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Image: Madeleine Chapman
Image: Madeleine Chapman

SocietySeptember 30, 2021

Everything sucks so why not write someone you love a letter?

Image: Madeleine Chapman
Image: Madeleine Chapman

There’s no such thing as a person who dislikes a handwritten letter in the mail.

The last time my hand hurt from writing was in 2014, during my final university exam. I had three hours to write four essays and my hand couldn’t keep up with the sentences forming in my head. My handwriting was, in the words of an angry mum, disgustang. As I walked out of the exam room I stretched my hands, tried to rub out the dent my pen had made along my middle finger, and vowed never to write another essay by hand again.

I’ve kept that promise to myself as far as never returning to any form of academic institution, but since 2014 I’ve maintained a love for the one good reason (in my opinion) to write by hand: letters.

When’s the last time you wrote someone a letter? Or even just a card that said more than “Happy Birthday” or “Sorry you’re leaving”? When’s the last time you received a letter or card? If you’re someone who skim reads cards and then throws them away, this is probably not the article for you. But if the thought of receiving a handwritten letter in the mail from someone you love is even just a little bit exciting, why not give that feeling to someone else?

We’re in week seven of lockdown here in Auckland and so far I have received 11 envelopes in the mail. Five were from the bank (boring), two from the IRD (terrifying and then boring), one telling me I can now get the vaccine (great), one was my ACC levy invoice (ruined my week), one was a handwritten letter (made my day) and one was a handwritten card (made my week).

I have also had a frankly embarrassing number of online purchases delivered and none have brought me as much joy as receiving a lovely card.

There’s a personal touch to handwriting that allows for a connection otherwise missing when everyone’s confined to their homes. When I read something handwritten I know it’s an original: no one else is reading what I’m reading and likely no one else will. It’s a snapshot of the writer’s life that the internet can’t touch. Like someone sending you a page of their diary.

Yes, even in isolation we can FaceTime and Zoom and “hang out” virtually, but nothing feels as close to intimacy as a letter, no matter how clumsily written. It requires time, thought, and commitment that clicking a link doesn’t. We love to romanticise letters sent from soldiers in battle to partners back home. They serve as a narrative history. World events told through the yearnings of young men existing daily in the presence of death. This pandemic is our war, and the perfect time to record some of the many feelings we’re all having that we at times don’t understand. Sure, you can just journal but why not make it collaborative?

I have a close friend who loves writing a good card as much as I do and were we to lay out our birthday and Christmas cards over the years, any stranger could read them and see a friendship evolving and strengthening.

It of course helps that my love language is words of affirmation paired with a voice and (lack of) expressiveness that doesn’t lend itself to verbal proclamations. Instead, I write them down. And in writing down my feelings, I confirm them to myself. Telling someone you care for and appreciate them is lovely. Spending time writing it down and knowing it’ll be received in isolation and possibly kept forever is a real commitment to that sentiment.

So while we’re all feeling just a little bit vulnerable and a little bit insecure, try writing down your feelings and sending them to someone you love (or someone you don’t!). Don’t put stock in a response – that’s never the point – but use it as an exercise in being open, with the bonus that few people dislike receiving personal letters in the mail. If you have a friend in the neighbourhood, write them a nice little note and drop it in their mailbox on your silly little walk. Or buy some cheap postcards and send out telegrams like you’re travelling the world except you maybe haven’t left your house in days.

We’re living in a world that is simultaneously over-connected and isolating. A handwritten note is a way to remind yourself and another that you exist in the real world.

Last Saturday I was working at my desk when I heard music playing outside. I assumed it was one of my flatmates enjoying their breakfast in the garden but quickly realised it couldn’t be because it sounded like…my music. The music I only listen to in my room because no one else likes it. I ran outside and learned that the music was coming from one of our neighbours’ backyards. I couldn’t see them and we’ve never spoken to those neighbours in the four years we’ve lived in this house. I considered yelling out asking them to please turn it up but that felt weird.

So I wrote them a card instead, thanking them for the nice music and admitting that it had been a bright spot for me in an otherwise tough week. I don’t think they’ll ever respond but it doesn’t matter. I hope they enjoyed receiving it.

Keep going!