Monday, January 2, 2012

Writing Letters: A Goal for 2012

by Julia Buckley

These are some letters I received in the late '80s, two of them from overseas.

In contemplating feasible resolutions for the New Year, I made several mundane but necessary ones: being healthy, losing weight, being more positive, swearing less. But I also wanted to address a problem that I've noted in the past year, when I sit down to write a note to someone in the old-fashioned way: my attention span for writing this type of missive has diminished.

According to this blog, the shrinking attention span affects all ages: "The way society has evolved is equally to blame. The effect of our fascination with the latest electronic gadgetry goes far deeper than we would like to believe. Day in and day out we allow ourselves to be exposed to sound-bite news and event coverage on television. The same goes for the meaningless and plot-less movies being dished out under the guise of public demand. Add to that, the enchantment with cell phones and it is not difficult to understand why the attention spans of adults and children alike are shortening. The obsession with television has reached such proportions that a child's attention span while watching TV is not taken into account while assessing his/her abilities to focus.

The fact is that our capacities to communicate and understand have been seriously hampered. The saddest part of the scenario that is emerging is that we are closing our minds by tuning out our ears and shutting our eyes to information."

Emily Post wrote this of writing letters in 1922. Even in this far-off era, Ms. Post noted that the art of letter writing was "gradually dwindling." Still, she suggested, " . . . people do write letters in this day and there are some who possess the divinely flexible gift for a fresh turn of phrase, for delightful keenness of observation."

What was true in 1922 is true for us today. A "snail mail" letter is still more precious to me than an e-mail, and I have a bag full of some of the most beautiful letters I've received over time (as pictured above). Below, you see part of a six-page letter I received from my older brother when I was in college. Ms. Post would have loved his whimsical and polite style--and look at his lovely handwriting!

Are hand-written letters anachronisms? Perhaps they have become so; but I have used one of my Christmas gifts--an Amazon gift card--to buy a basket full of beautiful stationery, and I intend to write on it. Composing a letter the old-fashioned way might have several benefits:

1) It might renew a friendship that I had allowed to become distant.
2) It might, with practice, allow me to reclaim some of my receding attentiveness to tasks.
3) It might enhance my writing and allow me to get in touch once more with whatever "keenness of observation" I might once have exercised in a multi-page letter.
4) It might make me appreciate that e-mail, Facebook, and other computerized forms of communication, while the most efficient, are not necessarily always the best.

images: 1/1/12 Julia Buckley


Sandra Parshall said...

I can't recall the last time I wrote a real letter. A note on a card, yes... but not a real letter. Something to think about!

Diane said...

Like Sandra, I haven't written a letter in years. And due to my career as a computer programmer, my handwriting deteriorated over time. When I needed to figure out a solution, or make a correction, I'd just grab the paper and write - any direction.

But the saddest of all? Did you know they are not teaching handwriting in schools now? The kids are taught their signatures in script, but that's it. My granddaughter claims she can read script, but doesn't write in it.

Julia Buckley said...

I know, Sandra, and reading my brother's letter brought tears to my eyes, because he made such an effort to be entertaining and to tell me whimsical stories about our family (many of whom have now died). It is like a historical document now, and I treasure it more because of that.

Diane, that is shocking and depressing, but it must be a decision of individual public school districts (or private schools), because I know they still make a big deal of handwriting at my son's school.

I know what you mean about deteriorating handwriting--and not only that, but when I have to write a letter to someone out of politeness, I am always tempted to type it and then put it in a note, because I type so much more rapidly than I write.

But that's the whole point of writing a letter, I think--you savor the writing of it, just as your recipient will savor the reading of it.