Letter-Writing: A Lost Art Form

By: Mandy Pennington

Dear Reader,

You are living in a time when letter-writing is on its deathbed. The beginning of its demise came with the invention of the telephone, followed by the computer, the internet, e-mail, and the cell phone. This is a mournful death, as letters were a huge part of our history as human beings, and a beautiful expression of ourselves. The immediacy of texting and email is compelling and useful in most situations, but has slowly been pushing letter-writing out of the picture.

Letter-writing has been around much longer than any modern technology. However, only in the last two decades has it become nearly obsolete. Much of our human history was relayed through letters, and the preservation of letters has taught us much about the real-life activities of people throughout the ages. We can all think of the letters far-away soldiers wrote to their beloved ones, letters from presidents to queens and our founding fathers — letters that have transformed the way we view these historical figures.

Writing letters used to be an art form. A letter was like a song, or a poem, or a novel, composed with thought and intention. The depth of words has been lost in our current texting culture. Keeping in touch with loved ones from long distances is, yes, faster and easier, but has lost the nuance of intention and meaning. Romance has completely changed; instead of waiting days with baited breath for what will surely be an outpouring of love and a sharing of heart in a letter, we get annoyed when a significant other doesn’t respond to our text for a couple of hours.

Part of the power of letters is that they arrive from the past. The length of time taken in the exchange gives the recipient time to respond, an opportunity to bask in a moment, and the reduction of a go-go-go culture. Receiving a letter is like receiving a piece of a person’s life and heart in the frozen mindset of the moment in which they wrote it. The physical notation of affection is undervalued, both in romance and in friendship. A letter is a tangible thing to keep and cherish, and used to look back at the physical declaration of love. I have a box of letters in my keepsakes that remind me of periods of my life and people that I loved. It’s not the same as saving a text on your phone. We have lost a form of communication that influenced our relationships and our stories.

You will always remember the letters you receive. I grew up having pen-pals, whether they were little girls who just lived down the street, or girls I’d never met who were paired with me through a pen-pal program. Writing these letters kept me connected in times when I was lonely or felt friendless. Hearing another person’s story in intentional, written form is a completely transformative experience that just isn’t the same through email or text. I remember getting up early every morning and running down the driveway to check the mail, waiting anxiously for the next update in my friends’ lives.

My dad wrote me a letter when I first started college, telling me how much he loved me and was proud of me, giving me some much-needed advice, and sharing his hopes for my future. My mom used to have all of my friends write notes on giant cards for my birthday. Many of my boyfriends wrote me letters. I’ve kept them all, because even if I haven’t stayed in touch with those people, I still have tangible evidence of the love that was once there, and the love that was and is part of my story.

So, I encourage you to write a letter to someone. Today. It doesn’t have to be fancy. Tell them about how your cat is sick and you had to clean up their barf from the carpet. Tell them about this strange encounter you had with someone at Wendy’s. Or share your deepest, darkest secrets, I don’t care. Just write. Take part in the long history of letters and the practice of artful composition. Your letters will mean much more to your loved ones than you might think.

Yours,

Mandy Pennington

To be scattered on the page:

“I got one from my grandpa when I was at school in Tennessee my freshman year. He told me how much he loved me and how I was the son that he never had. He told me I was his best friend and that he was proud of the man of God I was becoming. It meant a lot because I received it during the hardest time in my life and it gave me hope to keep pushing on and striving to be the best I could be, and to pursue God with everything I have.

It showed that he took the time and effort to type it out and mail it instead of sending it instantly. I am glad he did, because if it would have gotten there three days earlier, it would not have had as much impact or meaning as it did.” – Tyler Thorpe, junior

“My best friend Laney and I used to send actual letters back and forth all the time when we were younger. They were full of random thoughts that most people would text, but we always took the time to write letters to each other. For my birthday this year she sent me a physical letter just talking about how far we’ve come and how, since we’ve been friends so long, we’ll always be friends, no matter what. We kind of did it for tradition. We started writing letters before we had phones or emails, and then kept doing it because that’s what we’ve always done. With texting, you can answer absentmindedly or on the go, but with letters you actually have to sit down and focus. It’s more special because you can have those letters forever, too. Texts can be erased, but I still have the very first letter she sent me when I was seven.” – Cammi Rockey, senior

“I got one from my roommate, Erin, after I came back from choir tour my sophomore year. She knew that I was exhausted and wanted to make my day. I think letter-writing is important because it shows the time put into the communication, and there’s just something about seeing someone’s handwriting that makes it more personal. You can physically feel where that person’s pen made indents in the paper.” – Beth Richardson, senior

“When I moved to Greenville, each of my family members hand-wrote a letter and hid it in my room. I was finding notes all of my first semester and it was amazing!” – Jasmine Webber, sophomore

“In seventh grade, my English teacher gave me a book to read that helped me get through some tough times, and afterwards she wrote me a letter. It was very special to me because I got to keep it instead of just taking a screenshot of it or saving it to my notes on my phone.” – Allison Benton, freshman

“During my freshman year at Greenville, I wrote this letter that was identical to the one Harry Potter got when he was accepted into Hogwarts, and sent it to a friend that I knew was really into Harry Potter. I left it in her campus mailbox. She didn’t know it was me until years later.” – Randy Mueller, senior

“I’ve received so many letters that have meant a lot to me; the ones that stick out most are the letters I received from my dad while he was deployed in Iraq. They remain special to me because they carried his presence and his security home to me. His encouragement gave me strength to believe that I could face the challenge of each day.” – Kalei Swogger, sophomore

“Before Ashley and I were married, when I lived on campus, we sent letters to each other all the time. I saved most of them; they’re still in a box in my basement somewhere. They usually included stuff that was going on at home in her life and in our friends’ lives. Receiving a surprise letter was always a super sweet way to know that I was missed and loved.” – Devin Chaney, super-senior

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