of anticipation as I wonder what she’ll think, if she’ll laugh, how and when she’ll respond. There is no immediacy to exchanging handwritten letters. It is a process. You send off your stamped envelope then go about your life for days, sometimes weeks, until you walk out to your mailbox one afternoon and there is a letter addressed to you in uneven script. It’s like receiving an unexpected gift. I don’t usually open it right away, but save it until I have a moment to sit down with a cup of tea to savor the news of Marianne’s latest wacky project.
I must admit that sometimes I “cheat.” I found a parchment background online and a script font that looks fairly handwritten. Occasionally, when I haven’t corresponded for a while and am pressed for time, I will type up a letter in Microsoft Word using these tools, print it out and mail it off. Of course, Marianne knows it isn’t authentic, but I hope she appreciates my effort to approximate the real thing. From time to time, she herself will send a typewritten note or a postcard of one of her paintings in lieu of a handwritten letter, but nothing is quite as fulfilling as sending and receiving the genuine article.
My Crazy Friend Marianne™ told me that I would feel better when I took the time to share my thoughts on paper in my own hand…and that was sane advice.
If you’d like to begin a written correspondence, but don’t have a friend or relative who’s interested, consider writing to a soldier or finding a pen pal through an online service like International Pen Friends, PenPal World, or PenpalsNow.