Now, write

Detail of The Difficult Reply by Guy Rose, public domain via The Athenaeum

“Gather your most beautiful paper, your most flowing pen, your thoughts. Sit by a window flooded with sunlight, or sit in a garden; tuck yourself into a cozy nook. Remember. Feel. Yearn. And now, write.”Sarah Ban Breathnach

Read that quote again, and try to imagine someone sitting in that cozy nook with a computer, mindfully typing out a mean-spirited or outright obscene insult to post in the comments section of a news story. It’s hard to put those two pictures together, isn’t it? Wouldn’t our world be a more civil place if we took more time and thought when we express ourselves?

Even though I’m composing this message on a computer keyboard, I think today’s quote captures part of what separates a handwritten note or letter from an email or online posting. Writing by hand takes time and thought. For those of us who still find it rewarding enough to make time for it, the whole scenario– stationery, pens, stamps, envelopes, stickers, a photo or poem or clipping to tuck inside the letter, and even the journey the mail will travel– all are part of the peculiar pleasure of sending and receiving letters.

Of course, Ban Breathach’s comments apply to almost any sort of writing, whether or not it relates to correspondence. But there is something enchanting about communicating via postal mail. In recent years, the popularity of keeping journals, whether paper or online, along with the skyrocketing numbers of people who blog, however infrequently or temporarily, give ample evidence of our need to find more thoughtful ways of communicating.

Talking is quicker and easier for most of us, and tweeting asks very little of us. But writing a note or card is an entirely different experience. In most cases, our message is offered freely and not dependent upon reciprocation, instant or otherwise. With a postal letter, there is an inevitable and inescapable pause between sending and receiving. No cross-talk, interruptions or distracted tuning out impede the communication, because we typically must set aside time to read a letter, or write one.

And when writing or reading a letter, if we are interrupted, we simply take up where we left off, having missed nothing in the pauses. I had a friend who used to carry her letters to me in her purse, writing bits and pieces here or there as she had time.  Though she did not intend the letter to stretch out over days, it was delightful to receive it when she finally did mail it; almost like getting a mini-journal that put me right into her daily life.

Some of these traits are at least partially carried over to blogging, so it’s no accident that many bloggers also use postal mail, and almost all bloggers have met readers with whom they now correspond at least occasionally via cards and letters.

Many who will read this post have sent me handwritten cards and letters, all of which I have appreciated and kept, and most of which are still sitting in the stack of mail to which I intend to reply. I’m torn between wanting to answer quickly and wanting to take my time over each and every item I pop into the outgoing mail. If you know me, you know that I always seem to err toward the latter preference, so I appreciate your patience!

I’ve learned to be very understanding of those whose replies to me are delayed as well. Life seems to grow more demanding every day, and I seem to become slower and slower at almost everything. Despite this, I believe I will keep sending mail for as long as I’m able to pick up a pen and write well enough to put a legible address on the envelope. And I’ll always be pleased to find personal, handwritten mail in my postal box.

If you like to send and receive mail, I hope you’ll make some time today to indulge in sending a card to a friend or loved one. On the other hand, if you are a person who goes to the dentist more often than to the post office, or who can’t remember how much it costs to send a first-class letter nowadays, I challenge you to try something different, and send a letter to someone who least expects it. Forty-nine cents, by the way, if you and your addressee both live in the USA– and it will be worth every penny– to you, and almost certainly to your lucky recipient.


  1. Sheila

    Just do it! I should say that to myself more often. ⏰ Time passes so quickly, even though I’m up early I usually have a “princess nap” in the afternoon. Dr. Vann once said that as our earthly time becomes shorter our hours and days seem to go much quicker. I hold his comments close to my heart. ❤️ I bought several cards recently, only to discover the envelopes weren’t in the cellophane sleeve. I just went by the shop Monday and they gladly gave me the envelopes. Your blog inspires me to use the pens that you sent. 💌📬 The November verandah is perfect for us, all month. I’m sure you noticed “verandah” in the book quote. I enjoy the accompanying quotes every month that seem so fitting. 👋🏻 Hi to Matt! 💛

    • Yes, and I was delighted they spelled it with an “h” on the end as I do! Dr. Vann was right about the days going more quickly. I told a friend recently, the past year is proof positive that “time flies whether you’re having fun or not.” Thanks for being one of the brightest spots of the past year for me!

  2. LOL
    Good morning, Julia!
    I am chuckling at the “almost” certainly to the “lucky recipient.” Very well said, especially with my handwriting. Maybe I should take the approach of my younger sponsored children, and just draw a picture!
    Speaking of those sponsored children, I have one in India that sent me cheap but colorful earrings (about the same time as my last dental appointment), and I recently discovered the letter that I had started writing in reply … oops! I had never finished and mailed it!
    Yikes. We’ll see how that concept “take up where we left off, having missed nothing in the pauses” goes. Although it will be more like your friend’s journal-like letters, I’m sure a reply would still be welcome.
    Blessings on your day!

    • Susan, Jeff and I noticed over the years that our sponsored kids’ letters often took months to arrive. They tended to plan for that, apparently, and drew Christmas or springtime pictures in time for them to arrive by the appropriate months — usually. I’m sure they are accustomed to long stretches of time between letters and will be delighted to hear from you whenever you sent it. Our experiences made me aware of how much we take for granted in the postal service that we all complain about so often. In all seriousness, it amazes me how reliable the U. S. Mail is for such a minimal cost.

  3. You know how *I* feel about letter writing! I will never give it up, for all the reasons you’ve mentioned. I’ll add that the beautiful postage adds to the beauty of the envelope. It’s like attaching a small piece of art before sending it on its way. I was sorry to see the stamp nearly obliterated by the post office last holiday season. The cancellation was all business! There must be a better way.

    • I didn’t notice that cancellation – I’ll have to pay attention this year when I’m going through last year’s cards. Yes, stamps are little works of art, and their topics span the entire range of human studies. You and I are truly kindred spirits when it comes to mail, and to crossing distances in general.

  4. I am with you on handwritten notes. I buy interesting cards and stationary all year–not just for particular events but because I love the art/photo work of all sorts and so enjoy sending them to others. People know I love to do this–it is a “foible” of mine, yet it is always appreciated! Sometimes my cards are kept and propped up of a long while to enjoy and that makes me happy.

    • Cynthia, I do the same thing– I’m a total stationery addict and I’ve decided that I likely will die with boxes and drawers full of note cards. But I love looking at them, buying them, making them and sending them…and when I sit down to write, I love having a lot of designs from which to choose, and I go for many different styles. In the process of paring down and trying to get rid of a lot of my accumulated “stuff” from many decades, a few categories are largely exempt from being weeded and discarded. Stationery, books, pens, postage stamps…I think I will always allow myself to “hoard” these things as long as I use at least some of the supply on a regular basis.

      • So pleased to know that I am not alone in this! Thanks for that lovely paragraph, Julia.

        • You’re welcome!

  5. Wonderful reminder that I have cards to get ready again. I love to send and receive handwritten notes. Though I often have to write them on the computer first because my spelling has become lax as well as sentence structure. I’m from the old school. If you can’t say something nice, be quiet. If I wouldn’t heap verbal abuse on a person face to face, why would I hide behind a computer screen to do that? Cowardly, I think. We all get behind in answering correspondence. Everything gets done in it’s right time. Have a wonderfilled weekend, Julia.

    • “Everything gets done in its right time.” I love that. I have a quote on my fridge that says much the same thing, and when I feel frantic, it calms me: “When God made time, he made enough of it.” It’s on a tiny Good Earth tea bag tag. They have some really good quotes. I look forward to writing holiday cards but every year I never get as many written as I intend to get written. But that’s just one more idea I probably need to let go of. Getting some done is better than getting none done. 😀

      • I like that phrase. Think I’ll keep it too. I agree, some is better than none.

        • Many years ago, a friend who was helping me make a scrapbook kept warning me against trying to be too perfect with it. “Done is better than none,” was her motto, and I’ve thought of that many times since. So true.

  6. Harry Sims

    Noel Burtenshaw declared in a talk he was giving back in 1987 that, “There Are Mysteries Undiscovered in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous”.

    I have found many mysteries uncovered since partaking of this spiritual journey back then and one of them is the sagacity of Carl Yung who states that we spend the first half of our lives searching for things of the spirit in our accomplishments in worldly pursuits until we come to the point of not having any doubt that this way isn’t working out and we turn to pursuit of these spiritual attributes in seeking spiritually through spiritual efforts instead of worldly.

    Then of course we wonder if we shouldn’t have been doing this all along but the sages advise us that the first half of life was not wasted but setting the necessary groundwork for second half of life work.

    Our twelve step program in its entirety is a tried and tested one for the second half of life work and I want to quickly add that since we don’t know precisely when this is we may arbitrarily begin it at any time.

    The “Promises” declare “We will be amazed before we are half way through”.
    Even though some people think this is in the process of doing the ninth step and call them the ninth step promises, I think they apply to this discussion and also apply to the point of decision toward a second half of life program.

    We will be amazed before we are half way through.

    Grapevine Daily Quote
    November 4
    “I spent the first thirty years making a mess of the life I was given, the next thirty trying to figure out this simple program, and now I can try in the last thirty to loosen up, let life happen, and try to have a little fun.”
    White Rock, British Columbia, May 2005
    “Life — It Happens,”
    No Matter What


    • Thanks Harry, for these helpful observations. We don’t often stop to realize that not only do we not know when our lives will be over, we also don’t know when they are half over, or 2/3 over or whatever. Even after Jeff’s diagnosis we never knew how long he truly had to live. It was twice as long as the doctors said but less than one-fifth of what I really believed he would be granted. However the important part is that we lived every day of those last 4 years with a true understanding of how uncertain our lives are. I’m still glad we did not know, but also glad that we knew, as never before, that we did not know. The quote from the ninth step reminds me of a Christmas gift Drew created for me the first Christmas after my Daddy died. It was a lovely framed silhouette of Daddy’s favorite fictional character, Don Quixote, and his sidekick Sancho, with a quote from the impossible dreamer himself: “Thou hast seen nothing yet.”

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