“It’s so strange, we used to wait for letters to arrive/what’s stranger still is how something so small/can keep you alive.”
— Arcade Fire
Just as I did in 2003 and in 2005, I am writing a letter a day.
One letter, in an envelope affixed with a stamp and dropped in the mailbox for delivery by the United States Postal Service. Over the past 10 years I have been a regular writer, but not daily. I just decided in late 2015 I wanted to resume the practice.
I know people who still regularly write letters, but we are part of a dying breed.
In my circle, those who write to me regularly, including letters they initiate, total seven: my father, one of my brothers, and exactly five friends — including two who live in Hood River.
I wrote to a friend who is just a few years younger than I and he texted a thank you, adding, “I have not received a handwritten letter since — I don’t remember when, many years.”
As of March 7, I have received responses to two of the 67 letters written so far this year. (However, to be fair, going back to Feb. 29, that means two out of a total of 60 letters — accounting for the response and mail time needed for a letter received in the past week or so.)
It is not so much that I keep count, but it provides a certain bearings as my year progresses. It reduces my expectation that anything larger than a small majority will reply.
So far this year I have written only one letter to someone I have not met; in past years, strangers were often my recipients, and likely it will be the case this year. Of course I will write to people I don’t know; as my letter-writing brother, Joel, told me in 2003, “You don’t have 365 friends.”
And this year it is 366, of course, given that it’s a Leap Year.
In years past when I wrote a letter a day, I confess there were a few “catch-up” days when I wrote one to three letters in order to keep pace. That has happened to me once this year, yet I strive to make daily letter writing precisely that. It’s kind of the point: a healthy daily exercise, not a year-long tabulation.
My letters are, mostly, short, and take perhaps 10 minutes to write. I try to go slowly and use legible handwriting — since I was a kid I have had admittedly sloppy penmanship — but this is not what you would call a time-consuming endeavor.
Stamps? I go to the post office every couple of weeks and buy a booklet. I have learned this year that no USPS first class stamps will ever again be printed with a price; they are Forever Stamps forever.
Each one currently costs 49 cents, so look at one week’s correspondence as the equivalent of a latte.
So, at risk of seeming churlish, now that I have written again about my quotidian letters, I’m hoping to avoid hearing things such as, “I really admire you for doing that,” or “it’s such a lost art,” or “write to me and I’ll write back.” That last one happened a dozen times in 2005 and none received a reply. Same with “I just send emails,” followed by a comment as to either their inferiority or superiority to a true letter. These arguments I have heard, and what it comes down to is preference. People are entitled to rely only on email, which is ironic because email is being made obsolete by texting.
A letter to me, if you are so inclined, can be mailed to the address found at left. Hand delivered or mailed, either way is fine. And unless you tell me otherwise, I reserve the right to quote from any I receive in a future column. (Don’t worry, I will be discreet.) I see it as one way to celebrate the sustenance of a “dying art” that can keep us alive.
And finally, a phrase I don’t want to hear ever again: “snail mail.” It’s pejorative, not that I have anything against snails.
No, I lobby for a new term for what I have been giving the stuffy term “conventional mail.”
Letters and postcards, or all stamped correspondence, I suggest we henceforth call what they are: “true mail.”
As a kid, Kirby Neumann-Rea wrote to Ronald Reagan, Mrs. Rocky Marciano, and Sen. Everett Dirksen, and got replies from them all.