Thursday, June 9, 2011

Pen and Paper

When I was a kid, I loved to write and receive letters.  I would find any excuse to write someone a letter, just in the hopes that I'd get one in return.  In third grade, my Brownie troop was matched up with another troop across the country in California and we got penpals.  This was in the early 80s, so there was no email or Skype . . . just good old fashioned paper and pen.  I couldn't have been more excited!  My penpal, Stephanie, lived in Long Beach -- a strange land that meant surfers and beaches and suntans.  What did I know, I'd never been to California.

Projeto 12 x 12 - Tema: Hobby
Photo by Happy Batatinha via Flickr

For years we corresponded, through the ups and downs.  She was a couple years older than I, living with her mother and brother.  Years hence, my mother had a meeting in Anaheim, not to far from where Stephanie lived, and I got to tag along.  And we met for the first time in 10 years of having exchanged letters.  But our friendship didn't end there.  It only got stronger.  In those years, long before the internet, two little girls connected with each other with only our words and nobody thought it strange at all.  In fact, I remember people marveling at the fact that we had stayed in touch for so many years and how remarkable it was that we had finally met.

In the past year or so, I've cultivated a number of robust online relationships.  Through this blog and Twitter, I've connected with a variety of people on a whole range of topics.  The D.C. area is ripe with events for bloggers and tweeters and other ways to catch up with online people in "real life".  But for some reason -- stigma, perhaps -- when I tell people that I've met friends online, it's not met with the same quaint enthusiasm as my third grade penpal -- even though the nature of the connection is quite similar.  Two strangers, connecting over something they have in common using nothing more than written communication.   The same way I connected with another little girl on the other side of the country nearly 30 years ago. 

Stephanie and I are still in contact, though not often by pen on paper anymore.  We're Facebook friends and exchange emails from time to time. For all the internet has given me, it's also taken some of the excitement out of it.  No more going to the mailbox, anxiously waiting for a letter.  Or waiting for the latest photos to arrive.  In an instant, I can see what's new simply by checking out her profile and photos.  And so it is with my new online friends . . . there's no delay.  I can find out what's going on with the click of a mouse or the sending of a text.  In fact, I expect it -- we all do.  Yes, the internet has given us a lot . . . but there's a part of me that really misses some of what we've lost.  I think I'll sit down tonight and write her a letter, just like old times, and hope I get one in return.


  1. i just wrote a series of letters to my nearest and dearest from law school. these folks kept me sane through three of the hardest years of my life. i felt like writing them - for real - honored what they did for me.

  2. There's nothing that compares to a handwritten letter. I just finished one myself...

  3. I love handwritten letters. I just received one from a little cousin for some books I've given her. The letter made me week if not month.

  4. I, too, love handwritten letters and think my children are almost completely missing out. I have one friend who has remained staunchly "snail mail." I do know that she uses the same content and cuts/pastes for those of us who get her letters (several mutual friends kind of accidentally realized that when we were all telling exactly the same stories from the letters) BUT it still arrives in an envelope, on REAL paper, and to get one of Kathleen's letters is a highlight - the family knows to steer clear if I have received one in the mail! They are worth the patience/delayed gratification.

  5. I had a pen pal when I was younger. she was the daughter of migrant workers who came up to the area I was living in from Florida every summer, so we got to play together, and in the fall and winter, we wrote each other letters to help her with her English. We actually reconnected last year with the help of facebook.

    I can't remember the last time I sent someone an actual *letter* though. I sent my aunts and uncles Christmas cards every year, but that's about it.

  6. I have talked about this post a few times at happy hours recently. I've been thinking about it a lot, and I like what you had to say here!