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Dig out your sparkly pens again
March 17, 2014 2:48 AM   Subscribe

When was the last time you got something in the mail other than the water bill or a pizza menu? Why does mail always have to be bad news? Groups online are reviving the dying tradition of penpals and sending the most wonderful, creative letters and notes across the globe, making the moment the mail drops onto the doormat exciting instead of dread-inducing again. Bonus link - the League of Extraordinary Penpals, who "think that writing a letter snuggled under a blanket with a cup of tea and a cat by your side is a better way to spend your Friday night than hanging out at the bar."
posted by winterhill (36 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Thanks for this - as my circumstances changed recently such that I have a little more spare time than before, but seldom have the opportunity to go out & socialise, I thought that starting up a few penpal correspondences might be good for me, and it’s worked out very well. I got started via reddit. Getting back into the habit of writing in ink on paper has been a great pleasure.
posted by misteraitch at 3:28 AM on March 17


The internet is wonderful for sharing information quickly, but there is nothing like a real letter written with love (or at least thoughtfulness). Handcrafted communications. That's where it's at, hipsters!

Speaking of penpals, how is MeFi PenPals going?
posted by pianissimo at 3:32 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Don't these people have elderly relatives?
posted by pompomtom at 4:06 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


My elderly relatives all communicate with me via Facebook or email written in all lowercase. I try to coerce friends into being penpals (a good excuse for a new fountain pen), but they never write back. So thanks!
posted by Elementary Penguin at 4:24 AM on March 17


The oldest group that I know of doing this is The Letter Exchange. I had a few pen pals through there back in the early 90s, but time and circumstance (and my horrible handwriting) forced me to give it up. My wife has tried to get some of her friends to write letters back and forth, but it always dies out after a few attempts. Too bad, because there is something about a hand written letter that really makes your day.
posted by ralan at 4:40 AM on March 17


Aw, man, I really miss the days of Nervousness, the big mail-art community. I sent and received so much awesome mail from around the world. It's not around anymore, but people used to organize swaps and round robins and traveling journals and other LMAOs of all kinds. I ended up corresponding further with quite a few of the people I met through the mail, via Nness.
posted by fancyoats at 4:47 AM on March 17


As someone who regularly writes letters to friends, acquaintances, and bona fide pen-pals, I do find the LEP website a bit ... off putting. As in 'wow, everyone thinks letter writing is weird, so if we choose to write letters we are so special' kind of off putting. Great if that is your thing, but for some of us writing a letter is just something we do, not some weird signifier of personality or taste.
posted by Megami at 5:25 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


As someone who regularly writes letters to friends, acquaintances, and bona fide pen-pals, I do find the LEP website a bit ... off putting. As in 'wow, everyone thinks letter writing is weird, so if we choose to write letters we are so special' kind of off putting. Great if that is your thing, but for some of us writing a letter is just something we do, not some weird signifier of personality or taste.


I had the same reaction -- surely it is possible to enjoy writing letters at the bar, not just instead of the bar? But I'm sure that list is reflective of their self identity, so I don't mean to sound critical, but it isn't an approach that is going to widely broaden their membership.
posted by Dip Flash at 5:54 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Back in the Stone Age, when I was a much younger man, I was involved in a long distance relationship. There was no internet, no cell phones - long distance phone calls were expensive, and there was a 3 or 4 second delay.

Our relationship survived on Love Letters. Thoughtful, emotional, sexual 5 or 6 page letters. I still have all the letters she sent me, and I am sure she still has my letters.

Writing love letters was a powerful experience that so many couples had - but I think it is now largely a thing of the past. The younger generation will never know that heart-pounding feeling of checking the mail box every day.
posted by Flood at 5:57 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


Also, for those with less time, this.
posted by texorama at 6:04 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


Writing love letters was a powerful experience that so many couples had - but I think it is now largely a thing of the past.

I don't know, I've found hand-written letters to be a very big part of my relationship with my wife, both when we were first together and now almost 9 years in. Maybe some people don't do it, but some do.
posted by graymouser at 6:07 AM on March 17


The cynical side of me wonders if there's a niche service opportunity. For $19.95* I'll read your Facebook stream and craft a handwritten letter that contains details of your life to the recipient of your choice**.

* Isn't everything supposed to be $19.95?
** Not a real advertisement. I will not do this. Even for $19.95.
posted by Lafe at 6:15 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


The cynical side of me wonders if there's a niche service opportunity. For $19.95* I'll read your Facebook stream and craft a handwritten letter that contains details of your life to the recipient of your choice**.

As seen in a recent major motion picture!
posted by Dip Flash at 6:18 AM on March 17


That looks really fun, but I don't feel like I would have the memory power or self discipline to do the difficult task of using snail mail... these are extraordinary people indeed!

ALSO YAY SPARKLE PENS!
posted by xarnop at 6:34 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


oh man Lafe...i LOVE that idea. i like writing letters and that would be such fun to do and to have to write in other peoples' voice, although hopefully with better grammar and spelling...
posted by sio42 at 6:41 AM on March 17


I was involved in a long distance relationship. There was no internet, no cell phones - long distance phone calls were expensive, and there was a 3 or 4 second delay.

something similar happened on my husband's (then boyfriend's) first overseas deployment - no email, sat-phone very occassionally and it was listened in on - so we wrote lots of letters. Even now when he deploys, he often has email but I choose to write regular letters as well.
posted by Megami at 6:48 AM on March 17


Ugh. Hipster fetishism of an irrelevant obsolete technology.
posted by MartinWisse at 6:58 AM on March 17 [2 favorites]


It makes me sad whenever something I just happen to like is called hipster fetishism.
posted by JanetLand at 7:15 AM on March 17 [8 favorites]


Also known as small batch, hand-crafted, artisanal email.
posted by freakazoid at 7:18 AM on March 17 [7 favorites]


I used to write a lot of letters in the days before the internet. I loved getting thick envelopes in the mail. I used to feel that seeing someone's handwriting was so important and personal. It's strange now to sometimes date people for months and never see their handwriting.

I'd like to do something like this but really I should write to my grandma and aunts more often.
posted by bunderful at 7:32 AM on March 17


Ugh. Hipster fetishism of an irrelevant obsolete technology.

I don't get this comment. I agree that the site linked to in the post comes off as kind of hipster-y, but the site I linked to above, The Letter Exchange, has been around for over 30 years. There are enough people out there that like sending and receiving actual written letters that a service like LEX is still there, even though e-mail is the way most people communicate now. Maybe writing letters is "irrelevant obsolete technology" to you, but certainly not to everyone.
posted by ralan at 7:46 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


how are pizza menus (and coupons) bad news??
posted by dogwalker at 7:55 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I seriously keep reading the title of this as "dig out your sparkly penis again", which is both horrifying and intriguing, and I'm sort of sad that it's an error my eyes are making. Damn my eyes.
posted by palomar at 8:35 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


It makes me sad whenever something I just happen to like is called hipster fetishism.

It's not the thing you like that's being criticized, however, it's a particular attitude that is being cultivated towards it. "Just happening to like writing letters by hand" is something very, very different from the practice of adopting letter writing as some kind of self-conscious fight against the impersonal digital future in the name of supposedly more humanistic qualities of the manual application of ink to paper.

Back in the pre-digital day, of course, lots of writers used to use typewriters to write letters. I've never quite understood why it is that inputting text via the keyboard of a typewriter and then mailing the resulting missive to somebody is supposed to be more "personal" than inputting the same text via the keyboard of a computer and emailing it to them directly.
posted by yoink at 9:42 AM on March 17 [3 favorites]


I think the "hipster fetishism" comment might have been a bit of trolling, but if it isn't it's a good time to remind people who think that that many of us living now grew up in a handwriting and airmail era--and perfected our practice of communicating thusly.

Of the many penpals I've had over the years, I still keep in constant contact with two of them. One in France (who I met after ten years of correspondence when I went to France as an exchange student) and one in Brazil (with whom I've been writing letters since 1993). My two favorite handwriting-and-mail details can't be replicated by email, or any other electronic format for that matter: (1) foreign handwriting, ink, paper, etc. conventions, and (2) little inserts like local candy, bus tickets, perfume samples from the market, and on and on (even some jacaranda seeds one time). Oh my word, those little packages with bizarre candies and birthday cards and recipes were my first exposure to the tactile wider world that existed in realms important to senses other than the eyes and ears I could indulge by watching t.v. We keep up by email and facebook as one does in the modern habit of immediate contact, but nothing is better than receiving a letter stamped through customs.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:46 AM on March 17 [4 favorites]


To me, the far more significant change that whether or not I receive written messages in my mailbox or in my email inbox is that most of my communication with far-flung friends and family is now Skype. What's that Latin tag? Vox audita perit, litera scripta manet" I think. I have lots of letters from my mother and father in boxes in a cupboard, and lots of the letters to and from my family and friends as well. I also have the letters my mother wrote to her parents. But nothing in the communications I've had with my family and friends from the last ten years or so will ever be archived in any form. That change (while it probably doesn't matter much in my particular case) will be a great loss to future biographers and historians.
posted by yoink at 10:15 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


What's that Latin tag?

Quidquid Latine dictum, altum videtur?

It makes me sad whenever something I just happen to like is called hipster fetishism

Yeah, I was slightly snarky, and there's nothing wrong with liking writing lettres or receiving them, just with some of the attitude that came through in the links, that idea that because it's more old fashioned and takes more effort it's somehow better, more authentic and/or makes you a better person for attempting it.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:29 AM on March 17 [1 favorite]


I would love to do something like this, but every time I think about it, I remember that writing makes my hands hurt. I do love sending mix CDs with little notes, though, because it's hard not to love getting and sending things in the mail.
posted by immlass at 10:34 AM on March 17


Makes me think of the movie Her. Don't want to spoil anything, but for those who've seen it: I'm pretty sure that bit is *super* tongue-in-cheek with exactly that kind of hipster fetishism phenomenon in mind. Like, "I'm so original and authentic, just like everyone else in Bushwick with enough time and money to throw at a project like this!"

But I can't act like if a guy sent me a cutesy love letter in the mail I wouldn't be squeeing for days.
posted by Mooseli at 10:53 AM on March 17


I don't write letters and postcards, I make hand-crafted, individualized blog posts and paper tumblrs.
posted by betweenthebars at 1:45 PM on March 17


I do miss my letters -- I used to love finding ornate stationary and finding little things to put in the envelopes. I had the wax seal and the works.

I had no shortage of pen pals -- some would write to me in English and I got to write back in their native tongue -- having a hard copy of it was a lovely keepsake -- just a little pick me up waiting for you amid the junk and drudgery in the mailbox...
posted by Alexandra Kitty at 3:23 PM on March 17 [2 favorites]


Swap-Bot, Postcrossing, and sendsomething are also great sites for snail mail.
posted by KogeLiz at 1:01 PM on March 18


What if I like writing letters *and* going to the bar on Fridays?
posted by Fleeno at 3:08 PM on March 18


You better make sure your table is dry before you put your sheet of paper down?
posted by MartinWisse at 1:33 AM on March 19 [1 favorite]






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