On Letter Writing

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On Letter Writing


A friend recently wrote me a letter, typed on an actual typewriter.  These days when we text way more often than write, this felt like a treasure.  He mentioned that he gave his 9-year-old daughter a typewriter of her own for Christmas.  He told her,  “There, now you can text all you want.” Best parenting ever.  Thanks JF.

I used to write letters all the time.  They are such a joy to write, to receive and to keep as a record of our lives.  I would write from my tent on trail crews, from farms in Belize, from aspen stands in the Rockies.  I wrote to old college buddies, Outward Bound instructors, and occasional fellas on whom I had crushes.    

More recently, my letters are from mentors, festival fans, and even the late and great Ivan Doig.  Talk about a keepsake. And yes, I framed that one.

It certainly takes time and a shift of priorities to sit down and write a letter. Something about knowing that the writer touched the paper with ink and penmanship brings a connectedness that is unsurpassed by most means of communication.

For me, putting pen to paper unlocks a part of myself that allows me to process, reflect, and record.  It is an attempt to understand where I am in my own life.  Although, I’ll admit I do often write through a rose-colored lens. 

It was Hemingway who said, “I was trying to write then (speaking of his apprenticeship) and I found the greatest difficulty, aside from knowing truly what you really felt, rather than what you were supposed to feel, and had been taught to feel, was to put down what really happened.”

In the late 1990’s, my father was going through his parents’ attic cleaning out the farm house.  He came upon a trunk that contained piles and piles of letters written between my great, great, great, great grandparents, their children, and extended family.  All 831 letters were bundled by ribbon and bits of string, organized chronologically.  It was an incredible primary documentation of life in New England between 1820-1879.  Dad spent over 13 years reading, interpreting, and transcribing these letters.  To be fair, his typing skills involve a lot of ‘hunt and peck,’ but he succeeded and even had it bound into a book.   What a gift.

So, here’s to more letter writing, more letter receiving, and more life recording.

More honesty about what we actually feel, not what we are supposed to feel.

More catching up with friends and family, old and new. 

More penmanship, and even more typewriters.

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11 Comments. Leave new

  • Jeannine Jenkins
    February 20, 2019 3:13 pm

    I write real hnest to goodness letters, send postcards with short notes and practice my long forgotten cursive writing. I also wrote two letters of condolences just recently. My friend who received a four page newsy letter wrote an email back saying when she got it she thought oh no, here must be bad news if it is handwritten. It wasn’t, it was just a long letter. Another friend got a postcard and was so touched to get real mail he called me to talk. So it doesn’t follow that you will receive a handwritten reply, but still, it really does the job of cheering someone up.

  • Tyrrell (Tye) Dreidlein Morris
    February 20, 2019 3:39 pm

    I love the idea of writing more letters! I used to do it more often before the advent of email. I think I may take it up again. When I was a little girl living there, I had a great aunt who used to write letters to me. She addressed them: “Dear Bow-Tye.” When I was 18, I decided to change my first name to “Tye.” I didn’t do it legally, so my first name legally remains, “Tyrrell.” Most of my friends in Montana still call me “Tyrrell.” I moved to Seattle in 1969 and everyone there knows me as “Tye.” I still answer to both!

    • Rebecca Johnston
      February 20, 2019 7:38 pm

      What a nice surprise to see your post, Tyrrell! Do you ever get back to WSS? Would be fun to catch up with you sometime if you are in town…

  • I tend not to write letters because I’m embarrassed about my penpanship. Cursive is awful, so I print . Anyway, I’m going to print a letter to my daughter in college . Thanks for the inspiration .

  • I write letters all the time, typed then handwritten 2-6 pages long. I will have 7 close pen pals we’ve been writing for over 40 years. When my mum was alive overseas we used to write each week so did my USA mother in law, she died last year at 96 & guess what I have 46 years of letters she saved every one of them. I now write to our five children every 2 weeks. I still enjoy getting a letter in mail.

  • Rebecca Johnston
    February 20, 2019 7:35 pm

    How interesting to uncover family letters from 200 years ago….! And to have them preserved and so organized…wonderful!

  • My son and his partner and their 10 month old son were recently visiting from Maine. The night before they left I was regretting that my new grandson will probably grow up with no memories of me. My son suggested I write him a letter to him about myself, my life, any my hopes for him, to be opened on some future birthday. We all talked about what a gift that would be.

    They left for Fairbanks and then home the next day. That night I finished a book I had been reading about the Eastern Front in WW2. I looked on my bookshelves for the sequel volume, which I had bought years ago but never read. When I opened it there was a note from my father (who died in 1995) thanking me for lending it to him!

    Letters can be magical.

  • Sharon Anderson
    February 20, 2019 8:37 pm

    I hand write letters on a fairly regular basis. I can remember getting a letter from my Dad when I was a freshman in college. I was scared to death when I took it out of my mail box. I “knew” the only reason he would ever send a letter is that because Mom (the family letter writer) was seriously ill or worse, dead. (Yes, there were phones and I probably would have got a call, but in the moment this is what I thought.) Dad wrote just a few paragraphs and enclosed a $5 bill. I treasure it almost 50 years later.

    For years, I’ve sent a postcard to my friend Lacey wherever I go – even if it’s a day trip to Helena or White Sulphur Springs.

    I like writing because it gives me time to think and find just the right words.

  • Rachel Stansberry
    February 20, 2019 8:37 pm

    How cool that your dad found and shared those letters. I have all the letters between my mother and her parents from 1940-1970. Great family history. I love sending postcards and have several post card buddies.

  • I should but I don’t hand write letters. No one wants to see that… My penmanship reverted from horrific cursive to undersized, almost undecipherable chicken scratch printing when I was in high school. If I am required to scrawl with a pen or pencil, I hold the tool with a death grip that turns my fingers white up past my second knuckle. I also make so many mistakes when writing, I need to be able to edit with more ease than handwriting allows. I am sure there are also gritted teeth associated with the process. But that aside… I was totally blown away by the letter you posted that was written both ways across the page. It has never ever occurred to me that that could be a possibility? Very impressive and I would expect the same from you in any future correspondence.


  • I see some cool RAP stationery in your near future…Aint nothin’, and I mean NOTHING, beats receiving a hand-written letter (especially unexpectedly) in the ‘ole mailbox. And there is nothing more valuable, in these our days of fast times, than taking a moment or a while in your favorite contemplative spot (as you so nicely described, Sarah) to actually reflect our memories onto paper. And I really do think it helps us hone our true sentiments much more artfully than through a Tweet, a text or even email. Perhaps it’s that it’s much more tactile to use pencil and paper and therefore does something different (better?) with our brains. On that note, (haha), I’ll be sending you one! Thank you for writing and sharing your reflections!


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