The art of letter writing.


The bad thing about eloping secretly, as Midwestern Man and I did earlier this year is that people don’t seem to take your marriage seriously. To date I have received only one (ONE!) fucking congratulations card from my friends overseas (nevermind any presents!). As much as this annoys me – I bet my friends will be expecting a big present if they get married! Huh! – there is a part of me that’s glad our wedding was somewhat “under the radar”. Since we got married so quickly because of my visa situation, I guess I’m still waiting to see if things will work out. That sounds terrible I know but, well, it’s the truth. If we’d had a big wedding, and people had spent loads of money, and fussed over me, I’d feel terrible if we split up six months later!

1stAirMailLetter

Nonetheless, I do still think my wedding could have received a little bit more attention. To that end, I am sending out cool postcards to my friends featuring the courthouse where we got married and the hotel where we stayed. I’m hoping that my postcards will guilt trip them into sending me a card. The other reason why I’m sending postcards is simply because I just love sending proper handwritten “snail mail”.

I derive a great deal of pleasure from writing letters and postcards, so much so that I sometimes wonder if I’m normal. Letter writing for me isn’t a haphazard, random affair – there are certain requirements which must be fulfilled for me to feel happy about the letter. First of all, there’s the pen. I refuse to write with anything other than the “Precise V5 Extra Fine Rolling Ball” in black ink. It absolutely has to be black ink. My worst nightmare would be having to write a letter with a biro (or “ball point” as it is known to you Yanks). That would be vulgar and…just heartbreaking. With the “Precise V5”, I just love the way the ink looks on the paper. If I didn’t write in such a weird way, I would use an old-fashioned quill, but I would smear the ink as I wrote. Sigh.

Due to time constraints, I usually send more postcards or birthday cards than letters these days, so the type of paper isn’t an issue. When I do send letters, though, I spend ages in the stationery shop examining the colour, texture and pattern of each sheet of paper. I probably get more pleasure from looking at, touching, sniffing and imagining my pen stroke on paper than I do when I imagine caressing the body of a man.

Once the letter or postcard is finished, there’s the question of the envelope (I always put my postcards in envelopes because I don’t want the postman reading what I’ve written and, besides, you can write more if you don’t have to leave room for an address). The wedding postcards are an unusual shape and, at first, I sent them out in horrible, brown business envelopes because I couldn’t find an envelope that would fit them perfectly! But then I did!

When the envelope is sealed, I will then write the address on the front of the envelope; stick an address label on the top left-hand corner, and an airmail sticker – if the letter is going abroad – on the bottom-left corner, and then I will add the stamps. It all must happen in this order otherwise I will worry that my letter will somehow be jinxed and will go missing. I have considered measuring the distance between the edge of the envelope and the address label/stamps/airmail sticker to make sure that they are always positioned at the exact same distance each time, but I have resisted doing this because even I can see that’s totally obsessive. I will admit, though, to feeling a pang of sadness if I take the envelope to the post office, and the clerk sticks the stamps on willy-nilly. Worst of all are those awful, ugly stamp labels they use nowadays instead of proper stamps. These are disgusting! I must have stamps! Preferably the most pretty stamps they have. I was particularly gratified to discover that there is currently a forty-four cent stamp with wedding rings on it, which is particularly appropriate for my wedding letters:

NEW RINGS STAMP

If I add two of these stamps, plus a ten cent one, then my letter will find its way back to Europe in no time at all!

I don’t know why writing letters, and their presentation is so important to me. I think perhaps it is because I am actually quite artistic, yet don’t do any art, so the choice of paper, envelope and stamps is like a little art project for me. Also, it makes me happy to think of my wee letter winding its way through the world’s different postal systems, and eventually finding its way to its destination. I wonder about all the different people who touched it, and I wish I knew who they were, and could find out about their lives, their loves, their passions. Then I think about my friends and what they were doing immediately before receiving my letter. Were they having a good day? Are they happy? What do they think about my letter? Do they care that I spent so much time choosing the paper and the stamps?

I’m sure they don’t care, but it just makes me happy that my friends have received something so entirely, well, me, which has been touched by so many people before it reached them. God knows why, but I find all of this unbearably romantic. How could an email ever convey so much humanity?!

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8 thoughts on “The art of letter writing.

  1. Xul September 29, 2009 at 12:25 am Reply

    Letter writing is an art form that is being lost in a tech obsessed world. When I was in high school I used to love writing long, epic letters to my friends up in Canada. It was so exciting to get letters in return and see the pretty stamps and the stamped ink markings like “par avion” and such. French always makes things seem more exotic, even Quebecois! Glad to see I’m not the only one with OCD when it comes to putting the stamps on straight and even from the edges!

    I heard a news report recently about how children don’t know how to write cursive anymore because they only use the computer or text message. It’s a shame.

    • petrichoric September 29, 2009 at 12:45 am Reply

      Yes, I also used to write long, epic letters when I was in high school! I wish that I still had the time to write such long letters…

      As regards cursive, I was never taught cursive and, even if I do say so myself, I have beautiful handwriting. I’m actually against teaching kids how to write in a particular style because I think it makes handwriting much less unique and individual. The Germans and the French *do* appear, however, to teach their kids how to write a certain way (or at least they did when I lived there) and I always found that everybody’s writing looked the same. Very boring. The only benefit I can see to cursive is that it allows you to write more quickly!

      • Xul September 29, 2009 at 1:20 am Reply

        Everyone always says I have nice handwriting. I think my printed letters look nicer than my cursive yet I get compliments on both. I loved the way my Irish grandmother wrote. She had such beautiful cursive. I still have some old post cards of my grandfather’s from when he left England with the writing done with a quill.

        I’m going to disagree with you on the teaching of one particular style. When I was growing up, we all were taught one particular style but no one’s handwriting ever looked the same to me. I think one tends to develop his or her own style the older one gets regardless of what was taught.

        • petrichoric September 29, 2009 at 12:01 pm Reply

          Maybe you’re right about being taught a particular style of writing. I don’t know. I just found it boring that I could look a German’s handwriting and know immediately that they were from Germany. On the other hand, in “the motherland,” people, especially women, tend to write in big, round letters, which I also find ugly. I suppose that’s what happens when you don’t learn a style…perhaps you just write in a more childlike way. I’d love to get my handwriting analyzed. I wonder if you really could tell a lot about me from my handwriting.

  2. phd in yogurtry September 29, 2009 at 8:41 am Reply

    I love black roller ball ink on letters, too. Much preferred to standard ball point ink pen. (My husband’s ex used to sign her greeting cards in pencil! PENCIL!)

    I used to stand in long lines to pick out just the right stamp. Definately a stamp fetishist here. But (due to kids who demand every bloody second of my free time) I’ve fallen out of that habit .. just as I’ve fallen out of writing letters and sending lots of cute cards. I do miss it.

    But I like that email makes keeping in touch so much easier. I receive almost no snail mail anymore (husband used to call out “PMS!” — personal mail for s—) but I now get more frequent updates on their actual daily lives.

    Hope you get lots of cards and letters and … yes … GIFTS for your efforts!

    • petrichoric September 29, 2009 at 12:06 pm Reply

      Yes, it’s true that email/Facebook/texts etc do allow you to keep in touch much more frequently with people, but I find that I write much more about “surface” stuff in emails. I’m more likely to write what’s really on my mind in a letter.

      Wow, no wonder your husband’s ex is his ex! Pencil?! Either your husband did a Roman Polanski and was with her when she was still in middle school, or she was just a very strange lady.

  3. Terry September 29, 2009 at 9:31 am Reply

    I like writing letters but it takes so much time that I rarely write some anymore. I love sending postcards though ! I mostly send postcards and letters to one of my friends, I have so much to say. She sends me letters as well. We used to do projects together and we would email each other every day, really long emails. It’s true that it isn’t the same as letters on paper but we didn’t know each other much back then and it still helped us to develop a very strong friendship.
    It is true that the pen makes a difference. I only use colored V7 Pilot pens. Don’t like writing in black or plain blue. I prefer pink, green, mauve, aqau blue. Very girly I know…

    • petrichoric September 29, 2009 at 12:10 pm Reply

      It’s a shame that all my readers are anonymous or semi-anonymous because wouldn’t it be nice to have a sort of postcard sending “chain letter”? Someone would send a postcard, and then the recipient would send one to the next person on the list.

      Yes, it is girly to write in many different colours of ink, but I like it. I’ve contemplated writing in dark green before – and maybe I’ll try to find a pen I like in that colour – but I couldn’t go as far as pink.

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