When I was 9 years old, one day at school, we got this funny blue form to fill in: name, age, likes, dislikes, did we like animals more than current affairs, what about fashion and holidays? Anyway, tick, tick, cross, tick, cross and a few weeks later I had a pen pal.
We were both born in November, both enjoyed pop music and holidays and our names both began with a ‘J’ so how about that for a match. With that letters began flying between Southend on Sea and County Durham with as much speed as Royal Mail could muster (my dad was a postie and I always felt reassured that my letters got a little bit of a head start anyway!)
With hindsight, age, and experience, I can see so much value and innocence in the writing and receiving of those letters. While I certainly did not grow up impoverished, neither were we a family that had it all. Writing about my own ordinary existence made me feel grateful for what I had. The fact that someone was taking the time to communicate with me and read my ramblings made me feel validated for being me and feel like less of an oddball than was actually the case.
To this day I can remember my pal’s address line for line down to the postcode. Joyous was the day when I would come home from school and find a little envelope with my name on waiting for me. Inside would be handwritten gems of information that were written just for me. Information and news of siblings, school trips and a pet ferret (Archie) would be swapped for my titbits about family, dance classes and cooking with my grandma. The content of our mundane daily grind at nine-years-old became the most coveted and fascinating news ever. For years I kept her letters in a box and whenever I felt sad, or lonely I would re-read them and feel better that someone had taken the time, energy, and effort to take the time to write to me. And that is what writing a letter takes isn’t it?
Time, energy, and effort
Fast forward thirty (five) years and they are the things most of us seem to lack. Even things that are shorter than a letter: postcards, Christmas cards, invitations, and RSVPs, these have all fallen out of fashion since the quicker and more efficient email, text and voice note alternatives have come to the fore.
18 pages! Front and back!Ross Geller-Friends 2006
Years ago, my recently emigrated sister was struggling with something or other and was sad and upset, feeling lost. I had tried my best to comfort her over the phone, but it just hadn’t worked. She was still upset and now I was feeling her sadness and had no idea what I could do for her. So, I sat and wrote my heart onto pages and pages, filling the blank paper with old anecdotes, silly minutiae and big-sister advice to bolster the wobbles in her new life.
It took over two weeks to reach her down under, by which point the issue had passed and cleared. However, when she found my loopy handwriting scrawled onto a creased envelope in her Neighbours style mailbox, she was delighted. A piece of me had made it to her, a piece of my heart that she could keep forever and refer to at any time in the future.
She told me that she put the kettle on, made tea, had a ciggie and that she was amazed when the sheets fell out of the envelope, and they were written on the ‘front and back!’ Me taking the time to write to her translated into her taking some for herself and us being able to connect meaningfully through time and space.
Spoken words are easily rushed, forgotten, and misconstrued. Electronic words are read hastily as if they are a job to do and things to consume at pace and then discarded into the ether. In writing them and receiving them, personal letters offer us something else: a permanence and a record of moments in time that can be cherished and kept, like little artefacts of life.