My love of the old-fashioned handwritten letter
Today is one of my favorite days of the week: the day I set aside a few hours to catch up on my hand-written correspondence. I have pen-pals all over the world, some are new (connected within the last six months or so), and some I’ve exchanged letters with for years.
Some people associate “pen pals” with children, or see it as something that faded away decades ago. That’s understandable, after all I’m a child of the 70s and I found and connected with my very first pen pal as a child. First with friends I met on vacations, and eventually in the back section of Tiger Beat magazine (shout out to my Gen-X peers who remember that!).
In any case, there remains a seemingly almost “underground” group of people (mostly women, but I’ve noticed many men are now jumping into this hobby) who are fiercely committed to handwritten correspondence. Believe it or not, there are still sites out there that will help you find and connect with others who are interested in getting started with this (very fulfilling and good for the soul) hobby.*
Here are some of the most recent letters I’ve received – such a delight!
I’m not sure when, but I stumbled upon the most beautiful, old-fashioned French word for letters: billet-doux.
While technically it does mean “love letter,” I’m just so enchanted with the word that in my mind, I apply it to any letter. Therefore today I’ll be catching up on my billets-doux!
How I picture myself when writing my billet-doux
One thing to note: My pen pals and I have two strict rules.
The first iron-clad rule: we have never connected in any way, shape or form on social media. And we never will. Some pen pen pals do that, but I’m one of the ones who don’t. For me, and them, it’s a part of the treasured world of this pastime that we leave the fast-paced, internet obsessed world behind when we sit down to write or read to catch up with our correspondence.
The second iron-clad rule: NO POLITICS. EVER. Nothing can ruin a friendship faster than arguing about politics. Nothing can make a mood plummet faster than reading about a political stance that either gets you fired up or angry (One notable but rare exception: My pen pal from Brazil has lamented the horrid corruption in her country, but we never “debate” about it or compare our countries)
The benefits of these rules are enormous. The deep and precious friendships that I’ve made though the years are especially sweet as they’ve remained unscathed from the slings and arrows of the raging, depressing, soul-crushing events that cause tempers to rise and knots twist up painfully into the stomach. While a 15-minute scroll through Twitter can make the blood-pressure rise, a temper to flare, and outrage, a 15-minute leisurely read of a letter from a dear friend calms and soothes the heart like a healing balm.
We almost use our letters like a shared journal, a written log of the recent events in our lives, pouring our hearts out about disappointments or struggles, or sharing our latest sources of joy, happiness, and celebrations. We write about our families and get to know them through our letters. For my longer term pen pals, we know each others hearts. For shorter term pen pals, if they evolve into long-term (some do, some don’t) all of that happens as well, and it’s a beautiful thing.
Another fun element – while certainly not a requirement, many pen pals (myself included) absolutely love using creativity with stationery (I’m obsessed with collecting sets, and printing my own from home, as well – Etsy has a lot of inexpensive stationery templates, by the way). Decorating envelopes with washi tape, stickers, using casual “calligraphy” to write out the addresses, collecting and using a variety of beautiful and/or unique stamps, putting little prizes like bookmarks inside the letter – all of these things can elevate the entire experience into a really fulfilling creative outlet!
Postcards are fun, too!
In addition to my pen-pal letters, another hobby I have is sending, receiving, and collecting post cards from all over the world. Shout out to Postcrossing.com, the site that makes this delightful hobby so accessible and easy! I cannot recommend it enough. Here are my stats since I started using it:
My username is AnneFaye if you’re interested in exchanging cards!
In settings, you can choose whether you want to exchange postcards with international only, domestic only, or both. I toggle between both now and then, but I prefer international.
Tip: Although Postcrossing is not a pen pal site (you exchange postcards with one person, then move on to the next), you can put in your bio that you are looking for regular pen pals too – and I’ve connected with at least two this way!
Here are some of the most recent postcards I’ve received:
It’s always a happy day when my mailbox has a cute or beautiful postcard from across the world!
Here’s a peek at my writing corner, it’s a work in progress, for example, I have more art prints to put up, and I want to make one wall a kind of mosaic of the many postcards I’ve received. But so far I LOVE it, it’s an inspiring little nook for me:
I’m nuts about corvids, notice my favorite crow-themed CAWFEE cup!
As we all struggle and wrangle with the gut punches that seem to be endless so far in 2020, it’s understandable that many of us (if not all) are starting to feel like the sun will never come back out. That we will never again be able to connect with others, with the things we love dearly, with things we’ve always enjoyed getting out to enjoy, whether that be sporting events, restaurants, shopping, meeting up with friends, shows, art galleries, concerts, any gatherings at all, even beaches!
While it seems like it will last forever, and it certainly feels that way, the sun will come out again even if we can’t even see it on the horizon just yet. It’s hard. Life really is hard right now, for every one of us.
If you’re looking for something, anything to help you get some kind of escape other than Netflix bingewatching sessions (raising my hand here, no judgment – heck, I can let 4 hours pass watching the dumbest YouTube content imaginable) maybe try a new hobby. I’d like to offer a truly enjoyable one to add to your toolbox of “can’t take this crap anymore” distractions: writing letters and/or joining Postcrossing.com (it’s free, and you can sign up to send and receive just one to see how you like it).
I make no promises except to tell you that I’m 90 percent sure that anyone giving this a whirl will find it utterly delightful. Happy Mail waiting in your mailbox within the usual pile of junk mail and bills brings a feeling of joy I can’t begin to describe.
* If you’re interested in finding a pen pal, a really good site I highly recommend is globalpenfriends.com. There are so many filters and sorting options (region of the world, age range, preferred gender, interests, and many more!) you can find matches that seem nearly custom made just for you!
Word of warning: this is NOT a dating site, so if you’re interested in that kind of thing, please don’t use this pen pal exchange site for that as it muddies the waters and ruins it for the rest of us, thank you.