There is a lot to be said about the power of a letter. Not an email, not a blog post, not a text message, but an actual letter. Snail mail, y’all. Yes, it’s still a thing. For me, summer has always meant writing and receiving letters. I spent most of my childhood (and well past that, actually) summers at sleep away camp, where the only form of communication with the outside world was letters and postcards. I can remember even (or maybe especially) at the early age of nine, the rush of excitement when the camp counselors passed out the mail each day. I used to sit on my bunk and stare at them as they moved around the cabin, stopping at all my friends’ beds. Would they stop at mine? Did my parents miss me? Did they love me enough to write to me? Or even send me a package?! What about my friends? Even as an ~angsty~ teenager, thrilled to be away from my parents for the summer, I would get excited about letters from them. My excitement continued even when I was a counselor and could to talk to my parents and friends on the phone—I would still hope for letters. I remember asking my mom one day halfway through the summer why she hadn’t sent me anything yet. She was entirely incredulous, “Why would I send you a letter when we talk on the phone twice a week?!”
Even though I always loved getting letters, it took me a while to master the art of writing a good letter back. My first year (and probably my second) at summer camp, my mom would send me long printed out surveys that I would have to fill out and send back. They usually asked me things like what my favorite activity at camp was, who my friends were, what happened exciting that day, etc. I was so bad at writing letters that I would fail to mention any of these things or answer my mom’s questions, without filling out a weird version of Mad Libs that my mom created. But, if I filled them out and sent them back, my mom would send me a package. And anyone who went to camp knows how important that was. By my later years, I was a full blown letter writing machine. Every day we had a rest hour (I later learned that was just as much for the counselors as for the campers), and rather than sleep or read like most of my cabin mates, I would write letters. To my friends back home, to my grandparents, to my family, and yes, even to my parents, I would write up to 3 letters a day. And sometimes when things were slow (i.e., I hadn’t gotten responses to alllllll of my letters), my best friend and I would even write each other notes and pass them across bunks. I loved writing letters.
As much as I loved receiving and writing letters then, I don’t think I could have guessed how much they would mean to me now. As a person who is just a little bit sentimental and a huge packrat (okay… maybe the other way around), I still have lots of the letters I received at camp. I have letters from my parents, letters from my brother (the few years we didn’t go to camp together), letters from the first summer my best friend and I were at different camps, even letters from people I don’t even talk to anymore. But every time I go to throw them away, I can’t. Regardless of who they are from, they brought me so much joy in the moment that it feels like it would be criminal to get rid of them—like getting rid of a treasured childhood toy, or a beloved picture. Plus, each letter contains so many memories, ones that I would be likely to forget otherwise. From ridiculous retellings of summer romps, to the news of a cousin’s engagement, my parents’ travel journals, and even just regular, everyday news (“Mom and I had fish again for dinner tonight!”), there are memories contained in those letters that transport me back to a different world when I read them. And if that’s not enough, someone sat down and took the time out of their busy, non-snail mail centered day (unlike mine) to write me a letter. Given how unusual that is today (and even 12 years ago), how could I just throw away their hard work?
Letters have fallen out of style as of late, but I think that they still can play an important role in our contemporary, busy, modern lives. So I’ve come up with some reasons and excuses for writing real-life, snail mail, handwritten letters:
- Letters are a great, articulate way to communicate. Unlike a text message, letters give all of the information at once. You can get through your story fully before the other person responds. Plus, a person has to (or at least, should) absorb the entire thing before they respond.
- I have to proclaim the merits of handwritten thank you notes from up here on my soapbox. Come on, man. Someone took the time to pick out and buy you a gift. The least you can do is write them a short note thanking them for all of their kindness!
- Postcards!!! This one is just a given. Is there anything cuter than a postcard? Plus, I know you’re lying if you say you’ve never just looked at a postcard and immediately thought of someone who would love it. They’re like 68 cents. Buy it. Send it. Do it. (I may or may not have a stack of postcards that I bought specifically for people sitting on my desk waiting to be sent right now… perhaps I should follow my own advice…)
- It is a well known fact that everyone smiles when they get a piece of real snail mail. Not a bill (people still get those in the mail, right?), not an advertisement, a credit card offer, or a magazine, but a real piece of mail specifically for them that YOU sent. Everyone needs a smile sometimes, y’all. Make it happen.
- Okay but even if you don’t send it, sometimes writing a letter can be a great way to think things through or to deal with emotions/stress/anxiety. Seriously, this is one my best stress/coping mechanisms. Can’t focus or sleep or relax because of something on your mind? Write a letter. Get it all out there, and just free write until you run out of things to stress or think about. You don’t have to actually send the letter to anyone (and if you do, I would suggest waiting a little while, reading it again, and maybe making some edits first), but just getting it out there on a piece of paper will make you feel soooooo much better. Pro tip: physically writing this, not typing it, will help even more.
- Finally, sticking with the theme, I am sure you know someone who is working/playing/living at summer camp this summer. I am also sure that they would love it if they got a letter from you. It doesn’t have to be long at all. Just a few words to say you’re thinking of them and you hope they’re having fun.
So, in short (haha), I challenge you all to pick up your pen, your stationery, and a stamp (stamp rates have changed, check them out here) and send a letter this week! Someone (even if it’s just me because you read my blog AND followed my advice!) will really appreciate it, I promise.
P.S. Your favorite college graduate (almost) has now officially graduated! More on that later 🙂 x