I Had Post

I was reading somewhere (was it in the New Haven Independent? cannot for the life of me remember) that the U.S. Postal Service is suffering financial woes and considering dropping Saturday mail delivery as a cost-cutting measure. Some tiny percentage of the local populace is up in arms about this. I would be one of them, but I frankly don't see that losing Saturday mail delivery would really be the end of the world. Slightly inconvenient, yes; but on the other hand, it would reinforce the idea of a weekend for most people, which might be a good thing, in a small way. I found myself lamenting my own letter-writing habits, or lack thereof in recent years. Ask anyone who knew me from, say, 1983 to 2000 and they will tell you that I wrote more letters than anyone in their right mind would ever wright. Anyone with a life would not have written so many letters. But I wrote letters. Boy howdy did I write letters. Long letters, handwritten, often with fountain pens; long letters, single-spaced, on a typewriter (and later on a computer). I typed on postcards, I typed on onion skin to friends overseas, I typed on anything I could wrap around the cartridge thingy on my typewriter (which I still own). I remember writing a letter on a barf bag, once, when I was on an airplane, though I have no recollection now of to whom I was writing.

And I saved all the letters I received back. I have boxes of these things, and while I can imagine throwing out some memorabilia from my life I cannot imagine throwing out those letters.

So I'm an incurable romantic on the subject of written correspondence. But at the same time -- when was the last time I wrote a letter? Well, actually (and I write this a little sheepishly, because it takes away from my argument a little), it was in the last ten days; I wrote a letter to a woman in Vermont. I had fun picking out a card that had an illustration on it I knew she'd like, and when I filled up all the space in the card I got out some loose notepaper and continued on that. And I am confident that she was happy to unlock her PO box and find that handwritten letter waiting for her.

We're all made so happy by real letters and postcards. We were twenty years ago, when they were pretty much normal; now we're made even more so because they're so unusual. So how come we're all so lazy and can't be bothered to write real letters? If a diehard like me is too lazy to write a letter, what hope is there for anyone else?

I am reminded of a phenomenon from my bookseller days when I would mail books to customers; I always made a point of including a handwritten note with the book, just to acknowledge the customer, to be friendly. I was always surprised by how happy this made people -- who knew that a little three sentence note could make someone so happy? One shop I worked at mailed catalogues periodically, and I was in the habit of writing out all the addresses on the envelopes, and people even commented to us on the handwritten mailing addresses. It was something we'd done because we were too cheap or too disorganized to set up for computer-printed mailing labels, but it turned out to be a piece of really good marketing.

I could try to make a vow to start writing one letter a week to someone from now on, but let's not fool ourselves: I wouldn't be able to keep that vow. Still, I feel bad that I'm not the letter writer I once was.