In Defense of Snail Mail

21 Aug

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

I don’t think my sister and BIL realized when I moved in between apartments (ostensibly to start that Roth I’ve been going on about) that their mailbox would soon be filled to overflowing.

More fools them. I’ve been writing letters for going on three years now, and I have no intention of stopping until the post office closes. Even if stamps become cost-prohibitive. Yea. You heard me. I will pay for someone to wait three days for my response. Snail mail is that awesome.

In BIL’s eyes, my friends and I are single-handedly trying to put the USPS back in business. (And the Royal Mail, too, come to think of it.)

I don’t know that we’ll achieve that aim (sadly, the USPS has a lot of restructuring to do*), but we certainly do send each other more letters and packages than is the norm, especially for a group so regularly in touch via email, chat, Skype, Facebook and text message. (Did I miss one? I’m sure I missed five.)

So why do we send letters?

Well, as Seneca had it:

Thank you for writing to me often, the one way in which you can make your presence felt, for I never have a letter from you without the immediate feeling that we are together. If pictures of absent friends give us pleasure, renewing our memories and reliev­ing the pain of separation even if they cheat us with empty comfort, how much more welcome is a letter which comes to us in the very handwriting of an absent friend. (Letter 1, Abelard and Heloise)

The Internet and text messaging may be instantaneous (like so many of our generation we are not, in general, fans of talking on the phone), which is nice in it’s own way, but letters… Letters.

In a letter I’m not just reciting what’s new or old – or both; the recipient likely already knows all that. No, letters are those late night conversations that used to take place over a mug of tea (or, more often than not, a package of cookie dough** or a jar of Nutella). They were conversations devoted to interpreting the day or searching for meaning or ugh Feelings. Such conversations could get right to the heart of the matter because we were together, involved in each others lives by proximity.

We no longer have proximity.

When I get a letter, I know that the sender took time out of his/her/their/its (CAN WE AGREE ON A NEUTRAL SINGULAR PRONOUN ALREADY??) busy life to sit down and pen a conversation with me. Gchat and texting and all the rest? Never. We are NEVER having just one conversation. And that’s part of the allure, the convenience of modern communication. I do love multi-tasking; it makes me feel so productive. But in relationships, productivity is decidedly overrated.

The daily maintenance of my out-of-area friendships can be safely left to those forms of instantaneous communication that allow us to check-in and post photos and just generally assume that the world wants and needs to know the minute details of our daily lives. But the deepening of friendship takes effort – an effort better displayed through the many letters and packages and little tokens that I send crisscrossing the country (and sometimes the ocean) than in the click of a Send button or the depression of the Enter key on my laptop.

Missing that friend from college or high school or your first job? Drop them a line. A real line – a tangible line.

*They could start by changing their hours. Honestly, who has time to go to the post office between 9 and 5? NO ONE WITH A JOB WHO CAN AFFORD STAMPS AND MAILING THINGS. I propose cutting back daytime hours on, say, MWF and replacing them with evening and weekend hours during which contributing members of society could actually, you know, contribute.

**We here at P&P may consume raw cookie dough on a fairly regular basis, but it should be said that this is against the express advice of raw cookie dough manufacturers and doctors pretty much everywhere. Though, come to think of it, perhaps we should consult Todd Akin’s doctors. They seem to have some pretty interesting scientific findings up their sleeves…

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