November 13, 2013

The Lost Art of Letter Writing. ~ Paige Vignola

Perhaps it’s because I’m historian and I have an innate love of all things past.

Perhaps it’s because I have an overwhelming love of words. Perhaps it’s because with the dramatic reduction of long distance phone costs people are more free to telephone their friends and acquaintances. Perhaps it’s because I have developed a disdain in recent years for the text message as a means of communication.

Whatever the reason, I miss the act of letter writing.

Not so long ago people reserved time during their day for catching up on correspondence. Throughout my high school and college life I would spend at least an hour or two each week writing letters to friends who lived far away.

Every flight I took resulted in a letter of some sort either about the trip that lay ahead or the one I had just taken.  When standard forms of paper were temporarily unavailable to me I would write on whatever was convenient and to hand.  One friend even began to request my “barf-bag letters” which would have every inch of surface area covered in a minuscule print.

I love sending letters and I love receiving them. I get a little thrill when I open my mailbox and find an envelope hand addressed to me.

Somewhere around ten years ago I noticed the gradual decline in the act of correspondence. My letter writing began to slow down but, I rationalized, it was replaced with an upswing in the number of emails I would compose.

I have no particular animosity towards emails; they are a fine way to communicate ideas, thoughts, and feelings. But they are far less personal than a handwritten letter. Ignoring the fact that there is no visual cue of a person’s mood based on their handwriting, there is no room for doodles, scribbles and other forms of marginalia.

Kurt Vonnegut, one of my favorite authors, would often add small doodles to his books to help readers imagine the intense and often humorous concepts he would verbally describe. Like many of Mr. Vonnegut’s lessons, I took that one to heart and often filled my letters (barf-bag or otherwise) with doodles.

This just isn’t possible in an email.

Visual imagery is far more feasible in a blog post, but blogs lack intimacy. Even the most expressive and soul revealing post is open to the world’s eyes.

Letters are intimate, words from one mind or heart to another.

But even emails have begun to decline in popularity. Text messages, Facebook messages, instant messages—-these are the new means of communication and they all have their place in the world but not, I believe, at the expense of a truly beautiful art form.

Whatever happen to the lost art of letter writing?

Not only have we, as a society, become so enamored of the idea of saving time—-while we simultaneously seek way to kill it; how’s that for irony—-that we no longer take the time to write letters or even emails longer than a paragraph at time, but we even feel the need to abbreviate our words to “text-speak,” and instead of verbally expressing emotions we rely on the ever present emoticon or emoji.

Letters require time and thought. They require sitting with our words before we send them out into the world. They are crafted, not dashed off; they are intentional, not by-products of passing whims; they are personal and directed at individuals; they are little works of art.

Letters allow for the beautiful ability to collect treasured thoughts and feelings.

They are tangible reminders of the lives we lived, the people we knew, the places we traveled, the thoughts we had, the loves we shared. They hold a concrete space in this ever-changing and  malleable world.

There is nothing more romantic than receiving a love letter—the man who will truly win my heart will surprise me with the gift of words delivered to my door. My heart will beat just a bit more quickly when I see the treasure hidden among the other items in my mailbox; I will clutch it to my chest and wait for just the right moment to sit and read it.  Slowly.

I will smile and melt just a little more.

Then I will read it again, and again, loving the fact that this gift of thought was truly created just for me.


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Ed: Bryonie Wise

Photo: Wikicommons

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kleinsaucer Nov 8, 2014 8:26am

Paige- I am about to put up a blog post tomorrow (November 9th) quoting your wonderful article several times. November 9th is the date my son committed suicide in 2010, and my post looks back on a handwritten letter he sent us while in college. Would you mind sending me your email address to [email protected], because I would like to share it with you once I publish it tomorrow. Thanks very much.


Jacinta Nov 14, 2013 8:28pm

Oh man, Yes it is a sweet article, and brings up wonderful memories! I have an Aunt I still write to in England, since I was a child, she’s now in her 80’s and still puts cards and letters on her mantle so she can talk about them when people visit (her daughter tells me via email). I have a collection of letters from my parents that are keepsakes: they both died before email became the norm. I kept the one & only email my mum sent me. It’s a few run-on sentences with “love you” “miss you” several x’s & o’s weeks before she died. (I know, tear jerker). But the most amazing romance (to date), began with little notes we left one another on our doors in residence at University… (notes became letters), & at the end of term we spent the evening in a hotel, piled them onto the bed from when we first met- years worth – and read them to each other! Craziness… (I have a pile of them still – is that so bad? Was gonna throw them out this year). We ran into one another a few years ago out of the blue at a conference that I was hired to attend ONE day, and he flew four hours to. (We had last seen one another at school, as we departed for opposite ends of the country). He left Radio /TV for the seminary- became a Minister. Now he’s married with three daughters 🙂 We went for coffee and he said that he had recently thought about us, and felt God had brought us together, so he could ask forgiveness for the way things ended. And once again, we parted ways, but with some closure and a rather profound feeling. But a different kind of love <3

Paige Nov 14, 2013 4:16am

I have just made a pact with a friend to start up a pen pal relationship. I'm excited to begin.

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Paige Vignola

Paige Vignola is a bibliophile and recovering academic with a background in Medieval studies who just can’t stay away from history and literature. She is devoted Budokon and yoga teacher, martial artist, toddler wrangler and elementary-aged child support system with a passion for organic home gardening, cooking and green living.