Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Art of Putting pen to paper

I've been thinking a lot about letter writing today. I set out to write a lovely letter to my lovely daughter, and I searched the Internet looking for lovely inspiration. Now that I type that, I see some irony in turning to the technology -- wonderful as it is -- for help in an art that has been largely diminished by that very technology. Yet, I did find some wonderful spark for creativity.

First, I found that there are many blogs devoted entirely to the art of letter writing. Here was one of the first that I came across: 365 Days of Letters.
Another inspiring site devoted to letter writing is this one: A Year of Letters. These two blogs connect to a number of blogs about writing letters, which I hope to explore in the coming days.

I also found research that says, believe it or not, that penmanship is good for your health and also essential to a child's development. After reading several articles on the subject, I became convinced that putting pen to paper can

1) help those of us who are on the back end of the baby boom to keep our minds sharp as we age.
2) help any of us remember, as we apparently remember something better if we write it down than if we don't.
3) help children develop the brain in an essential way that does not occur with texting or typing.
4) help children learn fine motor detail.
5) inspire confidence in us.
6) help us communicate better with people who live in areas that are not as technologically advanced as our society is -- an essential if you have a mission mindset or a philanthropic interest in a developing country.
7) Help us truly communicate feelings in a way that can not be communicated through email or texts.

Along with all the good news that attention is being paid to handwriting, I also found this beautiful ode to the passing art of writing letters. The author describes receiving beautiful letters from her mother-in-law, muses about the importance of letters, and wonders if the next generation will even write them.

I suppose that it's natural I should think about the art of writing letters, as I have found many beautiful family letters among stuff that I cleared out from a house that my father sold. I found letters that my father had written to his family when he was stationed abroad during World War II and the outcome of the war had not yet been decided. I found the letters that my parents exchanged when they were engaged, and my father moved ahead of my mother to the town where they would live once they were married.

I also kept the letters that my husband wrote to me during our courtship and engagement, along with every letter or card he has written to me during our thirty years of marriage. I have no plan to discontinue the practice of keeping writings from my beloved Doc Brilliant.

My friends and I used to delight in receiving sweet letters from our beaux and in keeping those letters in some special spot in our rooms to re-savor as we wished. What do girls do now that so much of their communication with their suitors is done through texts?

On the one hand, I think that letter writing continues in the tradition of buying cards and writing notes on them. We live in an age when stores sell exquisite stationery, and I'm sure I'm not the only person who buys such. On the other hand, I can't keep up with the volume of email and texts I receive, while a hand-written letter waiting for me in the mailbox is a rare treat nowadays.

Let you think I'm anti-electronic communication, let me assure you that I am not. I am happy that I can instantly converse with even far away friends and family in texts and emails and via Skype and all other manner of helpful technology. I think about mothers left in Europe, waiting for word of their pioneer children to cross perilous territory on the North American continent and to pass on slow ships across the Atlantic, and feel privileged to live in a time when I can so easily keep up with how my adult children are doing.

Still, I'd hate to see snail-mail letter writing fade away completely. What do you think? Is letter writing a dying art? Or, is it thriving? Do you think the revival of journal writing in recent years is a way that we are trying to capture something that we used to gain from writing letters? Do you like to put pen to paper, or would you rather text? Is there a way to have the best of both worlds -- electronic communiques and hand-written missives?

I'd love to hear your thoughts!


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