Yesterday, I received a card from the folks at Unstuck Magazine. A few months back, before the launch of their magazine, they implemented a promotional campaign that struck me as unique and fun: contact them through Twitter, like their Facebook page, and send them my mailing address and name. In return, they would send me a customized drawing, unique to me and me only.
Months passed without a peep from Unstuck about this promotion. I didn’t mind; I’d communicated with the folks at the magazine since that point several times, including sending them a story during their last open reading session (they sent me a rather positive rejection, complete with a recommendation for a useful documentary). I’d almost forgotten about it myself.
But then, this came in my mail:
It’s earned a spot on my corkboard. It hangs next to quite possibly the best holiday card I’ve ever gotten. I received it from a dear friend on Christmas Eve. At the time the card arrived, I was in a funk. It was precipitated by my then-coming graduation from the Stonecoast Writing Program. It depressed me knowing that I would no longer have the guarantee of seeing my best friends and mentors every six months. There isn’t a strong writer’s community where I live, so much of the time I feel like I’m on my own. I rely on contact with my friends and that sense of community beyond my immediate settings to stay sane.
So, in the midst of that depression and that longing for the presence of my friends, this card arrived:
It is hand-drawn, in painstaking detail. I’m looking at that card as I type this, marvelling at the individually drawn leaves on the Christmas tree in the corner, and the line of foam circling the inside of the snowman mug, and the letter addressed to “Dear Adam” with the mistletoe letterhead. This isn’t just a means of communicating sincere emotion to someone; it’s a work of art. It’s one of my most prized possessions, forever linking both the person who sent it and the emotion the card evoked from me.
This, and the card from the fine folks at Unstuck, remind me of something I’d forgotten: I love letters, and cards, and notes, and other physical artifacts of communication from one person to another.
When I was in grade school, there were several different times when my teacher would assign me and everyone else in class a penpal from a different school, often in a different city or even state. I loved these assignments. Back then, I also struggled with my immediate surroundings; I welcomed the possibility of meeting new people and making new friends, of revealing something about myself and learning about them in turn. I put more heart into those handwritten letters to people I’d never even met before than I did trying to talk to the kids in my class. I would compose these long, in-depth personal narratives, taking great care in the words I used, becoming a better writer and a more aware person through my efforts.
Thinking about it now, there’s still more than a touch of this in my regular correspondence with people in electronic forms. Much of what I write to other people is in quick burst, ping-pong shots of email, little paragraphs at a time, if that much. I do this in business and professional communication, mostly. When it comes to personal emails, when I write to dear friends and other people I care about, I still find myself writing those long, in-depth narratives or explanations of things. I learned to write letters before I learned to write emails. It’s in my blood; it’s never going to leave. I don’t regret that. (I do regret the time-suck my massive letters have undoubtedly created for my friends at times, given that such emails always take some time to read and consider.)
I miss writing letters for people, and making custom cards and artifacts for that person to read and hold. I miss being able to sit down with a letter and really soak it in, or the kind of meditation that occurs when I write a letter. I miss how something like a letter or card can suddenly make me feel like that person is beside me, or at least in the same city. I definitely don’t forget a letter I receive from someone. I receive emails all the time; I forget them because they’re so frequent. Letters aren’t frequent anymore, not as much as they should be.
That’s why I’m delighted to see initiatives like the Month of Letters Challenge, which I encountered on Mary Robinette Kowal’s blog. For the month of February, participants are required to do the following:
- In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
- Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.
I’m taking up the Challenge. I want to be a man of letters again. I have so many friends at Stonecoast who have become near and dear to me, and yet I can’t really say I know them all that much beyond their writing and our shared experiences at residencies. I want them to tell me about themselves and their lives, the stuff I don’t get to see but wish I had the privilege of seeing. I want to write to and hear from people who are relatively new to me. Maybe I’ve only recently made their acquaintance through mutual friends on Facebook, or struck up conversations with them on Twitter. Letters, cards, and other artifacts are great methods of adapting acquaintances into friends. I want to get back in touch with people I haven’t seen in who-knows-how-long. I fear I’ve forgotten more people than I should have; I want to be proven wrong.
I’m not dead set on 24 mailed objects for the month, but I am determined to write to people I want to write to, or write back to people who want to write to me. I’m looking forward to finding cool postcards for people, or drawing them something, or just getting back to the lost art of actual, handwritten correspondence.
I’m also looking for people to join me in the Challenge. If you’re game, tell me. Leave a comment, or email me, or ping me through whatever social media you prefer. And then, we’ll watch our mailboxes.