In the 21st-century, you might think it strange that a younger person like me might long for a seemingly useless pastime like letter-writing. After all, we have instant access to one another through email, texts, video chats, and dozens of social media sites. Why would we want to waste our time sitting down to write something by hand, send it through the mail, and then wait for a week or so for a response? Rather archaic, most people would agree.
But – I am the vintage girl after all. The old soul who sees the wistful beauty in certain older pastimes and wishes to still participate in them – if for no other reason than to slow her mind down and not get sucked into the daily distraction of the phone screen. And if you care about that kind of thing, too (or at least want to be amused by listening in), here are a few of those reasons explained further.
A quick aside – I was actually alive before cell phones and email became our most prominent ways of communication, and when I was a child, I remember writing many letters. I wrote to my sisters who lived far away, and then when I and my friends moved, we wrote dozens of letters back and forth. And then when I became a teenager, email became the new “vogue,” and letter-writing faded away.
However, I recently read the book The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which is a beautiful story – and written completely in letter format as the characters write back and forth to each other. You might think this is a strange way to tell a story, even though it was common a long time ago, but the author did an amazing job of developing the characters through the letters. And it stirred up that longing in me to pick up the art of writing letters again.
To start with, letter-writing brings a certain depth of detail and description that has been lost in our modern-day world of texting. We might be able to have quick conversations or share brief experiences with someone through a texting conversation, but when you sit down to write a letter, you naturally have to describe things in more detail. You flesh out events, describe people, and articulate your feelings on a subject in a small narrative, rather than farming out sound bytes here and there through a phone.
Because of this, throughout the centuries, letters have been excellent primary sources for historians to gain insight into events that they might not have gotten any other way. They often served as shared journals between two people as they reacted to and described the events of the times they lived in.
Secondly, it requires a person to sit down and slow the busy pace of their lives to communicate with someone. And this is something I crave in my life that constantly seems on the go. I want to force myself to make time for thoughtful communication with another person – something that’s not a two-word response accompanied by a laughing-with-tears emoji (although I will still do those, too).
In case you haven’t noticed, I kind of like to write, and writing letters would give me intentional time to do writing practice. It would make me pay attention to details, remember events better to describe them in my letters, and give me a space to articulate thoughts on events that are going on. Plus, I feel like I can sort through my thoughts so much better when I’m writing them out by hand.
Finally, it’s just fun to get mail that’s addressed by hand from another person with actual personal details of their lives! [When was the last time that happened??]
Realistically speaking though, it takes two people to make the art of letter-writing a real thing. Both people have to be committed to sitting down regularly to answer the letter, and to be honest, there probably aren’t many people like that left out there. I might even be deluding myself – thinking of myself as some Jane Austen character with all the time in the world to answer her daily letters when in reality, I’d procrastinate for months on end before actually answering the letter.
I’d like to try it, though. I’d like to see if I could make it a new habit – a new practice with one who might be a kindred spirit and who wistfully longs for this lost art as well. Even if it was only a few times around, it would still be delightful to practice it for a season. But maybe we’d discover how lovely it is to bring back this kind of communication and do it for the rest of our lives.
Either way, I’m all about weaving more vintage into my life whenever I can, if not in actual practice, then in the delightful memory of it.
Thanks for humoring me whilst I explored it in this post.
Now you can go back to scrolling through your social media feeds on your phone.