Instant Pen Pal-ship


In the past ten days or so, I have written a number of letters to about 20 individuals.

Some have gone by snail mail, some by email, but all have been written with the knowledge that I am sharing my feelings and ideas with friends around the world.  However, I am still so far behind in catching up with my correspondence from Christmas and New Year’s my angst is beginning to feel like a comfortable blanket.

Fortunately it’s as hot as hades right now (albeit not as hot as Texas!) and I will shake off that blanket and keep writing to my friends.

Letters are an extraordinary way to deepen relationships of any nature.  Yes, we may very well need to have the warmth and connection of speaking face to face to enrich the relationship to its maximum, but there is much to be said about the intimacy of the written word, whether it is in ink or by the magic of the internet.

When I first married and moved far from home and family, there was no such thing as email or texting, if you can imagine such a world.  Although calling people was possible, it was also expensive (again, imagine the pain of paying for long distance telephone calls) so to remain close to people, to continue to value their friendship and companionship, paper and pen were our usual, our only, option.

I still long for letters to come to my mail box — they rarely do these days — but I can’t blame anyone except myself.  I’m just as guilty as many of my friends and even siblings of choosing email over snail mail.  Even the snail mail that was posted this weekend was typed (Emily Post, forgive me) because it was the simpler way to get many letters written.

If it seems that I am decrying the loss of physical letters, well, yes I am to some extent.  There was something particularly exciting about popping a letter into the mailbox, knowing it would take a few days to reach its destination, and then perhaps a few weeks more waiting to hear back from my correspondent.  I would spend that time wondering if they enjoyed reading about my life, my ideas, even the feelings I might have confided to them.  And I would have anticipated learning about what was on-going in their lives, hearing about mutual friends, perhaps sharing some thinking about politics or books or maybe personal triumphs and tragedies.

I enjoyed having pen-pals, so to speak.

Still… the waiting could be endless.  Especially, sadly, if you were waiting to hear from me.  Procrastination is not a new hobby of mine.

Thus, email makes heroes of us all — or at least of me!

This past weekend I have shared with a friend many ideas about many issues by email.  Not long rambling letters I must say, but short notes that would bring up a point before answering the other’s last question.  This way we discussed writing, music, politics, sexual politics, diplomacy, postcards, birthdays, geography, family, food, exercise, children, poetry and (my own personal favourite because, as you may know, I am stalking) Paris.

Yes we could have shared all this information in longer letters but over a much longer period of time — weeks, even months, given the geography of where each lives.  And perhaps in hand-written letters there would be more information shared than in each of the five or six sentences (at most) that made up our emails.  Indeed, I would like exchange snail mail some day with each other but I don’t want to give up the immediacy of instant pen pal-ship (that cannot be a word, can it?)

My siblings and I have a brother who does not email; in fact, he no longer has a computer.  We all find it frustrating that we cannot communicate with him on an immediate basis when we need to.  He, on the other hand, now that he can afford to do so, delights in making phone calls to us for our birthdays, or even just for a little gossip. It is his way of maintaining a bond, a closeness, in the way which is most comfortable for him.

I have one friend with whom I Skype regularly, as I do with my sister.  I Skype irregularly with my “daughter”.  I have two friends with whom I am developing Skype habits.  It’s easy to Skype and there is a remarkable sense of instant gratification in sharing a moment (or in the case of my sister, up to three hours) with someone you treasure.  This  technology might be the new email, although I hope not.

Perhaps because I am a writer, I believe in the power of the written word.  We hear words and, unless we have used them in a particularly, emotionally powerful way, either because they are too ugly to bear or too beautiful to forget, the words can slip away from us.  On paper (or on screen) they live forever.  They can be read and re-read and cherished — in peace, in love, in sorrow, in remembrance, in lust, in joy — forever.

Pen and Paper

In just the past few weeks, I am picking up a friendship that was in long-abeyance, a cousin by marriage whose sunny disposition and warm kindness could win over any one is keen to become closer again and I am following up with her in every way we can.  Sadly though, over the past few years, I have lost touch with several friends — a woman I met at Summerfolk in Owen Sound who lives in England and with whom I am two addresses behind; a number of Navy friends; a work colleague and his partner on whose white pants I spilled a glass of red wine the first time I met her; a now-grown woman who was a child when we met and who has been beloved for nearly 30 years; an old romantic relationship turned friendship I loathe losing — and I cannot, I will not do this again.

My distant friends and family are integral to my well-being.  I am again, as I was when first married, away from “home”, from long-term bonds and familiar places.  I do not regret being here but I deeply miss the more familiar.  To embrace those people and those places, to keep them close, I must be the better correspondent I swear I will be — by email, by snail mail.

I will even, if you want, enclose a SASE because I want to hear from you, too.

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