Friday, August 24, 2012

Great essay on letter writing

Over at the Huffington Post, Elisabeth Egan writes about writing letters to her daughter at camp.

It's a great little piece! Check it out.

Here's a short excerpt:

"I'm a ferocious communicator, firing off texts, e-mails and tweets at all hours, but I'd forgotten how much I love the ritual of collecting my thoughts and writing them down, in pen."
-- Elisabeth Egan

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writing Letters

Last week, I asked you why you write letters, and I received several thoughtful comments.

It is a curious thing, is it not, to write letters in the age of the Internet. And curiouser, still, are we who use pen and ink to hand-write our heartfelt words onto pieces of paper that are bundled up and dropped into boxes to be picked up and hand-delivered a block or a world away. While we are using almost-primitive communication skills, a robot has been sent to another planet, where it is roaming the surface in search of signs of life. All the while, we sit here on Earth, scratching words onto wood pulp.

Some people might say that our hobby, our habit, our passion is one that is stuck in the past, that we are clinging to the old ways, unwilling to let go of 19th and 20th century lifestyles. And, I'm sure many letter writers are like me and have a fondness for old fashioned manners, an interest in history, a fancy for days gone by.

Yet, I think the real reason we write letters is our conviction in the power of reaching out to other human beings today and our belief in a future that will cherish what we create.

Last weekend, I had the opportunity to look, page by page, through my late grandmother's scrapbook. In it, she had carefully glued pictures and articles and mementos of the 1930s and 1940s. There among the cherished items are letters that she and my grandfather received when they were first married, including a letter from my great-grandmother, expressing her surprise at hearing the news of the wedding and welcoming my grandmother into the family.

I'm not a Luddite or a technophobe. I use the Internet, email and cell phone every day. When that connection is down for one reason or another, I feel lost, unable to stop my brain from thinking, "I'll just look that up online."

And, yet, I know that many "conversations" I've had via email are gone, destroyed on an old harddrive or deleted in a computer crash. Things that I've written, comments that I've made electronically will never be seen again. If I sent congratulations to someone via email, no one in the future will ever read those words.

Somehow, words handwritten in ink on paper in 2012 bridge two worlds that are drifting further and further apart. And, I find a commonality with both when I write a letter and drop it in the mailbox or open the mailbox and find a card or a letter from someone else out there in the world, reaching out to me and the future with their words.

I think that's at least one of the reasons why we continue to write letters.

(Clip art courtesy of

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Why do you write?

I'm curious.

Why do you write letters? Why do you choose snail mail? Why do you prefer written correspondence?

I'd love to hear what drives you to put pen to paper. Leave a comment, write a letter or send a postcard (my address in the column at left). Share your enthusiasm with the rest of us penpallers.

(Clipart courtesy of

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Text-speak Not Really All That New

Today's texters are notorious for shortening conversations and sentences into just a few letters.

"What's going on?" has been transformed into "sup?" (short for "What's up?")

"Oh, not much" becomes simply "nm."

"I don't know" is "idk."

But, one acronym that has made it into everyday speech is "OMG," standing for "Oh My God," or for the more demure "Oh My Gosh" or "Oh My Goodness."

It's long amused me that the younger generation thinks they invented such shortcuts. Back in the 1970s, penpal letters often had "SWAK" (Sealed With A Kiss) or "WBS" (Write Back Soon) scrawled on the back of the envelope. I remember longer strings of letters that the writer giggled at when writing, wondering if the recipient would be able to decipher the somewhat coded message. I specifically remember "SWALCAKWS," which, of course, means "Sealed With A Lick Cause A Kiss Won't Stick."
Sir Winston Churchill

Ha! Today's texters had nothing on us!

As it turns out, we weren't exactly original either. According to recent news reports, the acronym "OMG" was first used in 1917 by Admiral John Arbuthnot Fisher. He was writing to Winston Churchill (who later became Britain's Prime Minister) during World War I.

George Mason University's History News Network credits the Oxford English Dictionary as having discovered the letter and usage of "OMG" in a book published by Fisher in 1919.

Admiral John Fisher
At the end of a letter complaining about the newspapers' coverage of the war, Fisher wrote:

"I hear that a new order of Knighthood is on the tapis—O.M.G. (Oh! My God!)—Shower it on the Admiralty!"
It is explained that he was making a joke, referring to the various recognitions that could be bestowed on people, such as O.B.E. (Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire) or O.M. (The Order of Merit). (And, some research shows that the phrase "on the tapis" means "on the table" or "under consideration.")

You can read the entire letter at the Letters of Note on Twitter.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Stamps of our Ancestors

One of my other hobbies/interests is genealogy. I've been tracing my family tree since I was a teenager, taking some extended breaks every now and then.

An interesting section on the Smithsonian National Postal Museum site is the "Collecting Ancestral Homelands" stamp collecting page. Individuals can tell their story (in 200 words or less), and their family's history will be posted along with a stamp.

As a typical American, I have a variety of "ancestral homelands," but the one I've visited is what is now called the Czech Republic. My great-grandparents came from that area in the early 1900s. Somewhere I have stamps that were on letters sent from Czechoslovakia.

What an interesting concept at the National Postal Museum!

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Letter Writing Topics

Do current events work their way into your letter writing? Have you followed any of the 2012 Summer Olympics activities? Do you have penpals in any of the countries your homeland competes against? Have you been discussing the games?

For the most part, I believe in keeping correspondence nice and non-controversial. I know that long-time penfriends might choose to add a little more debate into their letters, but for less-familiar relationships, I think the letter writer should remain aware of the feelings of their penpal.

At the same time, I think current events add depth and interest to a letter. So, from my perspective, writing about watching the Olympics and your favorite sport is OK; bragging about your country beating their country may be going over the line a little.

What do you think?

Monday, August 6, 2012

New letter writing blogs!

I'm always excited to find a new letter writing blog! Sometimes, the blogs may have been online for a while, but they're new to me.

Today, I found Penpals Corner from Norway and My Air-Mail! from Mexico. What fun to see what letter writers around the world have to say!

Stop by their blogs for a visit!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Dance Stamps

Last Saturday, the U.S. Postal Service introduced a new set of Forever stamps honoring four influential choreographers who changed the art of dance in this country and around the world: Isadora Duncan, José Limón, Katherine Dunham and Bob Fosse.

According to the U.S.P.S. website, the Innovative Choreographer stamps feature:

Isadora Duncan (1877-1927) Dancer, adventurer, revolutionary and ardent defender of the poetic spirit, Duncan has been one of the most enduring influences on contemporary culture. Virtually single-handedly, Duncan restored dance to a high place among the arts. Breaking with convention, she traced the art of dance back to its roots as a sacred art. Duncan is credited with inventing what later came to be known as Modern Dance. The image on the stamp reflects Duncan’s interest in classical Greek dance.

José Limón (1908-1972) José Limón was born in Culiacán, Mexico. At age 7, he moved to the United States, where he later studied with Doris Humphrey and Charles Weidman and danced with their company (1930-1940). He established his own company in 1947, with Humphrey as artistic director. The company toured worldwide during Limón’s life and remained active after his death. On the stamp image, Limón is shown in a performance pose.

Katherine Dunham (1909-2006) Katherine Dunham became one of the first African-American women to attend the University of Chicago, where she earned a doctoral degree in anthropology. She was a pioneer in the use of folk and ethnic choreography and one of the founders of the anthropological dance movement. She is credited for bringing Caribbean and African influences to a European-dominated dance world. On the stamp image, Dunham is shown in a pose from her critically acclaimed ballet “L’Ag’Ya.”

Bob Fosse (1927-1987) Bob Fosse was one of the 20th century’s great choreographers. As an artist, Fosse was known for his thoroughly modern style, a signature one could never mistake for anyone else’s. Snapping fingers are omnipresent, so are rakishly tilted bowler hats. Both hip and shoulder rolls appear frequently, as do backward exits. Swiveling hips and strutting predominate, as do white-gloved, single-handed gestures. The image on the stamp portrays Fosse on the set of “Sweet Charity.”

For more information, see the U.S.P.S. website.
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