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Lamenting a Lost Art: Letter Writing and Why We Don’t Do it Anymore

By HERWriter Guide
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Emotional Health related image Photo: Getty Images

Remember back in the day when the mailbox didn’t consist solely of junk? When people still got dreaded bills in the mail, but also got something no one knows or seems to care about anymore – a personal letter? Not from a bank or some company trying to get your business. But a real letter. One that might have matching paper and envelopes – maybe even a scent of lavender or rose! If you didn’t recognize the handwriting, you looked at the stamp to see if you could discern where it was from. A return address made your heart bounce as you looked forward to hearing about the life of someone you knew well, or were just beginning to. No return address increased the deliciousness of how this mystery made us feel. Yet all this “back in the day” stuff only really ended in the late 90s. How far and how fast we have come. And how willingly we threw the past and its customs away; all in the name of bigger, better and faster. But is our new personal communication really any of those things?

With letters, we were treated to a few pages crammed with news, jokes and the business of the day. We were filled with a sense of how our friend or family member lived – what their experiences were and how they reacted to the world around them. We reacted too.

Inside the letter might be a few photos, instead of a link where we can download vacation pictures if we so chose; the same link hundreds of others have access to. But these letters? They were really meant for us, as were the photos. The back of the photo contained a handwritten note of where it was taken, what the date was and who was in it. And maybe a funny or poignant comment that brought the picture to life even more.

We opened the letter carefully, because we kept them. Maybe in a special box or cupboard so that when we got older, we could open up a treasure trove of memories and tangible proof that we mattered enough to someone that they spent the time and money to compose and mail a letter to us. Years later we get to touch the paper, put our noses to its scent and trace our fingers around the handwriting of an old friend or, perhaps, someone long gone.

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Great article, Susan! From one writer to another, I get it. I too lament the lost art of writing letters. I used to print off email letters and save them in a photo album for the same purpose of saving the good ones and cherishing communication with loved ones. But as you said, we lose the ability or the willingness to take the time to do these things. I do still have a few choice friends I send care packages to now and again, and always include a handwritten note. The items often are gifts for a birthday or recent celebration, but there always is something random that I "just couldn't resist sending." Some of these friends send me care packages, and often it's those random items we end up really cherishing. The things that make us laugh, or say to us, "I know you, and I think you'll like this even if it's a bit weird." Just like letters, it can convey the same effect. Mind you, not in the same way as the letters do...especially to someone who loves the written word like we do, but it's something.

March 11, 2011 - 10:43am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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