Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Pen Pals

When I was a kid, I had a number of friends with whom I was pen pals. Either they were friends who had moved away, or they were school friends I didn't see much during the summer, and so we wrote letters to each other during the summer months. I found not much in my young life more exciting than checking the mailbox to discover a letter for me, even from someone with whom I had just spent an hour talking on the phone.

These days, the only real letters I get are from my father, who is probably one of the last great letter-writers of this era. I look forward to them to the point that early on in our marriage, Bob was a bit jealous of the attention I focused on them (how could I possibly want to read a letter from my father more than I wanted to hear Bob's blow-by-blow description of the final inning of last night's baseball game?). Every so often, my mother writes me a letter, but that's very rare. I get cards at Christmas, but basically, my friends and I rely on email and Facebook these days.

I'm not about to go on and on about how the computer age has ruined the fine art of letter-writing. After all, this age with its blogs, which have allowed me to meet people I never would have otherwise, and Facebook, which has allowed me to get back in touch with long-lost friends, is not something you will ever hear me criticize too much. However, I sometimes long for those days when long, interesting missives were exchanged between friends and relatives. Even more, I long to have a really good excuse for feeding my pen and stationery fetishes.

I found this longing intensified while reading the winter issue of Slightly Foxed, which has an article about The Lyttleton Hart-Davis Letters. I don't often read collections of letters, but when I do, I tend to find myself thinking I really ought to read them more often. They're so fascinating, such a great way to find out so much about those who write them, as well as the times in which they lived. This one sounds particularly good (although Slightly Foxed manages to make everything sound particularly good, so I'm not sure how I'd find it if I were actually to read the -- six volume! -- work).

It doesn't matter, though. Even if the letters were all deadly dull, I'm horribly jealous of those like Lyttleton and Hart-Davis who had these wonderful correspondences that lasted years. It sounds as if they covered almost every subject imaginable, carried on "friendly" arguments with each other, and shared book recommendations. Doesn't that sound like fun? Maybe I'm weird, but I want someone who will write letters like that with me. I thought I'd be doing so once I moved to Pennsylvania, but somehow, I just don't seem to make the time. I've written a couple of letters to a couple of friends since moving here over a year ago, and that's been it.

Then I had a brilliant idea: why not make letter-writing a New Year's resolution? (You will discover this month that I have a rather ad-hoc attitude towards New Year's resolutions.) To that end, I have decided to invite my blog readers to be my pen pals. In order not to bite off more than I can chew, here is what I am going to do:

1) Choose 5 pen pals for 2009
2) Promise to write each pen pal a real letter at least once a month
3) Promise not to resort to email substitutions
4) Promise that, although occasionally I might resort to word-processed letters, you will get at least six genuine, pen-to-stationery letters in your mailbox from me
5) Write a blog post at the end of the year about my experiences with my pen pals

Are you interested in being my pen pal? (Or maybe I should ask: are you crazy enough to want to receive letters from me?) If so, leave a comment here to that effect. You also have to commit to writing me back (I mean, what's the point in my doing this if the ten-year-old in me doesn't get to race out to the mailbox to see if I've got a letter everyday?). In the unlikely event that I get more than five interested parties, I will put your names in a hat and draw 5. Once I have my 5, I will let you know who you are, and we can exchange snail mail addresses with each other.

And if no one's interested? Well, there's a New Year's resolution that can't possibly be my fault if it gets broken, can it?

23 comments:

Hannah said...

oooh me! I've often thought the same! I used to write letters all the time, carrying them round with me to add to during the day. Now, none at all. But I live in Australia (though I'm English), is that bad, postage-wise? And I'm rubbish at commenting on people's blogs so you will have no clue who I am. A taster: I'm 28, English, moved to Sydney two years ago, and I'm a copy editor on a celebrity gossip magazine who recently inveigled my way into writing book and film reviews for its website (hurray!). I don't blog but am an avid consumer of book blogs, including yours, which I found through the incomparable Litlove. I feel like I'm writing a lonely hearts ad! Let me know ...

Eva said...

What a wonderful idea Emily!! I was just thinking how nice it'd be to exchange real letters with people. :) So I'll be your penpal if you want.

Where do you get your stationary, though? I was trying to find some the other day (pretty letter paper, not pretty notecards or anything) and failed miserably.

litlove said...

This is a lovely idea and I shall watch it develop with great interest, but I type and email these days because no one, but no one, can read my handwriting. And I do think that to enjoy writing letters you have to have pretty, legible handwriting. I do think of blogging and the email exchanges I have with blogging friends as being the modern day equivalent of pen pals. But I also know I am not a good correspondent. I say that just because I haven't written in two years, doesn't mean someone is not in my thoughts. It's true, but I can see it's not satisfactory.

musingsfromthesofa said...

Me me me! Because I love writing letters, and I have beautiful personalised stationery, and even though my handwriting is execrable these days I would do my best to make it legible. And also, if it's a commitment to another person my enormous levels of personal guilt will not let me default so I will be reliable. We can argue about books by post!

Heather said...

Am I too late???? I want to do this with you. I can moan over The Faerie Queene hehe!

Tiffany said...

I think this is a great idea and would be very interested in being your pen pal.

I've been following your blog for a couple of months now - not a blogger myself, but like the commenter above, I read them on a regular basis and rely on them for book recommendations, entertainment, etc.

I used to have pen pals as a child as well, but have sadly lost touch with all of them over the years, and have lost touch with letter writing. This is a great opportunity to not only get back in the letter writing habit, but also to get to know someone new.

Dorothy W. said...

What a great idea! It looks like you've got five takers already, so I'll bow out, especially since I'm not sure I'll be great about devoting the time to letter-writing. But this sounds like a lot of fun -- enjoy!

stefanie said...

Oh! Oh! Oh! I want a pen pal! Am I too late? I had foreign pen pals when I was a kid and that was sooo much fun. We lost touch long ago but I still wonder if my penfriend in India became the doctor she dreamed of being and how my South Korean penfriend is. I write letters to my Grandma and a childhood friend I have known since I was 6 (but lately she hasn't been writing back much). It will also give me an excuse to use my fountain pen and my inks of various colors :)

sarawithnoh said...

I'm waving my hand anxiously from the back of the room. Man you can't miss this blog even for a day!

Cam said...

I'm glad you have 5 takers already, or I might give in to the temptation to participate. Like Litlove, I claim to have handwriting that is nearly unreadable. And I'm just terrible at keeping to things like this. But, how wonderful it would be to get a long, interesting letter in the mail. I haven't received one in years.

ZoesMom said...

I might be too late, but I'd love to be your pen pal if the offer is still open. I cannot remember the last time I got or wrote an actual letter on actual stationery and it would wonderful!

So (if you haven't already chosen your 5), pick me! I promise to write.

teresa said...

Hi Emily,

I'd love to be your penpal if I'm not too late to be in the running. We've had some e-correspondence in the past about Elizabeth's Bowen's novels, and I think it would be lovely to share thoughts about books, music, movies and more through letters. :)
Happy new year, by the way.

ravenousreader said...

Litlove directed me here, Emily, based on my own post in which I bemoan the lost art of letter writing. I love reading collections of letters, and though I am a great proponent of the connections we make via the internet, I miss putting pen to paper in a concrete way.

I hope your pen-pal endeavor is a smashing success! Perhaps we should begin a blog-wide movement?

Emily Barton said...

Wow! I seriously didn't expect to get more than about three "takers" on this (especially from people I didn't even know were reading my blog). I'm heartened to see that so many others would like to see letter-writing kept alive. I will do my drawing soon and let everyone know who the five are.

Meanwhile, Eva raises a good question, since old-fashioned stationers have sort of gone out of style (although we had a couple in our old neighborhood in New York). I happen to live in Amish country, where it's quite easy to find stationery. Anyone want to suggest other good places to buy?

Nigel Patel said...

Interesting.
I don't know if I'm "in", but it's very interesting.

Heather said...

Good places to buy all sort of interesting paper you can turn into stationary are art supply stores.

Daphne said...

sounds like fun! Add my name to the pool!

Daphne (here from Eva's blog...)

bkclubcare said...

Hello, I'm here because of Eva, also... Just wanted to share a fun experience I'm involved with. I was so excited to twist the arm of a friend from home and we've been writing letters to each other for 4 years now. We have a system based on the alphabet. I first wrote her the A letter and I just thought of silly things in my life that start with A; she sent me the B letter, and so on. It's her turn right now with the letter L. It's rather stimulating and creative.

This is such a great idea and. I have to go read the rest of Eva's post now. I hope I remember to visit again! Good luck to you all.

Emily Barton said...

Daphne, I'd love to add you to the hat, but unfortunately, I've already done my drawing. Spread the idea, though, and choose your own five.

BKclubcare, thanks for your luck, and I love your idea of working your way through the alphabet with silly things in your life.

mandarine said...

Sorry to be late. I'd have loved to be in the hat.

Maybe for 2010 ?

teabird said...

May I recommend a book for you all? Foreign Correspondence by Geraldine Brooks...

(I have penfriends, and I love them! Have fun with your new friends!

Emily Barton said...

Mandarine, awww, I would LOVE to be your penpal. Maybe we'll just do that after you visit..

Teabird, thanks so much for the book recommendation. And thanks for the wishes to have fun, which I definitely plan to do!

Jennifer WIkstrom said...

I know I am a tad late on this but I just stumbled onto your wonderful blog and I would love to have a pen pal, please let me know.
jen_wikstrom@yahoo.com