In Praise of Pen Pals


I know that in this day and age, writing paper letters is old-fashioned and just plain slow.


But what a joy it is to peep in the mailbox and actually see a hand addressed envelope, something that really may not be a bank statement. To know that someone has taken the time to write things down and find a stamp! How fun to savor that letter. To make a cup of tea and get comfortable and only then to open it and see what your far flung friend or family member has to say.

Today the truth is that those moments are fewer and farther between than ever. If you have news to pass on, it’s much more efficient in time and money to send something electronically such as an email. Most of you probably are more advanced than me, but that is my current 21st century limit. I do love email.  I love being able to keep up with old friends who would never pick up a pen.  I love being able to send a funny story to my Mom and have her be in on the joke while it’s still fresh.  I love being able to write a whole letter, then move a few paragraphs around to make it sound better. I do love the way technology has made communication so quick and easy.


But I do love writing letters.  There’s something calming and therapeutic in it for me. It slows you down and makes you think about what you really want to say. And if you don’t say it just the way you intended – oh well.  (That’s what notes in the margin are for.)  I sign a letter and feel I’ve had a cozy conversation with the recipient. Not everyone feels that way, I know. I had a roommate in college who absolutely hated writing letters. She always put the act off. Then she’d write a long and involved rough draft with crossings out that looked like the beginnings of an English composition. After which she’d have to  recopy the whole thing.  I was stunned. How could she make it such a chore?  Granted, I have a tendency to write at length about nothing, but I am in good company.  Jane Austen wrote to her sister (I believe) “Which of all my important nothings shall I tell you first?”

A good place to find people who DO like to write letters is via… the internet. This past year, my daughter and I signed up for pen pals on the Jane Austen Letter Writing Society  website. We filled out a short questionnaire and were paired up with like-minded letter writers.  I write in praise of pen pals.  I exchange regular letters with mine and I always look forward to hearing from her.  Right now, I’m curiously awaiting part two of a family story that started with her grandfather in Italy during WWI.  But generally we just chit chat about daily life and exchange thoughts and memories.

If you haven’t done so lately, I urge you to find a piece of paper – any kind will do – and drop a line to someone you’d like to make smile.  And consider signing up for the next Pen Friend Exchange!

P.S.  Just read this article  about letter writing on The Guardian.


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