The author of Alice in Wonderland, Lewis Carroll once said, “The proper definition of a man is an animal that writes letters.” By this definition, nowadays, most men or humans are just animals. Letter writing is a lost art, something requiring skill which not many people do anymore.
I was first taught how to write letters by my African American third grade teacher at an international school in Aleppo, Syria. After we moved, she continued to write me letters from all over the world until I grew up. Sadly, we are not in touch anymore, but I am forever grateful to have had her as a teacher, teaching me kindness and allophilia, the opposite of prejudice.
I thought of her the other day when I saw the film Green Book based on the real-life story of the black piano prodigy Dr. Don Shirley (played by House of Cards and Moonlight‘s Oscar-winning Mahershala Ali) and Italian American driver/bouncer/actor Tony Vallengonga (played by Lord of the Rings‘ Viggo Mortenson). Mortenson’s character became more than just a driver for Ali’s character. He protected the black musician when they went on tour in the deep south where segregation was so alive in the 1960s that they had to follow a green book for information on which hotels allowed black people.
They became friends in a time when interracial friendships were unusual. Shirley helped Vallelonga write eloquent letters to his wife. Those letters survived Vallelonga’s death. His son used them to hone all the details of the trips down south prior to the release of the film.
December is Write a Friend Month. December 7 is National Letter Writing Day. Pick up your favorite pen and write a letter to a friend. Why?
- Handwritten letters are a concrete, palpable act of appreciation. You can smell a letter and feel the pen marks, letter paper, and stickers the way you cannot with emails or text messages.
- Letters can express sympathy and condolences in a tangible, thoughtful way that would be awkward to say out loud.
- Handwriting a letter will make you stand out in a day and age when people only receive bills and junk mail by snail mail.
- Letter paper, stickers, and stamps are cool things to collect.
- Handwritten letters can be stored in an easily accessible safe place whereas emails and text messages get buried under other emails and text messages. I still have the letters that my childhood friends sent me… even though I have moved many times: Syria to Lebanon, one part of Lebanon to another, Lebanon to Canada, three different provinces in Canada, and Canada to the United States.
After my last move three months ago, I wrote a couple of letters. My letter writing skills are rusty after not writing any for several years. Here are some tips:
- To avoid smudges, let fountain pen ink or gel ink dry before moving your hand around, folding up the letter, and sealing the envelope.
- Avoid correction fluid such as Tipp-Ex or Liquid Paper which can flake off and make the paper bumpy.
- Keep in mind that letters take time to arrive. Despite the frequency of cross-Atlantic flights, it can still take over a month for a letter from the United Kingdom to reach Canada or the United States, for example.
- If you want a well-organized letter, write an outline or draft first. When I was a child, I hated doing this, preferring spontaneity or the natural flow of words on a page.
- Use letter paper with lines to help prevent up or downward-sloping of words.
Letter paper is so hard to find nowadays. Sometimes gift shops and bookstores sell letter paper, but you would have better luck at a stationery store. If you live in Edmonton or Seattle and want to know which stationery store to go to, please contact me or comment below!
If you are feeling crafty or if you are good at arts and crafts, you can even make your own letter paper using recycled paper, garden plants, and weeds. When I was a kid, I had a book on how to make paper.
When I was a kid, I also had a pen pal in the United Kingdom. She sent me the cutest stickers on the cutest letter paper. We never actually met in person. Do kids nowadays still have pen pals?
All the stickers that my pen pal sent me are in a sticker book along with all the stickers that my teachers put on my schoolwork. The book is falling apart after all these years. My love for stickers has not subsided with age. I buy stickers for the vet techs or nurses at my clinic to put on comprehensive exam reports for pets and give out stickers to kids that clients bring with them.
When I was a kid, I also collected stamps. I remember soaking envelopes to remove the stamps and organizing them according to country. So many colorful stamps with animals and flowers! Sadly, I left the stamps behind when I left for my post-secondary education and never saw them again. Can you feel the nostalgia oozing from this page?
When you move so much, you have to be selective of what you keep or collect. My heart has been searching for the one place that feels like home, a place where I belong, for a very long time…
Other things about letter writing? It is cross-cultural as well as gender-neutral. The last empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, and the French philosopher Voltaire wrote to each other for fifteen years but never met. Writers such as Henry James and Edith Wharton, Robert Lowell and Elizabeth Bishop supported each other in letters. Epistolary relationships are the online relationships of the past.
In the past, pigeons were used to send letters or messages. Persians, Greeks, and Romans, and later Turkish and Syrian merchants all benefited from the natural homing ability of pigeons. They were also used in World War I and II (war pigeons). Nowadays, people keep homing pigeons for races. (I treated one who got injured during her flight and reunited her with her owner. She stepped up onto my hand like a parrot!) Racing pigeons can fly 96.56 kilometers per hour or 60 miles per hour for hours! White pigeons or doves are released for ceremonial purposes.
Also in the past, back in the Middle Ages, letters were sealed with wax and individualized stamps. Like tamper evident bands, wax seals show if the letter has been tampered with or opened. Although not popular anymore, wax seals can be ordered online. If I have more people to write to and more people writing to me, I will order one.
Write to me, dear reader. Do you have any topic requests? Which of my friendship and pet blog posts did you enjoy reading the most? If you have not read my other blog posts, check out the index on my site. Hope you enjoy reading my blog as much as I enjoy writing it.
Penny and Boo