Thursday, February 16, 2012

The lost art of writing by hand

For the past few weeks, my laptop has been in the shop, leaving one computer to share with the Maritino. As a result, I've had to go back to doing something I haven't done in ages: writing on paper. And not just grocery lists or post-it reminders, but actual blog posts and articles (including this one!), written out longhand to be typed up later. At first it seemed impossible. Without a keyboard in front of me, I almost couldn't remember how to write, but now that I've gotten used to it, I'm not sure I want to go back.

There's almost nothing that makes me want to write more than a neat row of freshly sharpened pencils, the sound of lead dragging across paper and a desk littered with eraser dust. What is more rewarding that seeing a blank page fill up with your own handwriting?

So perhaps it's not a coincidence that this week I also happened to write three letters. That's right, letters. Not emails, not IMs, not Facebook messages. LETTERS. For my younger readers, or those with short memories, a letter is a handwritten message on one or more sheets of paper, folded and placed in an envelope with a stamp attached. After writing the home address of the recipient on the front, you place it in something called a mailbox, and as if by magic, in just a few days, it will arrive at the recipient's home.

With all of the exceedingly convenient and instantaneous modes of communication available today, it seems pointless to send a letter in the mail, not to mention expensive (it now costs €1.60 to send a letter from Italy to the US). But there's just nothing in the world like it.

A smallish envelope amongst the bills and statements catches your eye. The handwriting is so familiar. You flip it over: it's from her (your oldest friend/your globe-trotting cousin/your favorite professor) [insert favored pen pal here]. Some people don't even wait to get inside, but tear it open on the spot, hungrily eating up the words off the page. Others, the pleasure-delayers out there like one longtime correspondent of mine, save it for later, when they can put on some Chopin and sit with a cup of cocoa and savor it. I do both, depending on my mood.

But I haven't done much of either lately, because hand-written letters are quickly going the way of the Betamax. They are too expensive, too time consuming, too slow. In this virtual world, where events are summed up in 140 characters or less, who has time to get out pen and paper and compose an entire letter? And more to the point, who would ever write back?

Well, I took a leap of faith and wrote three letters this weekend. One to an old friend and longtime correspondent in Seattle, one to a former colleague and kindred spirit in London, and a third to my 12-year-old niece and future prima ballerina in Idaho. At first it felt odd, just like my paper-and-pencil article writing, but I was soon back in the swing of it.

A stack of letters from my 12-year-old niece
The missives have been successfully deposited in the mailbox. Now let's see if any of them write back!

Any other letter writers out there? Do you like to write by hand or has it truly become a thing of the past? Am I the only one?  I'd love to hear your points of view!

Photo sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8: by author

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