Last summer, I house sat for my aunt, who went on a trip to Austria. She’d asked me to water the plants and bring in the mail. We live a distance from each other, so I stayed for a while to make sure everything was taken care of. Aloe vera plants need lots of water, so I hung around to allow them time to soak up the first round.
There’s something about the quietness of the house that makes me feel nostalgic. I sat on the porch to enjoy the cool breeze and watched a cat tightrope along the top of a brick wall that separates the surrounding houses. The apricot tree had recently been harvested for my aunt’s delicious apricot jam, but it still retained all of its beauty despite the absence of fruit, and I listened to the birds revel among the branches and leaves.
When it got too warm, I went back inside to browse the same framed pictures on the shelf with wonder, as I always do. There’s a place at the kitchen table, where my aunt likes to sit and read the newspaper, pay bills and write her letters. Her chair is still pulled out with a pretty seat cushion tied to the back posts. There’s a notepad and pen, and behind that, a drawer where she keeps all of her writing supplies, envelopes and stamps and such. I sat in the chair to write her a little note. I’m always drawn to her writing spaces because they remind me of the days we used to write to each other. The letters and cards she sent to me gave me encouragement when I needed it the most. I’m so grateful for those letters and will always cherish them.
There’s something about a handwritten note that feels very human. I think it’s the next best thing to having the person in front of you. Our writing style is so unique, like a fingerprint, it leaves an impression on the receiver. The writing seems to echo off the page: “It’s me, your friend. I’m here.”
Nowadays, we do most of our corresponding through email or text, so when I receive a handwritten letter, I make an occasion out of reading it.
The purpose of the first read (yes, I read them more than once!) is to take in all the information, to pacify my curiosity, and to release those first reactions. It’s almost like having the person in front of me, where I’m making unconscious observations of human behavior like the raising of the brows, or pressing of the lips, or nodding of the head. It’s the characteristics of the writing itself that gives me a sense of the writer’s mindset: the slant of the sentences, the crossed out words, the way it begins and the way it ends. In the second read, I come to the letter like a child wanting the “story” to be retold so I can relish the most interesting parts. Then I go about my way, letting the words absorb in my mind until I’m ready to sit down and write back.
I always keep blank notecards on hand because I take the same pleasure in writing correspondence as I do in reading it. The art or image on the front of the card begins the story and the rest is up to me. Do I want to let the card speak entirely on my behalf or will I offer up some part of myself?
I don’t allow myself to be intimidated by a blank card. I want to be a creator, not just a consumer. I want to leave something behind that people can remember me by. Whenever I peruse my box of mementos, it warms my heart to see my name on the envelope or inside of a card, written in the hand of someone I care about.
The key is to set yourself up for writing. For my aunt, it’s at the kitchen table near family photos and the espresso machine. For me, it’s early morning at my desk or on chair outside, when weather permits.
So where’s your favorite writing spot? If you don’t have one, you should!
With all the political tension that surrounds us, and all the word slinging across various social media platforms, sitting down to write is a way to take back our humanity, to embrace real, thoughtful communication, no matter our differences.
It isn’t about being good at writing, it’s about giving the gift of your time and attentiveness. Approach the writing with humility and grace. Say what you feel in the moment. What can you share with someone without expecting anything in return? Because in writing, we often want something from our readers. It’s good to just check in once-in-a-while without any agenda, to say “hello,” or “I thought of you today.” The time you take to put words on paper today, may be your legacy tomorrow. That’s not at all to say that the message has to be profound to have a kind and meaningful effect. Starting out with a simple, “Hey!” or “Hi” or “Dear so and so” gets things going in the right direction.
It’s you they want to hear from. It’s why they opened that card; it’s why they stopped what they were doing to read your words. So find a writing place that inspires and motivates you to write! Get out a notebook, or your favorite notecards, or recycled paper with a clear backside, and get on with it.