Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Letterwriting 401: Where's my penmanship certificate?

Recently I did something I haven't done in a good while: I wrote an honest-to-God letter. Now if you know me, I love to write about lots of things and issues. I wrote stories and poems as a kid and even a screenplay once. And, might I say "religiously" I wrote faithfully to my friends in college and graduate school. Another thing you may or may not know is that I am very picky about what I write on and with. No notebook paper for me, no sirree, and ballpoint stick pens either. I would use materials and implements that showed just how much I cared about the person and what they were worth to me as companions in the world and in life.

Instead of shopping for sensible shoes, I was at the stationer's drooling over fine papers made in Italy and England. I would sigh over Waterman pens and Cross writing sets. And I was equally picky about the stamps that would go on these letters, making sure that they sort of went with the style of the paper and envelopes. I know, OCD of the letterwriting kind.

Recently I have taken up the art once more at the indirect prompting of a delightfully holy friend. I dug out the seldom used Florentine stationery and Wallah! A letter was newly minted and was four pages long before I knew it, written in careful cursive with only a little evidence of the arthritis in my right hand. I can remember in grade school striving to earn a penmanship certificate from my writing teacher, and finally getting one before junior high; in those days we actually got letters [ a felt H in my case, like the ones athletes got for sports, but that everyone got for music or in my case penmanship along with a certificate ]. I was so proud of that achievement but over time and much hard use of my hands in the garden and around the house, my hand is not so steady as it used to be and the perfect cursive that I had worked so hard for is wearing away with time and use. But it is still so "me"!

Nowadays I enjoy writing with a good gel ink medium point blue pen or a rollerball black. Watermans are wonderful instruments but I can do just fine with less spendy utencils and the letter looks none the worse for it.

Subject matter is another thing. I don't wax poetic like I used to though it is not beyond my reach to do so as circumstances dictate. I do share things like what butterflies I have seen in my garden, or describe a hummingbird chase, or the antics of the neighborhood rabbits as they come and go in our busy lives. In the day of electronic mail, this letterwriting takes on new meaning.

To actually make time to sit down at a table or desk, pull out paper, envelope, and the arcane postage stamp to write in longhand, a letter to a friend with a real pen and with real ink...now that is slowing life down a bit, I would say. Isn't it so much faster to simply type an email and hit the "Send" button and be done with it? There is little investment in time or materials. But when we take the time to invest in communicating ideas and thoughts on paper, something magical happens. Concepts and consciousness find their way out into our fingertips to guide the stylus to express in our own unique handwriting thoughts and images that typing simply cannot convey. It is a complex thing, writing a letter, and yet so simply satisfying.

I find that if I am listening to music murmuring in the background when writing, it seems to influence--to an extent--the subject matter or tone of the words being expressed. Most of the time this is a good thing but it can also impede as well. Where I write is another factor: indoors or out, in the sun or under the shade of a redbud tree; in a park or in the car
[ parked legally of course ], next to a labyrinth or on a plane
...location, location, location.

There is an enjoyment I have missed in not writing real, "old-fashioned" letters. Now that this art has been rekindled in moi, I find myself looking forward to the time I spend on the weekends or in the evening, writing a letter to someone I know will truly appreciate it.

I think we need to consider making time in our days--in our lives--for the simplicity of using this age old technique of communicating to one another. Not only does it enrich and show value to the person receiving the letter or missive, but it seems to be adding something to my life as well.

Write someone a real letter and see how it goes, for both of you. I don't know why I ever stopped.



Carolyn said...

What a lovely thought to actually write a real letter long hand. I love communicating with dear friends far away and sometimes ones who are near-by who I want to connect with in a simpler way.

gartenfische said...

Hi Catherine,

I love your blog.

I agree about letterwriting. My mother and I used to write long letters back and forth; we don't do that anymore.

I wish penmanship had been considered important when I was learning cursive in elementary school. We were taught how to shape the letters, not how to write neatly, and I don't write neatly. As a result, I prefer to print.

I have thought over the past year that letterwriting should be revived; I bet it will be–it's such a beautiful, expressive tradition.

Thank you for this post.

Catherine + said...

Thank you Carolyn and gartenfische for your great comments. They are much appreciated. I still write in cursive and print when I am supposed to [like on forms...] and though it isn't what it used to be, it is still legible. By the way, I wrote another two letters this weekend!!!

PrincessMax said...

My good friend is moving to Miami from Chicago and yesterday, we made an agreement to send hand-written letters and jewelry that we've made.

I got to college just as email and cheap long-distance phoning was becoming wide-spread and do not possess any fond memories of letter-writing, although I have always been romantic enough to want some.

I'm excited at the prospect of one of my favorite friends leaving. :-)

Dennis said...

I'll give it a try!
I just need to think about who I'm going to send a letter to, now.

Jan said...

I so enjoyed all your thoughts about writing letters. I am like you in preferring to shop and window shop for stationery, cards, and pens. I've always loved to write letters and am sad at the few I write anymore--maybe that's why I like blogging. Handwriting is such a personal expression, which sadly may be lost with the prevalence of computers. I see my mother's handwriting and am immediately catapulted into the memory of her.

Mrs. M said...

I, too, am a letter-writer. Every couple of months (more often in cooler months) Mr. M and I make a pot of tea, pour into my blue-and white teacups, and sit down for some letter-writing.

I'm a big fan of Sheaffer's pens (and I really believe that they write better than my Mont Blanc). I've decided I particularly like that they're not disposable-- I can be fancy and eco-savvy at the same time. I like bottled ink, too, so less waste all around.