The other day I was out walking the dog, sending a few quick texts, and I got to wondering how soon it would be before smartphones got good enough on the voice recognition to send messages that way… and then realized that what I was thinking of was a phone call. Sometimes, I guess, a step backwards is a step in the right direction. That particular motion is not for me—I hate the phone—but when it comes to sending text-based messages I’m on record as being a great lover of the old-fashioned stick-a-stamp-on-it letter. There ought to be a better name for it than “snail mail,” a term I find somewhat pejorative and not very accurate, anyway. No, it’s not electronic. But it gets where it’s supposed to in a reasonable amount of time, mostly, taking just long enough to supply that little frisson of anticipation or surprise. As for all that “lost mail,” those cards and letters that never reach their destination, experience bears out that a good 75% of those didn’t exist to begin with. The USPS has always been an uncomplaining scapegoat.
So I’m very pleased to learn, via GalleyCat, of a month-long letter-writing challenge happening in February. Writer and puppeteer Mary Robinette Kowal took a month off from the Internet last fall, and found that one of the biggest dividends was receiving handwritten letters from friends, family, and fans—she posted a P.O. box address on her blog as a kind of analog comments section:
I told people that they could correspond with me by paper letter. Some people did. Some people still are. Every letter delights me.
When I write back, I find that I slow down and write differently than I do with an email. Email is all about the now. Letters are different, because whatever I write needs to be something that will be relevant a week later to the person to whom I am writing. In some ways it forces me to think about time more because postal mail is slower. “By the time you get this…” It is relaxing. It is intimate. It is both lasting and ephemeral.
Now she’s decided to put up an official Capital-C challenge to make February a Month of Letters. The rules are simple:
1. In the month of February, mail at least one item through the post every day it runs. Write a postcard, a letter, send a picture, or a cutting from a newspaper, or a fabric swatch.
2. Write back to everyone who writes to you. This can count as one of your mailed items.
All you are committing to is to mail 24 items. Why 24? There are four Sundays and one US holiday. In fact, you might send more than 24 items. You might develop a correspondence that extends beyond the month. You might enjoy going to the mail box again.
And as she points out, it’s a whole lot easier than NaNoWriMo. Kowal has set up a website complete with a FAQ page, forum (login required), and journal, plus the obligatory Facebook page and Twitter hashtag. All bells and whistles aside—and you know I have nothing whatsoever against bells and whistles—it looks like a fun project, and something I might just add on to my already overbooked agenda. Look, if I survived the August Poetry Project, I can do this, right? I’m not going to post my address, but if anyone wants a letter, or a postcard, or a fabric swatch, feel free to email me. Don’t worry, I’m not going offline for the month.
And speaking of postcards, there are still a couple of cold wintry months left and this might be a very good excuse to pick up a sheet of these.