The Letter that Made Me Write

My mother’s failure to write me for three months after she had written me regularly for over thirty years scared me.  I feared I had received my last letter from her.  My Inlandia Literary Journeys column this Sunday, December 14th in the Press Enterprise came from my personal reflections and research into the world concern about the decline in personal letter writing.

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Not All Is in the Cards for Sure

Unsigned Christmas cards disappoint me. Digital ubiquity has inverted my heart’s rate—one handwritten word is worth a thousand pictures. A sentiment I expressed in a poem earlier today:

Unendorsed

Your glossy photo card

bore my address,

but wasn’t worth the

envelope’s rip without

a single letter written

by your hand.

I feel doubly disconnected when my family and friends who live afar don’t write or call. I’m addicted to social media like most Americans, but likes and emoticons are not enough. I crave audible conversation and handwritten correspondence. I cherish slow exchanges. That’s why I write something personal in each of my cards, even though I include a typewritten Christmas letter.

When my older brother Benny spent over forty minutes on the phone with me this past weekend, I was ecstatic. I felt valued when he called me back the two times our call got dropped.

In Essays After Eighty Donald Hall reflects, “Apparently Facebook exists to extinguish friendship. E-mail and texting destroy the post office. eBay replaces garage sales. Amazon eviscerates bookstores. Technology speeds, then doubles its speed, then doubles it again.”

We can sidestep the destructive impact of technology. Take a tech-free afternoon this weekend. Turn off the television. Disconnect from your electronic devices. Take a nap. Buy a card or create your own. Postage is more expensive than it used to be, but with its relatively higher price comes the sense that you care enough to pay.

Some, like Miles Brignall of the British newspaper The Guardian, worry the 147-year-old tradition of Christmas cards are endangered, as others fear for the older art of letter writing. (See my forthcoming column in this Sunday’s Press Enterprise.) Let’s make a future for personal cards and traditional correspondence.

If your budget is tight, consider sending just a few cards. If time and money allow, send a bundle. Imagine how festive you make others feel as they place your card above their fireplace or hopefully if they have received enough cards, to ornament a doorframe. But best of all, will be your signature, your personally chosen words.