When I was a little girl, one of my favorite drawers in my mother’s dresser was the one that held her stationery. Organization wasn’t her strongest suit, but that drawer was a compilation of perfectly sorted, pristinely arranged greeting cards and Eaton stationery—an oasis of whimsy. There weren’t many delicate things in my farm house upbringing, but where they were I savored them: the softness of a new kitten’s fur and his big-eyed mew as he teetered on new legs to his momma’s breast; the ’70s-era drapes blowing in the humid Midwest breeze, their yellow flower pattern dancing across a sheer white length; Mom’s fingers pressing lightly on the piano keys bringing Für Elise to life in an unrelenting auditory extravaganza for my impressionable young ears.
Mom worked a part-time job (that kind that was nearly full-time and could demand any number of hours), which meant most mornings she was out the door before my head left my Rainbow Brite pillow for a customary bowl of Cheerios. The best mornings were when I found a note adorned with her beautiful penmanship placed where I would surely find it: “My darling Jennifer…” it would begin. Though I didn’t save them, they live in my mind as one of my most formative and most special memories.
To this day, my mother continues to write me letters. Like drawings I made as a child, they are so numerous I pick only the most personal to keep. They arrive as notes pinned to newspaper clippings, thoughtfully chosen greeting cards, long emails recounting the day’s events, trinkets and treats accompanied by her lovely calligraphic script decorating toothy fine stationery.
“Let us never underestimate the power of a well-written letter.”Jane Austen, Persuasion
When National Letter Writing Month arrived this year, I was excited to undertake a month of daily letter writing! For years I had accumulated my very own drawer of stationery, so I was eager to properly cut into my supply.
The first letters were easy; cards to my niece and nephews, a letter to my grandparents celebrating 65 years (!) of marriage, a few letters to my husband. I continued through the month, adopting a strategy of writing bundles of notes in one sitting. I found that I was like an engine: once properly warmed up, I could go the distance with little effort.
This weekend I sat to write the last ten notes. I sorted through my pile of cards, envisioning who would enjoy one with an odd monkey, who needed congratulations, who would appreciate a textured finish writing paper. I turned through the pages of my address book—a Monet-themed volume I have had since high school—questioning how accurate the entries still were and gazing in dismay at all the people I had lost touch with. I could say my excuse was the 1,000 miles I had placed between myself and my upbringing, but could not ignore the names looking back at me that resided just 10 minutes away.
Deciding to believe I had updated the book as I should have, I paused to mentally craft my first message. What did I have to say? What do people write when there is no Facebook meme, no Instagram-perfect plated meal photo, no quippy Twitter phrase to signal interest? Without the benefit of a thought-provoking article or a beautiful image I shared online, what did I have to think about? What did I have to offer?
As I gazed out the window at the fluorescent green leaves that freshly popped from thawing tree limbs (seemingly overnight), I realized just how reliant on technology my ability to share sentiments had become. Sure, it was easy to write a short note to family and friends I talk with on a regular basis, but how do I pen a letter to people with whom I’ve only shared social media statuses and photo galleries for literally years on end? How do I write an old friend, whose babies’ birth announcements got lost in the mail because I never mailed out change of address notices? Do I email folks and ask for their addresses? The pressure in the asking, to then deliver what could seem like a fleeting sentiment with no agenda (no event, announcement, or notice), felt somehow like a bait-and-switch.
My question became the reason for writing. As unsure as I felt about writing a simple note, I chose to believe the sheer delight in receiving it would be as novel for the recipient to read as it was for me, the sender, to write it. Now I had only the task of choosing my topic.
What do people write when there is no Facebook meme, no Instagram-perfect plated meal photo, no quippy Twitter phrase to signal interest?
To each person, I wrote something different—what my husband and I were up to, how I was thinking of them, the weather, future plans. Some were philosophical, reflecting on a friendship or change in season. Still others were silly, playful, and poked fun at the irrelevance of the card in hand. I found myself enjoying the challenge of creating short snippets of thoughts that would arrive unexpected into someone’s mailbox, otherwise full of bills and junk. Smiling, I practiced my best penmanship on the envelope and sealed them with a confidence and satisfaction I seldom feel when sharing comments and “likes” online.
As the month closed, I found myself toying with the idea of writing more still; new people, new thoughts, new stationery. Rather than tucked away, my stationery drawer sits prominently in my studio, beckoning me to sift through its letter-pressed, foil-stamped, textured and colored contents to find the right canvas for my meandering thoughts. Just as the paper trusts my pen to mark it with a worthy thought, so do I trust its recipient to value the spirit with which I send it.
Write_On Campaign – http://www.writeoncampaign.