Friday, 10 July 2015

The joy of a handwritten letter

Six years ago, I wrote about the slow death of handwriting, and asked if anyone still sends handwritten letters.

Ironically, and I'm embarrassed to admit it, since writing that post I still haven't sent a single handwritten letter. I've written letters, of course I have, but all neatly typed up and spell-checked and printed out onto smooth white paper. But apart from birthday and Christmas cards, and the occasional notecard, which I try to pretend counts as a letter (it doesn't) I haven't taken the time to write a proper letter in long hand, with decent writing paper and a smooth-writing pen (really important) in all that time.

A couple of weeks ago I received a package in the post, containing a book and a letter from an old friend, someone I'd been feeling guilty about as I'd lost touch with her over the past few years. It seemed she also felt the same, and was prompted to write the letter while reading the book during an off-grid holiday on a Greek island. The book reminded her of me, she said, "As I was reading it I kept thinking 'Jean would love this'."

Staying at a friend's house on the island, she had written the letter on pages torn from an exercise book or similar, and had used two pens; the first blue and scratchy which was soon abandoned for a black felt-tip, thicker than ideal for writing.  I imagined her sitting in the garden outside the small whitewashed house, at a table in the shade of an olive tree, writing it quickly while the words were still fresh in her head.

The letter was full of news, a mixture of good and not-so-good, all eagerly devoured, and made all the more special because it was in her distinctive American cursive handwriting.

I was really touched by the thought put into it, and the effort she'd made to get the letter and book to me so I decided to respond in kind. But why does letter writing seem like such an effort?

Setting aside the time, finding a decent pen that wouldn't run out of ink halfway through, and some writing paper (I found some long forgotten floral paper in the bottom of a drawer) took more time than was decent (two weeks in all...)  Actually sitting down and writing the letter took less than an hour and, do you know, I'd forgotten how enjoyable it was. No technology, just me and the pen and the paper, a cup of tea and my thoughts. The simple pleasures are the best, don't you think?

Letter writing does seem to be a dying art, but it's such a treat to receive one that I've promised myself I'll send more, which means a visit to a stationery shop is long overdue .

When was the last time you sent or received a handwritten letter?  And if you've read the book, what did you think of it?