Locked Down and Snowed In: It’s Time To Put Pen to Paper and Revisit the Beauty of Letters
Get warm fuzzies from revisiting the past and discovering the future through words and stories
Dear Reader: Can you recall the last time you wrote a letter to someone, besides a follow-up email to your boss? Was it a cute, heartfelt card that you sent this past Christmas to your parents, whom you could not visit? Or was it this morning’s short text to a friend, wishing them best wishes with the snow blower?
As a significant snowstorm sweeps across Ontario, on the day that was supposed to see a return to the physical classroom across many school boards, hearing the howling wind and seeing the piles of snow have only made the lockdown and the letdown colder and, well, colder.
To warm up besides a comforting hot cup of cocoa or java, what could possibly be a better time than the present to reflect on the past year with a pen in one hand and a mug in the other. And why not a shot at another round of New Year’s resolutions — but this time secured on paper to display on your fridge.
Although not a letter in the established sense of the word, the last one that I wrote was on the back of a crumpled up receipt. And yes, there was surprisingly enough room to jot down a very abbreviated recipe and an all-important grocery list. And yet, aside from the weirdness and the thriftiness, it was a letter to myself, and to a certain extent, the corporation — and it was on their paper.
But by no means was it special; rather, it was far from romantic, nostalgic, or aspirational. Yet when it comes to more eloquent and thoughtful prose — not a block of butter, a bag of carrots, or a bundle of thyme, albeit they’re the makings of a delicious dish — letter writing is all about getting your emotions, your thoughts, and your feelings out.
A Lost Tradition and a Missing Touch
In the ever-expanding digital realm of social media, mobile texting, and online communications, however, the power and the impression of the written tradition only continue to wane. Falling by the wayside at the expense of technology, it only now seems that to be a receiver or a sender of a letter is such that is uniquely captured on the big screen through period dramas and the like.
And within such a fast-paced and high-volume world — in the sense of immense informational deluge and competing media sources — we don’t make the letter a matter of expression or a medium of communication anymore these days. And we don’t make it out to be as beautiful and important as the time-honoured tradition that it once was.
From family to friends, whether halfway across the world or several blocks down the street, it’s perhaps high time that you send a simple, yet precious, report of your days and your weeks to your loved ones. It can detail your day concerning the most trivial of pursuits, or it can illustrate your opinions on the things that matter the most — lovingly and sincerely signed, sealed, and delivered. You’ll at once address a missing touch and a lost tradition.
Capturing Emotion and Meaning Through Syntax
On the spectrum of a work-life balance, Zoom meetings and FaceTime calls run the gamut of today’s communications: What’s new with you? How’s the dog? And can you, please, bring me up to speed on the report? It’s the usual fare these days. While talking to one another during these uncertain and unfortunate times has gotten many through hardship, loneliness, and confusion, it all seems to, however, revert to the same old discussions.
Whether it’s a matter of brain fog or a case of just running out of things to say, the oral tradition itself cannot be blamed. But it helps to look at the situation in this way: Just remember how much thinking, doing, and feeling is involved with every movement of your hand as it graces each line of paper with ink. There’s a careful consideration, a genuine connection, and a dedicated effort — there isn’t grammar or spell check in place, and you cannot hit the return key, for that matter.
In the absence of automated word processing and the distraction of the Internet, your world is your oyster when it comes to truly connecting with and committing to your thoughts and your papers. When you have to pause for a moment before proceeding onto the next sentence, word, or punctuation, your brain can think more clearly and creatively. And that is a beautiful process and intelligence in and of itself that distinguishes letter writing.
Importantly, much like life’s own progression, writing a letter to someone isn’t an exercise of perfection in terms of substance, style, and structure. While many individuals may truly lack a level of confidence — or altogether run away and hide — at the outset of writing a letter, especially if it has been a good decade since one was last composed, some of the best writing flows freely from the heart.
Without outlines, revisions, or guides, when you dive right in to writing is when you often pour out the best parts of what you have to say. What’s important is to capture your raw feelings and emotions, immediately, spontaneously, and unapologetically onto paper. Yet in a funny way, mirroring text messaging, in particular, the instant apprehension of letter writing can be balanced with an instant gratification — you’ll notice how your voice and your tone manifest onto paper much the same.
Needless to say, a letter isn’t an essay. Even though, it can be viewed as an experiential and experimental piece, no one will be marking it against a rubric or criteria form. Elements are meant to flow freely without the need for an outline or a study. It’s just you and your thoughts. And the reader is most certainly not preoccupied with docking marks from your words, let alone questioning your writing skills. They’ll be perfectly content with your content.
Receiving the Gift of Words
Nowadays, what we receive through the mailbox is anything but romantic, meaningful, or sincere. Unfortunately, the state of it is a pretty thick wad of corporate capitalism and material waste. From unsolicited flyers to utility bills — annoying — it’s easy to see how off-putting the letter can be in this rather perverse form. Yet it can never be compared to something as sinister and adverse as propaganda leaflets thrown from the sky.
To find a personal letter buried underneath all of the advertising, credit card, and real estate material is yet something rather special. To be able to look back several years later — or even days, if it’s a Romeo and Juliet romance — at a letter that was uniquely addressed to you, haphazardly tucked away in a drawer or neatly filed within a book cover, is a moment that will transport you.
Informed and inspired by the surrounding experiences and contexts, stories, memories, and sentiments especially made for you is a beautiful tailored and bespoke jewel. And it’s something that can truly cherish in your hand or from your pocket, wherever you are in the world. Or you can enjoy watching it turn to ashes, on the side of a bad breakup or a bitter divorce.
Nevertheless, most letters come from a place of love and care, and less so of a place to spite someone. Yet whether a letter seals the fate of two lovers, it works in beautiful and mysterious ways to keep things hidden and intimate, exclusive to the reader. Truth is, they’re real emotions and feelings often otherwise made difficult to communicate and to express in person — because a vis à vis confrontation with your crush can be crushing, in the worst case.
Besides being able to not only cross vast distances but also that of prying eyes and ears of Big Tech, one of the most powerful and rewarding aspects of a letter is actually the author-reader relationship. Because both directly benefit from it — the writer gets as much out of it as does the recipient. And it’s quite a lovely exchange in that regard, which makes it an activity worth rediscovering during these trying and isolating times.
Caught between a hard rock and a hard place, snowstorms, lockdowns, and heartaches have nothing on the control and the agency that you have through your words. Find strength and answers in your letters, passing them onto your most prized and loved, authored by yours truly.