Late last month I stopped into a Brooks Brothers and picked up a new oxford shirt as part of their end of year sale (since I am unemployed and must buy clothes cheaply). All I got was the shirt and a pair of socks, both of which were deeply discounted. Given my meager purchase, I was especially surprised when I found this in the mail.
And even more so when I opened it to find that it was handwritten.
Maybe I’m outing myself as a sentimental rube, but opening my mailbox to randomly find a handwritten card from a store I visited once to buy something on sale was a welcome surprise. I understand intellectually that this was likely prompted by the fact that since it was my first visit to the store, they added me to their system and were likely required by policy to write me a missive as a result. I understand intellectually that this is not based on their role as a “lifelong family friend” but on pragmatic business calculation. Still, the fact that the salesperson actually set pen to card stock on my behalf still seems very personal, given how impractical, time-consuming, and downright antiquated the format is in the modern era. That she spelled my name correctly was also a rare treat.
Now naturally I don’t mean to spend a blog post promoting Brooks Brothers, especially since they’re doing fine without me. Rather, I intend to promote physical, written correspondence.
Obviously I’m not trying to impugn more convenient forms of communication. There’s no sense in throwing telephones, text messages, email, social networks, video chat, or telegraph out with the bathwater. They serve an excellent purpose and even provide an intimate sort of social fellowship all their own; I sincerely hope that doesn’t sound snide or condescending, because that’s not how I intend it. There are few means of remote communication that demonstrate more personal effort and intimate attention than a handwritten letter. Specifically, handwriting requires a great deal more forethought and planning for obvious reasons inherent to the format, and just putting something into an envelope, paying for postage, and walking it to the mailbox simply inconveniences a person. It’s a small sacrifice but greater than most other means of long distance communication.
With the ubiquity of social networking, I keep in fairly regular contact with a larger number of people than before, but it’s all so oblique and distant, obviously in the case of those who are geographically distant but even in the case of those in the same city. I wanted to bridge that gap with these friends of mine, so I’ve been trying to send letters more often, with mixed success. To that end, I did something I’d never really done before: I sent out Christmas cards, which made me realize how few of my friends’ physical addresses I have on hand. I made an effort to write awful little poems in many of the cards in an effort to personalize them as much as possible. It felt a bit awkward for me, the act of collecting addresses and writing notes in my awful chicken scratch. Still, I enjoyed it doing it, so I wanted to keep it up.
Around the same time, a friend of mine went to basic (whose graduation I’ll be driving down to see in the morning), which, as we all know, is a perfect excuse to write letters to someone. Naturally, I sent him one of my Christmas cards, and in his response, he commented on my childlike scrawl. In the next letter I sent him, out of embarrassment dressed up as altruism, I broke down and typed my next letter to him, thus ending my experiment with handwritten letters.
I do want to pursue old fashioned communication though, so maybe I’ll have to get my manual typewriter fixed up and use that instead to writer letters. I think, however, that’s a topic for another blog post. In the meantime, feel free to send me an epistle in the comments.