Letters vs. Email

It’s so old school, this letters on paper business. No, I don’t mean printing out my ABCs on blank paper to practice penmanship … (mine is now beyond hope. Though I remember learning to put pencil on paper and make cursive letters; I also remember deliberately deciding how I was going to change the important—to me—capital letters “R” and “M” in order to make them my own: extra flourishes on the beginning and end. No surprise there, right?) … I mean the exchange of letters on paper. Envelopes. Postage stamps. Signed in ink. The whole thing. Or maybe it’s just the writing part...

Boomers whine about email’s loss of permanence, the loss of language skills, e-mails emoticons etcetera and ad nauseum. I’ll grant all that, Boomer that I am. But for me, that’s not it. Not totally. I have a little secret. I treat e-mail as if it were regular mail. Not all. But the “letters” I want to keep. I make a copy and stick them in my journal. Sometimes with copies of the e-mail I’ve received and am answering. Then I can read them later, sometimes months or years later, and enjoy the journey.

For me, summer camp was the first letter experience: receiving letters as a camper (mail call was very important), and then as a counselor. Reading them in the bunk. Then writing back sitting at one of the lodge tables. Then at college, the daily stop at the campus PO to see which relative had written. Same in grad school, living in the boarding house. And definitely in the Peace Corps: Western Nigeria and Ibadan in the early 60s. No phone, just those thin blue airmail letters that I treated like gold, saved and savored. As I still do. Write me a letter, and I’ll take it to a special coffee house, order a latte, and drink in your words, one by one, along with the brew. And then the pleasure of a response. Special pleasures, easily crafted. Retro? Maybe. Or perhaps, like slow cooking and no texting at the dinner table, a new wave.