The (almost) lost art of letter writing

Back in the 80s one of my best friends moved overseas for over a year. We were the most faithful of correspondents in those pre-email days – you know, that era when you got out the nice stationery someone had given you for your birthday, and you actually wrote a letter by hand. I still have every one of her letters, which tell so much not only about her life at the time, but also about mine. Looking back I’m amazed at IMG_0657how we kept it up with such frequency for so long. When she recently returned for another stint in the UK we resolved to resume our old letter-writing habit. So how are we going more than 18 months down the track? Not very well I’m afraid! The score is as follows: Jo – 3 and Cheryl – 1. How did we do it back then?? But more importantly what are the barriers to us doing it now?

It’s so easy to send an email these days, or to post a birthday greeting on facebook, and technology is certainly quite an expedient way of communicating particularly when negotiating arrangements with multiple parties. But I fear we are at risk of losing the gracious art of personal communication that was such a lovely characteristic of a slower, gentler and perhaps more thoughtful era. Is anyone going to cherish and save an email in the same way a hand-written letter or card will be cherished in years to come?

I am fortunate to have a number of friends and relatives who are committed to preserving the art of the hand-written note, and who send an actual birthday card as I do. How lovely it is to receive such mail. And perhaps there is hope that the next generation will want to re-capture this lost art, because after a colleague and friend from interstate stayed with us, her 3 year old insisted on dictating a note to be sent along with some gifts for the chickens – a blue pig that oinks when squeezed and a ball of string for the chickens to play tug-of-war with!  The note thanked us for looking after his mumma, and was all the more cute because it was written in a card he chose that had ‘Happy Birthday Champ’ on the front!IMG_0662

It’s never too late to start sending birthday cards instead of posting a message on facebook, or to write a hand-written note to acknowledge kindness or generosity. Is there a thank-you note or letter that you could write today that would surprise and delight someone? I know there is one that I could write, so I’d best get on to it…….

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  • Hilary says:

    Hi Jo,
    I wonder if it is not just the art of letter writing that is diminishing but the act of saying thank you as well? It used to be that after Christmas, you would sit down and think deeply about the positive attributes of the turquoise and magenta toilet bag that had arrived from Auntie Jean….. and try to be fairly honest…”it’s big and it’s useful”….. but now it might be an instant message saying “Thanks for the lovely gifts” and that’s it… One argument I hear a lot is that the internet is so much more environmentally friendly; but I’m not sure that holds either… Maybe I’m just getting grumpy and old!

    • Jo says:

      Hi Hilary,
      I’ve just had the biggest laugh – haven’t we all received those sorts of gifts?! The worrying thing is that these days Auntie Jean would perhaps still be wondering if her very big, bright and useful toilet bag had even reached its destination. How often do gifts go totally unacknowledged? That awkward silence follows: Did the gift get there? If I ask will I then place the recipient in an awkward situation having ‘caught them out’ for not saying thank you? What a great thing it is to teach children this small courtesy from an early age, even if the truth is stretched somewhat!

    • Dianne Williams says:

      Hello Jo from the Gold Coast hinterland and congratulations on your new blog.
      Because I went to primary school when dinosaurs roamed the earth, I was trained not only in the art of letter-writing, but in the art of handwriting. Each Friday we were set an ‘exercise’ to complete over the weekend. This was the day of inkwells and nibbed pens, so many an agony was there on Saturday afternoon over scribing the set exercise (usually a poem or an excerpt from a story) onto the red and blue ruled lines. A great deal of care was taken (admittedly mostly by those who took seriously the pursuit of excellence through such challenges) to avoid ink smudges and to add a piece of traced or hand-drawn artwork at the top. It was such a time-consuming and exacting task, but I believe one that trained us also in the finer art of creating something unique and beautiful. Is that not what personal letters are? Handwriting is truly a lost art and the art of letter-writing, with its expressiveness, its ‘gesture through pen-flourish’, its character and personality, has, as you have lamented, fast followed. The email, on the other hand, regardless of its expeditious facility, just does not have that uniquely personal touch.
      The argument Hilary hears that the internet is more environmentally friendly seems so lame, doesn’t it? Paper is made from forests grown for the purpose: and what is more environmentally friendly than the happy face of the recipient of a well-penned letter?

      • Jo says:

        Thanks Di for your thoughtful and beautifully expressed comments. An inkwell? Never heard of such a thing. Must be because I’m so much younger than you. (Just kidding.) Ah the learning of running writing – I’ve still got some of my copy books, right back to Grade 1 I think. So glad to have come from an era where we were taught to write correctly.

  • Margarete says:

    I love to send beautiful cards and am determined to keep up the practice. I do not receive many myself though as most of my messages come through the computer or by text. I re-cycle the cards I have received if I can part with them and use them (picture) as post cards or note cards. Before parting with cards I love I take a photo of them so have them always there to admire. The cards I buy sometime stay with me for a long time until the right person comes along for that particular card. I still treasure a few very old cards and one day I guess they will become quite ‘historic’ items!
    I remember the ink wells and my favourite ink colour was “radiant blue” Writing with a nib was great. That reminds me of a Haiku poem I wrote a long time ago which went something like “Bring the papers, his ‘nibs’ is home” Well, I think it might be a haiku??
    Love also your reminder to eat mindfully, shop mindfully and bury the compost. It seems almost criminal to me to throw out that lovely green waste. Thanks Di for your Blog and thanks to Kate for referring me to it. You may find little parcels buried in your garden Kate when you return to Australia!
    Cheers Margarete

    • Jo says:

      Hello Margarete,
      Thanks so much for your lovely comment. It’s so good to hang on to the practice of sending beautiful cards. I’m sure they are really appreciated, even if there’s not always reciprocation. I also can’t part with many cards, particularly when the sender has had something meaningful and personal to say in them. I’ve got a few ‘historic’ ones myself, eg 18th and 21st birthday cards, and the fashion trends of the day certainly show in these. Many thanks for visiting my site, and who knows what will turn up in Kate’s garden?! Love the poem – wonderful play on words.
      Warm regards,

    • Dianne Williams says:

      Hello Margarete,
      It’s not a Haiku, but probably what the ancients would have called an epigraph.
      Just the same I agree that although the pen and ink days were high emotion, they brought me a sense of grownupness and pleasure in mastery.

  • Dianne Williams says:

    Hmm. No – epigram, not epigraph.

  • Marie Carman says:

    Hello Jo, I am the happy recipient of your lovely hand made card today, thank you! I love to get mail and to send it too and always think of “Mrs.Bucket, Bouquet!” when NOT putting the stamp on with a ruler!

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