Editorial: The lost art of letters, and the beauty of our handwriting

The pen is the tongue of the mind, as Cervantes once said.

And what better use can you put it to than to write a letter?

A real letter — not an email, a text, a Facebook post, a direct message — a letter, with a pen, on paper.

Recently, flipping through memories, albums and scrapbooks for today’s 40-plus generation, I realized we are all likely have handwritten items. A note written on the back of a photo, a birthday or thank-you card — a real card, not an “e” card” — and, of course, letters.

Back in the days before email, instant message, cell phones, and text messages, we wrote letters. We wrote cards. We wrote letters to our families, or to pen pals in other states or countries. We wrote letters to our friends who went away to college. Sometimes, if we wanted to risk detention, we passed notes in class — and in the worst cases, we got caught, and our teacher read them out loud.

Another, more personal intimacy with letters is handwriting. Before the generation of instant gratification and technology, our handwriting was as identifiable for us as our fingerprints. We can remember our grandmother’s steady, neat penmanship, or sprawling hand. We can remember our girlfriend in high school who had big, bubbly penmanship and dotted her I’s with hearts.

Maybe it’s our own writing with our edits marked up, tracing a line of our thoughts from start to finish. Maybe it’s old news stories we wrote for a newspaper, when edits were made in red pen, which taught you lessons about reporting.  

Our handwriting is as individual as our voice — in many ways, it was our voice. We should use it more.

There is something deliberate about writing letters. In some ways, a letter is a gift. It’s a gift of our time, of our patience —  it’s a gift of ourselves.

Pen and paper doesn’t have spell-check — it doesn’t have an undo button, it doesn't have a backspace. It doesn’t have an autocorrect. A letter gives us pause — to take our time to think out our sentences, and what kind of message we want to sendM. Letters are special remembrances of those we have lost, they are lessons and traditions we can pass on for generations to come.

In the process of spring cleaning, or for the town’s bulk pickup program or the Boy Scout tag sale, find your precious items of handwritten memories. Show them to your children, and encourage them to write letters — letters to their friends over the summer at camp, or to their grandparents.

Put down the cell phone or the laptop and pick up a pen. Reaching out is easier than ever — we can text as quickly as we breathe. But maybe our communication could sometimes be less utilitarian, and more passionately a piece of us, a joy to create and a gift to receive, and a therapeutic experience for both the writer and the receiver.