An experiment in correspondence continues with interesting wrinkles.
I wrote in this space a few months back about my return to writing a letter a day, something I tried with limited results in 2003 and again in 2008.
In 2019, I wanted to see, with the passage of time and changes in my own life as well as those I write to, what it would be like to write and send — in an envelope with a stamp on it — a daily letter.
At the half-way point, I know that I am as likely to get a text, phone call or in-person acknowledgment as a letter in return.
Not to get all statistical in discussing what is a human endeavor, but the figures so far are 181 letters written, Jan. 1 through June 30, to about 100 correspondents. I have received 38 responses — basically, one in five. Of those replies, 23 came from nine recipients, including two people who have written me four times.
(One of those is Bill Weiler, of Lyle, and while he lives nearby and we see each other occasionally, it has been a great way to keep up with a friend this spring and summer.)
Most letters I handwrite, though a few I have typed. My handwriting is terrible, so I have to work to rein it in.
Sixteen and 11 years ago when I did this, I would pull names from the Internet or dream up oddball letters to people I have never met, and those rarely got any response.
This year, with two or three exceptions, I have restricted my letters to people I know. Generally, I will not write twice in a row to a person without having received a reply, but I’ve broken that “rule” a few times. I write to my father about once a week, and he has written back, but at 94, his ability to grip a pen, let alone use the keyboard, is greatly reduced.
I have a few close friends who I write to regularly, never mind the replies, because they are close friends, and we connect via text and email on a regular basis anyway. I just like writing letters.
My cousins Harlan Wallach and Mike Wallach, of the Chicago branch of the clan, and Sue Bennett of the California branch, wrote back, the only cousins to ever do so. Harlan recently told me the letter he was sending was the LAST he would ever write; why bother when we have email, he said. Fair enough.
Mike’s letter to me last month hewed a similar tack, but in ways I find delightfully ironic. He told me he will NOT send me a letter, but here is an email, with two attachments: Photographs of this hand-written (in red ink!) reply to my letter. He just didn’t want to go to the post office, I guess. (Perhaps it’s because, after his previous letter, I had mischievously wrote back with the address and location of the nearest P.O. to him, a few blocks from his San Francisco house.)
Familiar refrains with the whole matter of letters, seen before and seen again this year:
- Folks who say, “Oh, if you write me, I’ll write you back!” — almost never do.
- “Who uses snail mail anymore?” Well, plenty of people, still, and the pejorative is no longer cute. I prefer the term “conventional mail.”
- Typically those who do get an unexpected letter say something like, “I was shocked. It has been years since I got a letter in the mail.”
And they tell me this on the phone or in a text. Never in a letter.
Even when “it made me feel so good.”
That said, the number of responses in kind received this year is perhaps slightly ahead of past years, when it was more like one out of six.
Most people I write to have, this year, ignored the letters. As in no word at all. This makes me appreciative of the core group that does write back, some of them more than once.
We will see how the rest of the year goes, but I confess that I have all but made up my mind that this will be the last year I commit to 365 letters. I know Rocio, Cindy and Brian will miss me at the post office counter.
I will always write letters, for the only reason I do it at all is I enjoy it. That and recognizing the value, at least in my own life, of this form of written communication.
I believe the letter, delivered by post, is communication in its essence, the perfect connection between people second only to face-to-face conversation.
Next time you do get a letter in your mailbox, and I truly wish such a pleasure upon everyone, remember the bounce it gives you.
And then I hope you would reply: 55 cents and 10 minutes is about all it takes.