26 Jan 2017

Write to Your Heart's Content

Who still puts pen to paper nowadays? To those of you nodding a 'Not me', glancing away, or rolling those eyes like I'm out of touch, let it be known: the technological panacea may not apply to our personal communications after all. Time to dust off your stationery pads and replace those dried-out pens. I'm going to show you why this should be done.

Best Wishes from my hometown, via Delcampe

Our handwritten prowesses and the availability of stationery of all styles and denominations (fancy, formal, sober, classical, feminine - you name it), have been seriously put to the test by technological advances that have made it easier and quicker to communicate in our personal affairs the messages, announcements, invitations, RSVPs, thank you notes, letters and the likes. You can even send electronic postcards. Choose a template, tweak it or customise it if you wish to express some form of individuality and creativity, type up a few words and click 'send'.

Here's the catch. Notice how I put 'some form' in italic in the paragraph above. You have no reason to feel smug because no matter the fanciness and advanced level of the graphics, typeface - and/ or interface - the communication will remain purely electronic and robotic. Carrying sentiments in a personnal communication of the sort is doomed to be diluted, lost in the proverbial translation.

Souvenir from my hometown (ibid.)

As much as you try to make it personal and personable, the very essence of the personal touch is missing because the personal finds its perfection in the time, effort and dedication that were put into the making of the letter. This might involve the quirks of the handwritten prose (or poetry for that matter) that makes it uniquely you, the movement of the sentence being carried out by the way you form your characters, and the pauses that make the sentences come alive, breathe. The handwritten carries a letter. The electronic does not. The handwritten makes a letter individual and unique. It is an act of creativity all to itself. The handwritten letter is a one-to-one communication that reflects the commitment of the writer to the recipient. However no matter how much you tweak and customise an electronic file, you will not be able to recreate that individuality, that uniqueness.

Now think about paper, card, envelope, stamp, stick-on embellishments. A letter is physical: it is not just about word content, it involves the type of material it is written on and this too summons feelings: the choice and quality of the paper, its finish, its size and colour, the way it was folded, how the pen glided upon it - or maybe scratched it. How the ink got absorbed into the paper, the blots, the smears, the marks, the fades, the imperfections... Now look at the paper, touch and feel it. What's its condition? Is it soft, delicate, flimsy, thin, thick, embossed, filigreed, crinkled, aged? Does it feel ordinary? Expensive? What is the handwriting like? Neat, perky, flourished, eccentric, messy, illegible, tired? How about the spelling? There is no doubt that a letter carries a lot of meaning. It has more to say than words themselves. It is clear that a letter comes alive when it is handwritten.


I remember vividly to this day how during my very first job in a small translation office in England, I used to sneakily type up a letter to my grandma on my fancy Mac computer whenever I had some 'free time' at work. I would then mail the letter to her that very same evening. However what I was doing by means of efficiency, expediency and practicality while genuinely aiming for a letter to my grandma, she would sadly feel that efficiency, expediency and practicality of mine when she opened my letter, and that kind of killed the spirit and purpose of my letters to her. My good intentions were a mixed bag, maybe because as a keen and yet traditional letter-writer, she held the belief that unless handwritten, a letter shall never claim to be that personal and committed.

I agree that a personal letter takes time to write and you have to be in the mood to do it. Yet if you consider it a time-consuming piece of work (a chore even), and look at ways to devise it with efficiency, expediency and practicality in mind, maybe you should reconsider sending that letter at all - or opt for a less ambitious communication: a postcard.


No matter what, I believe in rekindling the habit of letter/ card writing. I started the year by sending out a few pretty cards to some family members who I had lost touch with, and to Marie L., a 98-year-old lady friend of my grandma's who I have been visiting lately, wishing them a Happy New Year, enquiring about them and updating them on some personal news. That is a way to show you genuinely care and it will give them - and you - a boost!

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