From hand to hand
During the third semester of my PhD program in Communications (from which I withdrew at the end of that semester, due to uncertainty about Matt’s schedule and whether I would have anyone available to help with his care), I did a qualitative research project about sending traditional handwritten cards, notes and letters through postal mail. The research involved hours of interviews with people from all over the USA and at least two other countries. It was fun and fascinating to talk to others who felt, as I do, that there’s something special about getting personal communication delivered by the post office.
One theme that emerged in several interviews, one that I don’t remember ever having thought of myself, was the special bond the receiver felt in holding a letter that had been in the hands of the sender. It was almost as if the letter served as a link joining the touch of hands across the miles. When I read Pyle’s quote, I thought of those interviews and the many people who voiced the same thought.
Interestingly, that research paper reinforced my decision to quit school. I realized that I’d much rather spend time writing actual letters, than reading and writing ABOUT writing letters. That one paper was a great experience, but the best part about it was that it fed my enthusiasm for sending postal mail.
Laura Vandekam’s podcast “Before Breakfast” recently featured a program encouraging listeners to send handwritten notes. Since her program is often career-focused, prioritizing efficiency, this episode jumped out at me. The emphasis on handwritten notes was not something I typically associate with time management strategies. But as she explains, “I bet a handwritten note creates at least ten times the impression of an email. But it doesn’t take ten times as long to write.” She goes on to give hints on how to incorporate the habit of writing handwritten notes into one’s schedule without consuming too much time. “I promise it will be worth your time,” she says, “because guess what? People are a good use of time. And handwriting notes is a good way to show people that they matter.”
I agree with her completely, but I confess I don’t do nearly as well at this as I would like. Still, I’m inspired by others who do. Despite this being an online community, many of you have made the effort to contact me via postal mail with cards and letters I treasure, some of which have come from faraway places I dream of visiting, such as Wales. As Vandekam describes in her podcast, when I see handwritten correspondence in my stack of mail, it’s an instant day-brightener and I often want to open it first (though sometimes I save it as a reward for slogging through the boring stuff). So it’s extra-fun for me to post notes to others, hoping to share at least a bit of the joy I feel when I receive one.
I find that writing notes and letters is an amazingly calming, mood-lifting experience. I like to use pretty stationery (or make some cards myself) and I have a lot of fun with stickers and pretty postal stamps, but none of these things are necessary. As Winnie the Pooh supposedly said, “It doesn’t take a lot of pencil to show a friend you care.”
Today, or this week, I hope you will make time to send a note in the mail to someone who would love to hear from you. And I’ll make an offer I’ve made here before: If you, or anyone you know, would like a handwritten note from me, just send your postal address to me at email@example.com, and I’ll be happy to send you one! I’ll guard your address and I promise not to post it here or give it to anyone else. I’ll even enclose a tea bag if you tell me what kind you like! I’ll have fun sending it, so if you want me to send it, it will be a win-win.
Whether from me or from someone else, I hope this week will bring you a special piece of mail that has traveled the earth from someone else’s hands, head and heart, to end up in yours!