Social distancing has challenged us to reconsider how we stay in touch with each other. It might be just the time to revive the practice of writing letters.
There are many benefits to writing a letter by hand. Studies have found that writing can be good for our well-being and a great creative outlet. Handwritten letters can be embellished with drawings or doodles, stickers or stamps. You can experiment with writing styles or even learn calligraphy. Letters take time to compose and send which can be meditative for the sender and heartening for the recipient. They are tangible objects that can be referred to time after time.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of letter writing and how you can join letter writing campaigns for seniors and essential workers. You may want to review how to write a condolence note, learn calligraphy, or enjoy viewing historic letters online. And, you can do all of this while listening to great songs about letters lost, received, or hoped for.
Let’s Start With Music
In 2010 NPR compiled a list of songs about writing and receiving letters called Songs We Love: Going Postal, including Please Mr. Postman by The Marvelettes and Box Full of Letters by Wilco. And of course, there is the classic, Return to Sender recorded by Elvis Presley.
Why Write a Letter?
These two articles detail some of the benefits of letter writing specifically, 9 Reasons Not to Abandon the Art of the Handwritten Letter in the Huffpost and 7 Reasons to Keep Writing Letters in the Saturday Evening Post, while this article in Psychology Today discusses the benefits of writing more generally, How Writing Makes You Happier, Smarter, and More Persuasive.
Join a Letter Writing Campaign
Lockdown Letters, is a student-run initiative to send letters of appreciation to frontline workers who are dedicating their time and energy to support our communities during the COVID-19 pandemic. It was started by college students at the University of Pennsylvania.
Letters Against Isolation is a similar effort begun by two teenage sisters, Shreya and Saffron, who are staying in touch with their grandparents while isolating. They realized that many seniors might not have family members to call them so they started Letters Against Isolation, an organization that sends handwritten letters to residents of assisted living facilities and care homes. This article explains more.
Curious About Letters from the Past?
You can find many images of historic letters like this one from Ralph Waldo Emerson to Walt Whitman extolling Whitman’s poetry, 21 July 1855 on the Library Of Congress website.
More Than Words: Illustrated Letters from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art date from the early nineteenth century through the 1980s. You will find a delightful and amusing assemblage of thank you notes, love letters, and reports of daily life like this one by George Benjamin Luks. George Benjamin Luks letter to Everett Shinn, 1900 May 18. Everett Shinn collection, 1877-1958. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
Need Advice on How to Write a Note of Condolence?
The American Hospice Foundation offers many appropriate phrases and specific, useful advice in their article Writing a Condolence Note, by Helen Fitzgerald, CT.
Anita Diamant, author of Saying Kaddish: How to Comfort the Dying, Bury the Dead, and Mourn as a Jew, wrote a piece recently for the public radio station WBUR, entitled How To Write A Sympathy Note In The Time Of Coronavirus, about the challenges of sending a sympathy note when you can’t purchase a card.
In How to Write a Condolence Note published last month in The New York Times, author Katherine Rosman also offers guidance, including the thought that at this time, email is an appropriate choice.
Want to Learn Calligraphy?
There are lots of resources online. Here are a few to get you started. How to Write in Calligraphy offers clear instructions and photographs that are easy to follow.
How to Make Faux Calligraphy describes how to use regular pens, markers or even chalk to form letters—no special equipment required!
Lynda.com, one of the Marin County Free Library’s online learning platforms offers a 2 ½ hour course called Learning Calligraphy with Ina Saltz, art director, writer, photographer, and professor emeritus at The City College of New York and author of Typography Essentials: 100 Design Principles for Working With Type as well as other publications. You will need to access Lynda.com through the Library’s login page, and type in your library barcode and PIN or password to get started.
So, pick up a pen or a pencil if you’re so inclined, and send a letter. You’ll be helping the United States Postal Service to stay afloat and chances are your letter will be a welcome surprise when discovered among a stack of bills.
Note: The painting is entitled A Young Man writing a Letter, by Gabriel Metsu, 1664-6, National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin