For the longest time – certainly longer than any of us have been alive – writing letters was a necessity. Putting pen to paper was as frequent an act as a keystroke or a mouse-click is to most of us today. The glide of a nib across the surface of the paper was a crucial part of conducting business, of negotiating local and international politics, of creative expression, and of interpersonal communication.
It’s been a very long time since I sat down to write a letter. On paper. Without the aid of a spell-check, or the need to select a font, or to find and insert an email, or remember to attach an attachment. But today, I did. In fact, I wrote two. And I’m about to carry them to the post office and send them away. The reason? The Strangers podcast. Strangers is part of the Radiotopia network, who, last year, ran a Kickstarter to keep running, and to expand on their current line-up of shows. If you’re not listening to, in particular, Strangers and 99% Invisible, you need to do yourself a favour.
I threw a couple of dollars their way, not really thinking much of it, and in fact forgetting about one of the perks, which was being assigned a penpal by the Strangers team. Rather than being assigned in pairs, each backer gets one name and address, while their name and address is forwarded to – perhaps appropriately – a total stranger. I’d forgotten about it until I received a modest envelope in today’s post, containing a handwritten note from my new penpal in the US. I had also received my assigned recipient, so I sat down today and wrote them both.
As I explained to one of them, I’ve not had a penpal since I was about ten, and from memory they were in India. I’m sure with my living in Australia they think I’m equally exotic, despite living in the comfort of the uniquely non-threatening suburbs of Melbourne (yes, the letter I received today made a crack about Aussie wildlife). There is something very refreshing about writing again, like, properly writing. Though after writing about five pages of correspondence my hand is aching — a sign of the times, anyone?
The point of this post was to make some grand observation about how writing has gone from a necessary part of everyday life, to a hobby reserved usually only for older generations, to some quirk or quaint pastime that’s very rare. But such an observation is not forthcoming. Nevertheless, pick up a pen, and write someone a letter. It’s good fun.