Letter Writing in 2020 — it is possible!

Who needs Bluetooth when you’ve got paper and pen?

Whether because of COVID, or just techno-fatigue after two decades of email, Facebook, and Twitter, or because of the overwhelming sense that we’re all becoming too disconnected from each other, I decided to return to writing letters.

Paper, pen, envelope, stamps, letters. Such a simple technology, and so tangible and tactile. It felt like a nice easy way to reconnect with old friends and just slow down a little bit.

The actual writing part is nice. My penmanship has always been atrocious, even back to elementary school when report cards would note sadly that my scrawl left much to be desired. Add to that an advancing case of Essential Tremor, which makes my hands shake in some situations, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

I’m used to knocking off tweets and emails at a flash, typing (or thumb-typing) as fast as I can think. If I’m going to write something legible I need to slow right down and let the words come out at a nice, steady pace that allows me to form letters and numbers that are consistent and readable.

The good thing is this: when you need to slow down while writing you also slow down and think about what you’re putting down on paper. You actually think about every word and sentence before writing it because there’s no undo, and no auto-correct. I believe that this makes you a better writer than when you write on a computer. Even typewriters imposed some kind of physical limit on how fast you could write, but a pen and paper are even better.

Of course there have been some challenges, most of which revolve around the fact that pretty much no-one writes letters any more. Twenty years ago I would have visited our local stationary store to choose some lovely writing paper and matching envelopes. Letters are tactile, and a pleasant paper makes your message more powerful and enjoyable.

Sadly we’re living in a Canadian city, so there are no stationary stores, just Staples. That means that “paper” means “copier paper.” There’s some small amount of overly fussy and overly expensive boxed speciality paper, but honestly it just isn’t right for a casual letter. I eventually wound up with some reasonably pleasant lined memo pads. They’re not perfect, but they’ll do.

As bad as paper was, envelopes are worse. Your choices are #10 white business envelopes or fussy wedding invitation envelopes. Or strange novelty items that I don’t like. The option of nice writing paper and matching envelopes just doesn’t exist any more. Especially if, like me, you want lines to keep sloppy handwriting under control.

Stamps? Wow! Have they become expensive. The challenge though is actually buying them. Canada Post has long since shut down all of the “real” post offices, so so you’re stuck with a fifteen minute lineup at the “retail outlet” at the local drug store. They were slow before but under the onslaught of Amazon packages they’re really floundering.

Still, I’ve got paper, and a pen, and an envelope, and stamps. All that I need is a mailing address.

Google? Facebook? LinkedIn? Not a chance. Canada411? No-one that I know is listed there. Whitepages.com, in the US? Some people show up, but offering two or three addresses, and no suggestion which one is current. I had never considered this, but it is now nearly impossible to find out someone’s address without emailing them to ask.

And sending an email that says “Please give me your address so that I can write you a letter” seems just too strange for words. (For that matter, just writing a letter seems too strange for words.)

Still, I did prevail, sort of. I’ve managed to dig up addresses for three old friends, and have written them letters, and have even found where the last remaining neighbourhood mailbox is hidden, and have mailed them.

So now I wait. For the letters to be returned as not deliverable, or for a response, or for them to just disappear into the mists of time. And somehow that lack of immediacy feels very, very good.

North Vancouver based writer. Seeking: honest politicians; justice and honour; intelligence and humour; corporate integrity. Planning to move to France.

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