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Bemoaning the Loss of the Handwritten Letter and Card

2013-October-18
By Martie Hevia | Blue Beach Song™

In recent years, I have been lamenting not receiving cards and letters in the mail, or as we disparagingly refer to today, “snail-mail.”

What’s wrong with snails anyway? What’s wrong with taking things slowly? Why does everything have to be so fast, so digital, so technological, so impersonal?

When I was a little girl, this may shock some of you, we didn’t have computers or cell phones (*gasp*) – I know, shocking – but it wasn’t because we were poor, they simply didn’t exist for everyday people.

Instead, young people communicated via the one phone hanging on their kitchen wall or through neighbors on porches letting you know that someone was looking for you or by writing letters and notes. (Shocking, I know, but we managed.)

Do people even know how to write letters anymore? Is it a lost art? Are we too busy or too lazy? Do we erroneously think that it is not worth our time?

Handwritten letters have slowly disappeared from my mailbox and perhaps I have bemoaningly had to accept that. But what is still hard for me to accept is that no one has the time to send you a birthday card, except for my parents and my partner, who, thankfully, are still old-fashioned enough to send me birthday cards.

The birthday card was slowly replaced by e-cards, then by short emails, and now by text messages. Somehow, receiving a text message that reads “Happy Birthday!” does not quite feel the same as receiving a birthday card or letter in the mail. And yet, that text message says so much more, like, “I just remembered it was your birthday” or “You are just not important enough to invest my time in picking out a birthday card for you, writing something in it, addressing the envelope, sticking a stamp on it, and putting it in a mailbox.

Yes, I know I should be thankful that someone at least remembered that it was my birthday, and I am, it is better than being forgotten, but I cannot save a text message in a memory box to hold in my hands and re-read decades from now… a priceless gift that keeps on giving.

In fact, I have a few of these decorated boxes and containers where I keep precious handwritten letters and notes from those bygone days and I cherish the ability to sit down and re-read these old letters and cards, especially from those who have passed on in life or have moved on from my life.

There is a tangible connection to the other person that travels with their hand-written letter. The ink, paper, and words they chose. Their handwriting’s strokes, form, hesitations, and force. The intimate thoughts, sentiments, and secrets shared. Their scent, their fingerprint smudges, their tear stains… or mine. I miss that. I miss that keepsake.

There is a sadness in the lost hope, the longing, that when I grew old, wrinkled and gray, decades from now, I would be able to sit in my comfortable chair by the fireplace and travel back in time, hopscotching through my life, with the help of handheld hand-written letters and cards that I would have kept in an old decoupaged box of memories.

Perhaps I am wrong, but I doubt I will feel as nostalgic pulling out an antiquated 30-year-old laptop or mobile phone to read a text message that says, “Happy Birthday!”

As for me, I will continue to write by hand my long heartfelt messages in letters of carefully chosen words and crafted sentiments, punctuated by my unique cadence, presented in an event-appropriate stationery and ink color, inscribed with my perfectly weighted pen, in a quiet place where my time and thoughts are solely yours. I will continue to spend an hour or more in stationery stores, reading through dozens and dozens of cards until I find the perfect card, with the perfect look, the perfect sentiment, the perfect words just for you… and then I will add my own, handwritten, sentiments and wishes, even if it takes writing on the back of the card to say all I want to say to you.

Handwritten letters and cards are my special gift to you… a gift of time, of intimacy, of me… a keepsake to remember me by when I am long gone from this earth or from your life.




Martie Hevia (c) All Rights Reserved

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The Art of Writing - L'Art d'Ecrire - Diderot 1765 Posters
The Art of Writing – L’Art d’Ecrire by Diderot – 1765


QUOTES on LETTERS & LETTER-WRITING

  • “In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people’s lives.” ― Anatole Broyard
  • “And none will hear the postman’s knock Without a quickening of the heart. For who can bear to feel himself forgotten?” ― W.H. Auden
  • “I have owed you this letter for a very long time-but my fingers have avoided the pencil as though it were an old and poisoned tool.” ― John Steinbeck
  • “If the portraits of our absent friends are pleasant to us, which renew our memory of them and relieve our regret for their absence by a false and empty consolation, how much more pleasant are letters which bring us the written characters of the absent friend.” ― Héloïse d’Argenteuil, The Letters of Abélard and Héloïse
  • “Letter writing is the only device for combining solitude with good company.” ― Lord Byron
  • “You deserve a longer letter than this; but it is my unhappy fate seldom to treat people so well as they deserve.” ― Jane Austen
  • “The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters.” ― Lewis Carroll
  • “A Letter is a Joy of Earth – It is denied the Gods” ― Emily Dickinson
  • “A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it’s not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within us. Some letters may take the whole of our lifetime to write.” ― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh: 365 days of practical, powerful teachings from the beloved Zen teacher
  • “Letters are among the most significant memorial a person can leave behind them.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • “Andy: But they gave us an out in the Land of Oz. They made us write. They didn’t make us write particularly well. And they didn’t always give us important things to write about. But they did make us sit down, and organize our thoughts, and convey those thoughts on paper as clearly as we could to another person. Thank God for that. That saved us. Or at least it saved me. So I have to keep writing letters. If I can’t write them to you, I have to write them to someone else. I don’t think I could ever stop writing completely.” ― A.R. Gurney, Love Letters
  • “I am tired, Beloved, of chafing my heart against the want of you; of squeezing it into little inkdrops, And posting it.” ― Amy Lowell, The Letter
  • “I consider it a good rule for letter-writing to leave unmentioned what the recipient already knows, and instead tell him something new.” ― Sigmund Freud
  • “A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.” ― Emily Dickinson
  • “We lay aside letters never to read them again, and at last we destroy them out of discretion, and so disappears the most beautiful, the most immediate breath of life, irrecoverable for ourselves and for others.” ― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
  • “To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere without moving anything but your heart.” ― Phyllis Theroux
  • “A letter is always better than a phone call. People write things in letters they would never say in person. They permit themselves to write down feelings and observations using emotional syntax far more intimate and powerful than speech will allow.” ― Alice Steinbach, Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman
  • “Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives — he didn’t belong to the library, so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake: Mr. H. Potter, The Cupboard under the Stairs, 4 Privet Drive, Little Whinging, Surrey” ― J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

RESOURCES

POSTERS | LETTERS & LETTER-WRITING

Vintage Letter Writing Posters
1935 National Letter Writing Week Poster

Sail Away On Lake Michigan Vintage Poster
Sail Away On Lake Michigan Vintage Poster

Dream landscape with text, 1526 posters
Dream Landscape with Text by Albrecht Durer (1526) Poster

Grunge Edge Paris Poster
Grunge Edge Paris Poster

Poe Poetry Collage Posters
Poe Poetry Collage Poster

Postmarked Paris Poster
Postmarked Paris Poster

A Thousand Thanks Poster
A Thousand Thanks Poster

Letter from Zola to Edouard Manet 1868 Posters
Letter from Zola to Edouard Manet 1868 Poster

Snowdrop with Textures Poster
Snowdrop with Textures Poster

Postcard Kingfisher Posters
Postcard Kingfisher Posters

Crow Globe Paris Poster or Print
Crow Globe Paris Poster

Enchanted Flamingo Collage Print
Enchanted Flamingo Collage Print

Postcard Lemons Print
Postcard Lemons Print

Paris Postcard Bird on Lilacs Poster or Print
Paris Postcard Bird on Lilacs Poster or Print

Fleurs de France, Pink and Purple Watercolor Print
Fleurs de France, Pink and Purple Watercolor Print

pink ranunculus on script poster
pink ranunculus on script poster

Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Big Sur Posters
Henry Miller, Anais Nin and Big Sur Posters

Choose Your Weapon Poster
Choose Your Weapon Poster

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. 2013-October-21 3:57 AM

    I love getting letters through the mail. I still write thank you notes and i have a couple of friends without computers with whom I connect through the “written” word. So thanks for this post and for all the quotes and pictures.

    • 2013-October-21 9:09 AM

      Thanks, Judith. I knew you would be a kindred spirit in this, based on what I’ve gotten to know about you through your beautifully written heartfelt blog posts. Thanks.

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