Should Old Acquaintance Be Forgot

christmas-mail-1Readers, are you still out there?

My mail ship veered off course for nearly a year. You can imagine all of the reasons — excuses — and none of them provides an adequate explanation. My life and the accompanying calendar just zoomed past at breathtaking speed. But as the holidays approach, my thoughts inevitably turn to Christmas cards and reconnections and this sadly neglected blog.

Maybe I should not promise to be a better correspondent in the future. Like the scrawled note at the bottom of a seasonal card, intentions are good, but distractions are many. So even if these electronic cards and letters are destined to post only sporadically in the future, let me say here and now HAPPY HOLIDAYS! Let’s begin a season of Christmas.

A Letter a Day

snail mailPat, a Post Whistle reader, urged me to let everyone know about InCoWriMo — not an association of rhyming cattle, but rather International Correspondence Writing Month. And it begins today.

imgresParticipants pledge to write a letter a day every day through the month of February. I don’t know if the organizers chose this month because it’s the shortest, so one’s letter total is under 30, or because the month surrounding Valentine’s Day seems the proper time to connect with loved ones near and far. Whatever the reason, this is the month to let those letters fly.

Life is too hectic for me to commit to writing letters daily, but I do write them weekly now that my daughter is attending college on the east coast. But for those with more stick-to-it-ness than I, pick up the gauntlet of InCoWriMo’s snail mail challenge and give your pen a workout.

Let’s Play Mister Mailman

Mr Mailman Board GameDespite many an article lamenting the end of snail mail, GameBrotherZ, a Canadian company founded in 2008, believes in the mail enough to have created the new board game, Mister Mailman. The objective? Four mailmen compete to see who will be the first to deliver 27 letters in Mailville.

The manufacturer states: “Welcome to Mailville, a quiet little town, but unique in so many ways! Once in a while, simply for the fun of it or for showing off their talent, our friendly mailmen stage a unique competition around town… to deliver a letter to each of the town’s households, to be followed by a final delivery to the luxurious O’Gilded Family Manor.”

With four letter carriers to deliver mail to fewer than 30 households, Mailville is indeed unique. It must make for a remarkably short post office workday.

But the point of a game is enjoyment rather than realism, and the game testers for The Noise on Toys website say that Mister Mailman delivers. According to Davey, “It’s fun. You can make someone win or lose. You can land on anything and sometimes you can change the weather.”

Change the weather? I like the sound of that. I bet your local letter carrier would, too.

Lost and Found: Me

Crying babyI’m sorry.

There I was happily blogging away, and then I wasn’t.

For those who had grown accustomed to mail tales dropping into your box every few days, I wish I had a really good excuse to give you about why they stopped.

A really, really, REALLY good excuse.

Cult Like maybe I joined a cult.

A cult that paid homage to marshmallows.

And I couldn’t log in on my computer because our solemn Ceremony of the S’Mores made my fingers too sticky to touch the keyboard.

I like that explanation.

And I like marshmallows.

Or maybe I moved to the ultimate dead zone. The housing market in California is pricey so you need to be flexible about less expensive zip codes.

Poor coverage

Find a fixer upper.

Own a piece of the American dream.

Just don’t expect the same level of connectivity as you find in the city.

But I didn’t move.

And I didn’t develop an odd connection with marshmallows.

I don’t have a single good excuse why I fell off the grid. I just did.

But I’m back, and I hope you will join me again on my journey. Because we all love to curl up with a good letter.

kitty letter

Write Like Jane Austen

640px-Jane_Austen_coloured_versionWhile this blog is about maintaining non-electronic communications in a snail mail-bereft world, that doesn’t mean technology can’t add a little sparkle to the process.

Introducing the Jane Austen font!

I haven’t tried downloading this myself, but what a seductive prospect, to be able to type messages in Jane’s elegant hand — and perhaps channel a modicum of her wit?

Even a dearth of news was no deterrent to Jane when it came to correspondence, as this line from an 1801 letter to her sister Cassandra illustrates:

Expect a most agreeable letter, for not being overburdened with subject (having nothing at all to say), I shall have no check to my genius from beginning to end.”

585px-Jane_Austen_signature_from_her_will.svg

Film Friday: Bright Star

Bright Star #1The rock stars of their generation, the romantic poets of Regency England like Byron, Shelley and Keats turned heads and set women’s hearts aflutter. And if correspondence had a Top 40 chart, Keats would have easily topped it with the passionate letters he sent to Fanny Brawne from 1818-1820.

Bright Star illuminates their ill-fated courtship in a light-infused film, filled with lush scenes of flower fields and blowing curtains, china cups and young love. Ben Whishaw and Abbie Cornish as Keats and Brawne convey their desire for one another in sidelong glances and the touch of their hands, dancing through the delicate steps of courtship two centuries ago.

Bright Star #2 Fanny Brawne saved the letters John Keats sent her, and gave them to her children as a legacy. Their lyrical passion is woven through Bright Star like threads of silver, but the movie wisely shows just glimpses of the actual exchange of correspondence because putting pen to paper is not as dynamic to watch as the results are to hear.

Bright Star #3“July 3, 1819
[Keats to Brawne]…write the softest words and kiss them that I may at least touch my lips where yours have been. For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word than fair. I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days—three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.”

On screen, Fanny collects butterflies with her brother and sister, filling her bedroom with the flutter of wings.

Bright Star #4The film’s title is derived from a sonnet Keats wrote to Fanny, “Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art—” and he signed at least one of his letters to her “Your’s ever, fair Star…”

My daughter watched Bright Star with me and exclaimed, “It’s so sad, whether it happened three days ago or three centuries.”

Knowing the end mitigated much of the sadness for me. Instead, I was enthralled by the film’s beauty, of scenes that led me into still and lovely places, where I could hear birdsong and poetry.

Film Friday: Do you give Bright Star your stamp of approval?

Visit Film Friday’s Pinterest pinboard, Lights, Letters, Action!

Bright Star

Film Friday: Sarah, Plain and Tall

Sarah 3When Hallmark Hall of Fame gets it right, their movies can be magic. Sarah, Plain and Tall is one of their gems. The wonderful Glenn Close plays Sarah, opposite Christopher Walken as Jacob Witting, a widowed farmer still mourning his wife. They meet through letters when Jacob places an advertisement for a helpmate, someone who can “make a difference.”

Although the letters Sarah of Maine exchanges with Jacob and his children in Kansas are read only during the first few minutes of the film, their warmth and honesty set the tone for the entire story.

“I am strong and I work hard and I’m willing to travel, but I am not mild-mannered,” writes Sarah in her answer to the advertisement.

Sarah 2Six-year-old Caleb is enchanted by the idea of a new mother and asks his father to write for him: “He asked me to send you the footprint of his dog, Nick…He wanted me to tell you that he holds his breath, that he has been holding his breath for a long time.” Sarah sends Caleb a footprint from her cat Seal, so named “because she’s gray like the seals that swim off shore in Maine.”

Sarah 1Sarah tells about her life there in a letter to the the older child, Anna: “My favorite colors are the colors of the sea — blue and gray and green, depending on the weather. My brother William is a fisherman and he tells me that when he’s in the middle of a fogbound sea, the water is a color for which there is no name…Sometimes he sees whales.”

Eventually, Sarah leaves her coastal home for a potential new life in the green fields of Kansas. “I will come by train. I will wear a yellow bonnet…P.S. I am plain and tall.”

Wonderful cast, wonderful movie, and so nice to see Walken play someone vulnerable and tongue-tied without a trace of menace in him.

Film Friday: Do you give Sarah, Plain and Tall your stamp of approval?

Visit Film Friday’s Pinterest pinboard, Lights, Letters, Action!

Rare Art of Letter Writing

write-more-lettersWith depressing regularity, I find essays and news articles about the “Lost Art of Letter Writing.” I even wrote one myself for Newsweek in 2001.

Yet, however uncommon it may be to receive a letter, the art is not lost. No one needs to research arcane manuscripts to discover how the ancients communicated with pen and paper. Office supply stores still sell envelopes; card shops, drug stores and bookstores sell notecards; and even supermarkets sell stamps. Postmen travel their rounds. We all know how to construct written messages as we prove daily with texts, emails, and tweets.

Maybe all we lack is that focused moment when everything magically comes together — paper, envelope, pen, stamp and purpose. Perhaps what was once a common solitary activity needs to be reintroduced in a more social setting.

vka-letters-229301-jpgA museum in Canada recently set up a letter writing station in conjunction with an exhibit, promising to stamp and mail any letters that people wrote on site. The Jaffee Center for Book Arts at Florida Atlantic University holds Real Mail Fridays once a month to couple letter writing with coffee and cookies. And several libraries and local organizations are hosting their own letter writing parties. Should I organize something for Post Whistle in my area? Stay tuned for more on that idea.

In the meantime, Valentine’s Day approaches, and that’s a great reason to pop something in the mail. Let’s make the Rare Art of Letter Writing a little more common in our own corners of the world.

Pen vs. Keyboard

Fountain pen on an antique letterBefore I write anything further, let me say that I obviously use both: the pen and the keyboard. Moreover, I firmly believe there is room for both, and benefits to derive from both methods of communication.

Now that I’ve made that point, let me share with you an interesting article from the British newspaper, The Guardian — Handwriting vs typing: is the pen still mightier than the keyboard? (PDF)

Some neuroscientists argue that the ability to write one’s letters by hand helps children learn how to write better than if one only types on a keyboard. Moreover, mastering the additional art of cursive writing also aids in cognitive development. At a time when many schools in the United States are dropping the requirement for cursive, other countries, such as France, are emphasizing its benefits more in their school curriculum.

Our reliance on — and near-constant connectivity to — devices such as smart phones, laptops, notebooks, etc. is definitely rewiring our brains, especially those of younger generations being raised in a computer environment from day one.

So the question may not be whether people will want to write handwritten letters in the future but rather will they know how to?

To encourage a child in your life to write letters, take a look at these suggestions on the Reading Rainbow blog.