I wrote, right here, about a month back, about a letter-writing project I was, again, launching. A few years ago, a brave group of souls undertook a commitment to communicate with total strangers by handwritten letter.
The response to a new writing project, this time, was favourable, but in the process I received a nasty email, another message telling me this has been done before, and a comment from an editor indicating the project seemed too vague, as if it had no purpose.
The reaction surprised me — the nasty email, in particular — both on the negative and the positive side. More than a handful of people responded, immediately, to the initiative. Some of the respondents were actually people who participated in the last soultalk project.
Then something came up, about the same time, that would take my interest away, and I bailed on the project (something totally unlike me) for the time being. It got me thinking about why I thought the project was, or would be, interesting. Further, it got me thinking more on why I enjoy communicating with others, at times only by traditional letter.
That week (it might have even been that day), I heard a radio interview with former Talking Head David Byrne and his latest project, an online magazine called Reasons To Be Cheerful. In the interview, and after reading (and subscribing) to the magazine, my reason for initiating the letters project became quite clear: personal correspondence is a reason to be cheerful.
Quite simply, letters have a purpose, and receiving a letter from afar brings me great joy.
Communication in this digital age is, or can be, quick and easy. You simply have to pick up your mobile device and you can read (on so many levels) about who is doing what and how they are doing it, or how they are coping with some of the stuff we all face daily. You can reply, quickly and easily, by tapping out a swift response, or offering an emoticon or just clicking on the like option, before moving on to someone else’s story.
It is a connection, yes, but it is not total communication. It is not the response you get from a letter that arrives in your mailbox unannounced. There is a certain level of surprise when you discover something personal amidst the bills, notices and advertising junk mail. A letter from someone will usually bring a smile to your face.
We can, and many of us do, engage in social media groups. We can join any, or many, conversations in online discussion forums. We can initiate a conversation just as easily by sending an email to a specific person, or posting on your wall. You can then respond to comments and further discussion, or communication.
Letter writing can take this process deeper, and further, I believe.
You write differently when you take a pencil or pen and allow it to travel freely across the page. While longhand communication is more time-consuming, there is documented evidence that the process is beneficial to your physical and mental being. There is a greater connection, through the handwriting instrument, between your thoughts and mind and, ultimately, to the intended recipient of the letter.
I whole-heartedly believe, and practice, this with some regularity right now. I have several friends across the globe I correspond with. As well, my daughter and I write to each other often. Part of it is this casual form of stamp collecting I began decades ago. Part of it is keeping touch, perhaps expanding on previous conversations, or just letting each other know what play or movie we just saw, or what music has lately caught our interest.
Whether I am writing to family or friends, the topics of the letters are similar. We talk about life. We also share difficulties, or celebrations, in our working lives.
The purpose is to maintain a meaningful connection with a worthwhile person. It’s part of the human experience, and part of it is getting off the grid, so to speak, and taking the time to write.
It is all about time.
It does take time to both sit and write, and also to wait for a response or reply. It is humane. It is not rushed. It is civil at a time when we know social media can be anything but.
Longhand communication is more personal, dare I say intimate. Psychologists and therapists have, for years, encouraged journaling, by hand, as a means of getting in touch with feelings. Emotion-based writing, daily, has been proven to lead to noticeable mental and physical health benefits. Letter writing furthers your journaling practice.
Writing by hand demands more of your fine motor skills. Your brain functions on a different level, and while writing (or reading) a letter, your memory and imagination are put to work. You visualize what is on the page before you, in a more personal way than you would by reading a book, or newspaper. You are engaged.
It is more personal. What you write is a first person account of the life you are living. Like keeping a journal, you relate personally to current and past events. By communicating events, thoughts, and feelings to the recipient of the letter you are expressing yourself in ways you simply can’t do any other way.
It can be mind altering, and it can be mood altering. Think about it, who doesn’t like getting a letter in the mail? When was the last time you got one?
It is, for me, a reason to be cheerful.
If you would like to become involved with a project that will further your communication skills, share your human experience and, perhaps, make this world a little smaller send an email email@example.com and I will forward details.
What you write about is up to you. You can share what you are comfortable with, with courtesy, with commitment.
I believe you will find a reason to be cheerful.
© 2019 j.g. lewis