Putting Pen to Paper: the Simplicity of Letters

by Christina Kinsella

It’s amazing to think that there was a time when cultures and countries relied on mailing letters as their sole method of communication. When we discover old family letters, it is as if some exciting new world has opened up for us. If we can still find fascination in an older form of correspondence, then why does it have to be nearly obsolete? Why not decide to take part in keeping up the tradition and preserving the art form?

I can remember a time when everyone had pen pals. The feeling of writing a letter to someone you’ve never met, simply telling him or her about your life was a fun experience. Getting a letter in return telling you all about another culture or another country used to be a sort of excitement. With all the turmoil that has happened in this world, it makes so much sense that comfort would be found in letters. Letters were not only a way to convey important information during wars, genocides, and other horrible events, but they also provided a sense of solace. Whether people were communicating the status of their lives to family members or explaining the difficulties their country was going through, letters were at times the only method of communication. There’s something about having a physical proof of correspondence that feels special and, in a way, more sacred.

Even though it wasn’t too long ago that practically everyone had a pen pal and was mailing out invitations and thank you cards, it seems that almost everything has now turned in a digital direction. Sure, some people still send out physical invitations, but those are usually reserved for weddings. Do people actually mail out thank you cards anymore? Not likely. This transition from physical paper to electronic mail reminds me of the shift from physical books to e-books. There are some die-hard traditional book fans, some who are fully embracing the Kindles and e-readers, and some still who like a healthy mix of both. I find myself understanding both sides of this divide. There are some things that do not need the flourish of a handpicked card and are better served in a quick email or text. But where is this line drawn?

Perhaps it is the artist in me who still enjoys finding beautiful stationery and tries to find any excuse to mail a note or card, but why is it something that needs to be considered old-fashioned? Calligraphy is an older art that people are still fascinated with today. It’s another reason I try to find excuses to write out place cards or invitations for other people—to show off this unique skill. A computer may be able to mimic calligraphy, but it will never look as beautiful and intriguing as when it is done by hand with pen and ink. The same goes for physical cards and letters. This method of communication shows so much more if you dig a little deeper.

While this lost art was used to keep in touch with family or friends living too far away to see every day, letters can be just as powerful when sent to people you see all the time. It shows them that you are thinking about them and that you care. Texting or using social media doesn’t convey the same emotion, kindness, or level of commitment. It takes time and effort to craft a letter, something that many of us take for granted.

In a time when our country is enduring so many difficult and scary times, perhaps letters should come back into focus. It’s such a simple gesture, yet the act of putting pen to paper shows thought and implies that those words were chosen carefully. When texts and tweets are sent so quickly, thumbs flying across the keyboard, is there any real thought behind those words? Most of the time there probably isn’t. Perhaps we can all make an effort to send a letter to someone in a country we’ve never heard of or a place that really needs a kind word. After all, letters are essentially stories, and everyone likes a good story now and again.