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Please Mr Postman

Do you like to get the old fashioned, luddite version of mail?

Fossil-fuel burning. Ink and paper. Lick and stick.

I confess to ardent worship of the antiquated practice of letter writing. It’s one reason I send handwritten postcards to numerous children on every trip. Why I mailed over 100 letters in advance of the release of my novel. Why the proprietress of the local stationery shop turns cartwheels every time I darken the door.

Lately, though, I’ve been thinking about letter writing for another reason.

I’m sick of being online.

I’m tired of superficial likes, of empty commentary, of scrolling through life without any real tie to anyone or anything. Even though I have over 20,000 online connections, I am less present than I have ever been in the lives of people I care about.

So.

Over the weekend, I put an out-of-office reply on my e-mail. I deleted every message, unread, that wasn’t an emergency, and I classified work-related items to be dealt with on Monday. I updated social media twice.

I didn’t sell any books.

But I read four.

And I wrote five letters.

Inspired by a card from Debra Fetterly at Breathlighter, I responded to her in kind, with a multi-paragraph, scrawled missive of my own. I read her note several times before filing it in a special place, where I keep every handwritten note/message/card any reader has ever penned to me.

Writing Debra’s note inspired others. I trooped to the mailbox three times to mail them all.

The result of my technological rebellion?

I’m poorer. My novel is tanking in sales.

But I’m richer, too.

My brain is cleaner.

I can read for long stretches without checking a screen.

When I come back to read your words, I go slower. Take my time. Really comprehend what you took time to construct.

I am not a machine.

I cannot be programmed.

I resent the cold, calculated expectation that I turn myself into a machine for purposes of staying connected.

You really want to make my month?

Write me a letter. Send me a card. They’re pieces of you that matter to me, Dear Reader.

When was the last time you stuck a real letter in the mail?

84 Comments Post a comment
  1. I understand completely !

    July 28, 2014
  2. Well. I did a post about saving the post office a while back asking the same question. Of course, I actually need to get myself scribbling. I have written a few notes and handed them out to people, but actual toss it in the mail with a stamp stuff I haven’t done in too long.

    Probably because I need it to be an important letter and I usually don’t know how to end a conversation properly. Hmmm. Well, I’ll come up with something. It may take a little while, but the act of thinking about this usually gets the brain cooking up ideas…

    July 28, 2014
    • I actually hope to meet you in October when I’m up your way. I’ll email you privately about that.

      July 28, 2014
  3. I last stuck a letter in the mail box a long time ago. But, I am writing my travel book with fountain pen, before I type it

    July 28, 2014
    • Ouch. Does your hand hurt, Rajiv?

      July 28, 2014
      • No.. I love writing with fountain pen. I have seven or eight!

        July 28, 2014
  4. I don’t really understand the concept of 20,000 followers compared to letter writing. Your letters will be full of careful personal thoughts for your chosen recipients….20,000 followers is a media concept and good example of carelessness….something completely lacking in care, just playing the game.:)

    July 28, 2014
    • The vast majority of those people chose to connect with me for some reason, and I’m grateful to them for including me in their online life. Because I can really only connect with you online, I persecuted you with bad pictures of my food over the weekend. 🙂

      July 28, 2014
  5. Our postman wants to draw for a living and is on very friendly terms with Chuck D from Public Enemy!

    July 28, 2014
  6. I went through a box of old letters recently. It was lovely to do. I tend not to letter write the old fashioned way any more, but do like to send long, informative not just your end of year newsletter type e-mais. But even those I don’t send often enough. Good luck finding the balance, Andra. And when you do, write a book about it. It will be a best-seller!

    July 28, 2014
    • Eventually, I’ll have a bestseller. If I don’t ever give up.

      My letters are mostly cards, and I fill them to the brim with my scrawl. 🙂

      My biggest problem with a lengthy email is that it comes with a bunch of short ones I need to wade through, and I never feel like I can focus on the long one. With a note, I go sit in a chair with a cup of tea and savor it. I don’t know why.

      July 28, 2014
  7. I love sending cards and letters (even though I usually type them so they are more readable) I also love receiving them (even more). It’s a disappearing art form in my opinion. I have saved all the letters between my husband and me during the college/Army years. Have a few from my grandmother who used to write to me even though she lived just 8 miles away. She would always include a stick of gum in each letter and a small drawing of bunnies or cats or birds. Great memories. I recently shut down my facebook for 2 weeks and was amazed at how much I accomplished. Can’t quite give it up completely though.

    July 28, 2014
    • If I could quit anything, it would be Facebook. I deplore it. I want to scream at the people who play games on there, “Do you know they’re just getting more free information about you every time you play, so they can sell you things you don’t need????” Sure, I use it to target potential readers for my novel, so I’m a total hypocrite. But I have to laugh when FB asks me to complete my profile with the TV shows I watch……..they don’t know as much about me as they think they do.

      July 28, 2014
  8. I’ve always loved the remarkable letters written amongst the classic writers, painters, composers, etc., full of their passion for their work, their unbridled admiration for each other, and all the little homey touches of a slower-paced, more immediate kind of life. When we pass on, what will be left in our “papers”? Copies of emails and tweets? Just not the same at all.

    July 28, 2014
    • Handwriting really does feel like a tangible connection to someone who’s gone.

      July 28, 2014
  9. Wonderful and thought-provoking post, Andra.
    As someone who loves getting letters, and saves them in ribbon tied bundles inside decorative boxes (including your notes), I find that when a real note sits in my mailbox I am instantly filled with childlike glee. I come inside and set it aside for just the right moment to read; over a cup of coffee, a pot of tea, a soda in the arbor, and relish the words.
    Right now, I’m actually writing thank you notes to those who helped me with the garden walk fair a few weeks ago. A few are to high school aged boys, who likely never receive mail.
    You have such a healthy and hefty following, Andra; one you have worked at. Good for you, my friend. Good for you.

    July 28, 2014
    • I’ve met so many awesome people here, and I’m grateful for every one of you, Penny. I never resent coming here or visiting someone else’s site to chat with them. It’s all the rest of it that’s become too much.

      July 28, 2014
  10. Well done, Andra. We do feel like cogs in a machine when we are online too long. Just racing down the assembly line, counting Likes, comments, hits, sales, etc. It is one reason why I reduced my time on my blog, although I still spend too much time online. For me, it’s the guilt factor, the sense (real or not) that some people need to know that I’m there, reading and liking their posts, that’s what I’m still struggling with. As far as letter writing is concerned, my handwriting is very poor and my fingers start to hurt after awhile (another reason why I struggle to keep a handwritten journal). But I send cards, like to my grandnephews and grandniece for their birthdays. Snail mail is more fun than email. Funny, too, I’ve kept nearly every letter or that I’ve received over the last 20+ years. Stored in boxes under my bed. I know those paper and ink missives will be with me a lot longer than a blog post or an email that I can delete at any moment. What the hell. Maybe I should “entertain” you with my chicken scratchings 😉

    July 28, 2014
    • If I can decipher MTM’s handwriting, I can read anything, Marie. 🙂

      July 28, 2014
  11. It will be today as I pen a note to my party hostess from Saturday night. Years ago, I wrote lots of letters. I don’t write nearly as much as I ought to these days. I have one friend who regularly sends notes, cards and little bon mots in the post to lots of folks. They aren’t pithy epithets but just notes of encouragement. Perhaps I ought to think of doing that.

    July 28, 2014
    • I’ve done that sporadically over the years. Thank You For Your Friendship. Here’s What It Means to Me notes. I think I made many of the recipients uncomfortable, because I probably valued the connection more than they did.

      I am determined to get a marketing intern in here in the fall, because I have a ton of organizational things that need to be done to help me be more thoughtful, but if I have to do them, they will never get done.

      July 28, 2014
  12. I think the last actual note I got in the mail was from you with the release of your novel. It’s been awhile since I’ve done any letter writing. Maybe I’ll get inspired.

    July 28, 2014
    • I hope I sent you a thank you note for your review, Lisa. I tried to hit everybody, but I’m sure I missed several people.

      I’m glad to see you back online and getting stronger.

      July 28, 2014
  13. I miss this as well. Have we become so busy? I hope to stay in touch with you, and will be dropping you a note sometime soon — but there simply aren’t enough hours in the day to keep things personal, are there? So instead, we become machines. I joke about how Al Gore invented the Internet and how it will be the downfall of us all, but I honestly think that making the world a smaller place — for me, anyway, is overwhelming. I have too many choices for entertainment, too many people to talk to, too many interesting things to see, that I quite often do NONE of them because I’m paralyzed by an inability to decide.
    Unplugging and taking control of your life is, I believe, a very good idea. I did the same thing this weekend — I got off the computer and actually sat in the sun and finished reading a novel that’s taken me forever to read. Without distractions, I could actually enjoy it.

    July 28, 2014
    • And I started reading The Tipping Point at 11:30 last night, and my brain exploded in such a fireball that I was up until 4am……….. I avoid business books, because they make me think too much. 🙂

      I believe the key is converting so much of this impersonal information into personal connection. Even if it is tangential/marginal/incidental, a little extra effort makes a big impression on people today.

      July 28, 2014
  14. menomama3 #

    Hoo boy. I hear you lound and clear. I’m slowly weaning myself from Face-frenzy and trying to do likewise with the blogosphere, although there are people here I am genuinely interested in and so I remain. Like, here. Posts like this that are heartfelt and sincere and make me think. Genuine connection and attachment requires genuine real conversation. Old fashioned letter-writing is almost like a real conversation and is thoughtful. Something about the act of taking pen in hand and making it flow with thoughts is very different than bashing on a keyboard. Is it pacing? anyway, Andra, you are a treasure. Your book is a delight and ephemeral as this silly medium may be I love your message. Have a wonderful Monday.

    July 28, 2014
    • I know my notes and cards are better written than my blog commentary. 🙂

      I’m really grateful to blogging for introducing me to so many people I wouldn’t have otherwise met. I’m sad to see it as a medium and tool for communication on the decline, because it takes more investment than Facebook et al. I do a deplorable job of getting everywhere. I tried subscribing by email to various blogs so I wouldn’t miss them, and then I keep seeing people I forgot to include. I mean to go back and do it later, and then I forget. It’s the nature of rush-rush-rushing around online, isn’t it? Am I really more productive? Or am I just doing a shitty job at everything?

      July 28, 2014
  15. Writing personal letters is a dying art. Your hand-written notes have meant a great deal to me, Andra. Good for you that you put email and online communication to rest over the weekend. Good for the soul. 🙂

    July 28, 2014
  16. Jill Clary Stevenson #

    Sadly, I have had several opportunities to write notes this summer – all sympathy notes. Mostly, I write thank you notes and sympathy notes. I do believe the art of writing a proper note is one that should be taught by all parents to their children. I know I am grateful to my mother, who made me slave over thank you notes on New Year’s Eve so the Christmas notes would be complete before the end of the year! My reading has slacked off this summer. I unfortunately became caught up in the world of Orange is the New Black, House of Cards and Broadchurch (the latter is some of the best of BBC mystery I’ve ever seen). I’ll send a note to you this week – promise!

    July 28, 2014
    • You were one of the last people who sent me a note, Jill. I squealed when I saw it.

      I’ve become such a contrarian that I will not watch Orange Is the New Black, BECAUSE it’s everywhere and everyone’s talking about it. I’m sick of the same few creative things getting all the publicity, and much of it is exactly the same.

      July 28, 2014
  17. Lance #

    A friend of mine just wrote a book and she asked for a copy of mine so we just traded books. I put it in the mail this morning with stamps and everything. It’s was very old school exciting.

    So yes, I love it. I used to write letters to a couple of friends in the 1990s for several years. I miss that. I wish I had a pen pal.

    July 28, 2014
    • You have my address….. 🙂

      July 28, 2014
      • Lance #

        you have to write back, then

        July 28, 2014
  18. You know how much I love letter writing. I think I will return to that once I get back to reality. Right now, writing anything seems out of my ability.

    July 28, 2014
    • I loved the picture of you happy in the hammock, though. 🙂

      July 28, 2014
      • A brief moment of peace. Yesterday we discovered that two people could actually fit in the hammock. Aaah!

        August 1, 2014
  19. I did write a lot of hand written notes this past year in Rotary, mostly thanking people for what they do in thier local Clubs and in their communities. I do love receiving a hand written note and haven’t really figured out a good system for keeping them, but, I will now.

    July 28, 2014
    • I really think the notes people send a person are part of their legacy.

      July 28, 2014
  20. tarakianwarrior #

    You know who I received my last (and first in many, many years) hand written letter from…YOU! I have it hanging up here at work so I glance at it and remind myself how lucky I am. I know I’ve been promising you a letter for a long time. I keep telling myself that I will write one when I find the stationary with the lines on it because I have difficulty writing in a straight line….However, on my lunch break…I WILL write you a letter and I’ll be the richer for it. 🙂

    July 28, 2014
    • Like I said earlier………I can (mostly) read MTM’s handwriting, so I’m undaunted by the state of what I receive.

      July 28, 2014
  21. Funny, I received a card from an acquaintance today. She knows I’m going through a rough patch and she said “I figured it seems more “real” when the note is paper, not Facebook.” She was so right – not only did it make my morning, but it will be sitting on my desk for me to look at for days to come and I will remember she cared – can’t do that with Facebook.

    July 28, 2014
    • That’s where we’ve gotten, isn’t it? It seems like most people think it’s completely fine to use Facebook as a one-stop-shop for everything. I’ve even become guilty of that when thanking groups for having me speak. I shouldn’t do it on Facebook. I should send them a note.

      I removed my birthday from FB several years ago, so I no longer have the big FB birthday. And I don’t miss it. The people who wish me happy birthday now have to make a little effort, and that effort matters a lot to me.

      July 28, 2014
  22. i love this and agree with the joy of handwritten letters. my aussie daughter and i have and continue to, write letters to each other, along with a couple of other people in my life. there is nothing like the thrill of going to the mailbox and seeing a letter waiting there for me. i too, struggle with the day to day balance of online communication and real world communication. sounds like a wonderful weekend away from technology, and i love stationery too ) best, beth

    July 28, 2014
    • I loved your story about the journalist at the World Cup. I really thought a lot about this issue in the wake of that post.

      July 28, 2014
  23. Jim Kane #

    It seems that many on-line acquaintances have “pulled the on-line plug” for a period of time and connected, or perhaps re-connected, with others in a more personal way. I did earlier this month. It was hard to do, but I am glad that I did!

    Jim

    July 28, 2014
    • I missed you when you were gone, Jim, but I know you’re a better person for doing it.

      July 28, 2014
      • Jim Kane #

        Hi Andra!

        Just now seeing this!
        Thanks! I really enjoy the Word Press community!

        Blessings

        Jim

        July 31, 2014
  24. I send greeting cards, often with a short note scribbled in them, so that is kind of, sort of like sending a letter, right? But as for an actual handwritten letter on my monogrammed stationery that my mother insisted every married woman must have, it’s been years. Kind of miss it now that I think about it.

    July 28, 2014
    • I have monogrammed square cards, and I can cram a lot of stuff on those…… 🙂

      July 28, 2014
  25. Great challenge, Andra. Will try to get something in the mail soon.

    July 28, 2014
  26. Sadly I have always associated “real” mail with teenage girls casually ripping my heart out while quoting bad pop lyrics. (Did I teach them nothing about music! That sometimes hurt more then the break up did.)

    Now postcards…that is a different story. I love me some postcards! Sending, receiving. Oh joy! Oh, rapture!

    July 28, 2014
    • Well, you’re going to enjoy the hell out of my upcoming book then…………

      July 28, 2014
      • Ohhhh goody! A book about people who send postcards! I’m there! 🙂

        July 29, 2014
  27. Sadly, it’s been way too long since I last wrote a letter to someone. I blame it on a 20 year career in the technology space, but that is obviously a cop out. It doesn’t matter how email-centered my life is, I COULD find the time to actually write a letter using pen and paper. And I know how good it feels to receive one, so there really is no excuse for me not to give others the opportunity to feel that same way.

    You’ve inspired me.

    July 28, 2014
    • My mail is junk, bills and notes from people I care about. I could spend an hour with a note from someone. It makes the rest of it manageable somehow, in a totally different way than an email.

      July 28, 2014
  28. As usual, Andra your morning post is leaving me with some good questions to think about today as I drive, work, drive, fret about unanswered email, try to find quality time with a good book, and oh yeah – connect with my family. Did you know I look to you for thought prompts that can shake me out of my routine? I love buying cards and stationary but fall short when it comes to writing and mailing. Post cards though are so much fun and I used to look forward to writing travel cards almost as much as I did taking actual vacations. Got to get back to that! Your lovely notes are saved in my special card drawer and hopefully one of mine will find its way to yours…

    July 28, 2014
    • Here’s how I manage postcards (if it helps.) I’m up to more than a dozen every trip, and that number is going to go up exponentially (see comment reply to Robert above.)

      On the first day in a location, I buy my postcards, and I find my stamps. (Sometimes, that’s challenging. Like in Spain, they don’t sell postcard stamps at the post office. One has to go to the convenience store…….but I digress.) For US destinations, I always have a cache of postcard stamps in my purse, so I don’t have to go looking.

      Once I have my postcards, it’s easy to scribble a few while I’m sipping a coffee, or waiting in line, or riding the subway, or whatever. Because I get them all on the first day, it’s pretty manageable. I always mail them at the end, sometimes at the airport, unless I got them all done earlier.

      I’ve used the app Postagram to send postcards as well. I can take any travel photo and convert it to a postcard, and they mail it for me. I don’t like it because it removes my handwriting. Because I send postcards to children as a way to make them curious about the world, I want them to have that consistent touchpoint of handwriting. But when I couldn’t find the right postcards, Postagram is a fun alternative.

      July 28, 2014
  29. I love what they now call “snail mail.” Tell me where to send it (aceybud@sbcglobal.net) and I’ll send you a card.

    July 28, 2014
  30. I send snail mail all the time. I love to receive it. I confess, some of my sons think it odd, especially I send them a card when they live in the same city! But, as your readers have noted, unlike emails, snail mail gets saved, and is treasured years later. Wonderful post.

    July 28, 2014
    • I send cards to people who live in Charleston all the time. 🙂

      July 28, 2014
  31. Debbie #

    Like some of the others, the last real letter I received was from you and I can’t tell you how much I appreciate it. Sometimes it’s the unexpected letter, note or card that will make my day.

    July 28, 2014
    • Well, I want to meet you for lunch or coffee. We keep saying we’re going to do it, and we never do.

      July 28, 2014
  32. I hope this is not seen as an empty comment. I feel the same sometimes, but understand the restrictions of on-line connections. I have a couple of pen pals which keep me in the literary loop. For one I enjoy your posts very much. Hope the time off have you a little breather.

    July 28, 2014
    • I feel like many of my comments are empty, John. That’s what I meant. I want to say more than ‘great post!’ on everything I read online, but it takes a ton of time to do that, and I don’t really feel like the investment is justified sometimes.

      July 28, 2014
  33. Kir Piccini #

    If you knew me in real life you’d know how much I adore sending cards (not so much letters anymore) to people. I have drawers full of notecards for every occasion and there is nothing (NOTHING) I like better than sticking a stamp on a stack of Sunshine with the intention of sending some of it to people who put up with me, or love me for me or simply make my life better by spending some of it with me.

    I’ve told you before that I feel very disconnected online, as if it’s a hologram of our real lives. While I have made so many incredible friends in this space my heart yearns for real conversations and laughter I can hear.

    Yes, I get this. (so if you send me your address I promise to send you a note!)

    July 28, 2014
    • Do I already have your address??? (lookinglookinglooking) I DO NOT.

      All right. Email with my address forthcoming. 🙂

      July 28, 2014
      • Kir Piccini #

        I got your email.
        I smiled.
        I read your email again.
        Smiled.

        Cards, words and virtual hugs to follow. 🙂

        July 29, 2014
  34. Another awesome and thought provoking post Andra. I feel the same way you do. Before Facebook/Twitter/G+ sucked us in I used to exchange e-mails with people. Now that social media has reduced us to communications via sound bytes e-mail is a thing of the past for most folks. A young person made a comment on SM that e-mail is for old people. Cough…. As for letter writing I guess the last serious letter writing I did was a pen pal that was in a Texas prison. I ran across the request for a pen pal on some Christian based website and thought. What the heck. That seemed to last for about 6 months and then I had to end it. 😦 My hand writing (cursive) sucks so badly I have to print but after about a page or two my hand hurts. Most of the time I just use Word and type up the letter, print it off and then sign it. Does that count? I would love to have a pen pal. If anyone is interested send me an e-mail at jcmoffitt@icloud.com and let me know you are interested. 🙂

    July 28, 2014
    • I personally deplore text, other than for quick questions and messages. I cannot stand it as a form of communication. If that makes me an old person, so be it.

      July 28, 2014
  35. yes, the journo penpal is one on my short list of mutual handwritten letter friends. when i look back, over the 20 years we’ve been pen pals, it’s amazing. i can trace the clear paths of our lives and see where we are now. also the same with my oldest daughter, looking back to her college days even, and on to now and her life in australia. i also love to create collage art cards, personalized for my recipient and my family and friends know that is what they’ll always receive from me for anything i want to celebrate or express to them. handwritten notes carry a part of the writer’s soul and share it with the recipient. i love them because i can read them over and over and feel it each time.

    July 28, 2014
  36. I, too, get so very weary with everything being “instant” and the on-line connection that implies I need immediacy in reply. That is partially what inspired me sending the note, Andra. I know that when I send an email there seems to be an etiquette that demands a quick reply. I cannot imagine you have time for that, and I am a little weary of it, too. I will be looking in my mailbox in eager anticipation. I hope you get many cards and letters and can indulge in the time-honored form of communication we all probably long for in some way. I also wish I had the addresses of many of my blogging friends. I’d love to send a note…it’s just a more gracious form of connection, I think. ox

    July 29, 2014
  37. I’m a hybrid communicator. I deplore the abreviated “txting” I see online and in social media. As a writer, I cannot comprehend the effort to reduce communicaton–and especially the written word–to a couple of keystrokes. But I do love the connectedness of email. So, I combine the best of each world and write my 19th century missives through the 21st century medium. For special occasions, nothing beats a handwritten card, but I can stay in touch, with all the flavor and nuance will an email “letter.”

    July 29, 2014
  38. A break away is always good, Andra. I ditched Facebook years ago and have never looked back. One reason, and I may start to waffle here (for which I apologise) for binning FB was when a ‘friend’ from school friended me but never communicated, and glared at me as she walked passed me in a corridor at the hospital one day. Superficial? And pointless, if you ask me… but I’m no a fan.Sigh. I’m just about keeping up with WordPress and I’m very often behind here too. I’m trying to ignore the stats, and doing what I can do. I’m doing it well enough, and at my own speed, so all’s good!
    One of these days, Andra, I’m not saying when, or what, you may receive a little something from me through the post. It’s been years since I penned a hand-written letter, so as I read your words above I thought ‘why not?’. All I need to do now is think of something to write, and we’re off. Easier said than done. Look at my blog, for starters!
    Anyhoo… catching up to do, so I must be orf!

    July 29, 2014
  39. Ooh, Ms. Wakins, I’d love to send you a postal letter! 🙂 I am sorting out when to sit at my desk and start penning letters — I’d ideally like to have some ready for next week’s mail, but I am thinking I’ll have them ready by next Friday instead! 😦 Hmm,… I must have your postal address somewhere — I was thinking to myself the other day when I emailed you I ought to have simply slipped the letter into the Post rather than hit ‘send’. I spoke about my beloved adoration for postal mail on my “Lemongrass Hope” book review. It is always amazing how what is important to us etches out whilst we’re reading a novel or blogging about it! 🙂

    I quite literally defended the art of letters & correspondences and proved it is not dead! 🙂

    You’re in esteemed company, and we’re all blessed to have the connection to conversations & words by way of ink, stamp, and envelope!

    My book discussion within the Lemongrass Hope review & how I love Postal Mail!

    August 8, 2014

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