At the end of January 2019 my world wide web walkabouts brought me to LetterMo.com.
February 2019 was Letter Writing Month. LetterMo.com is all about hand-writing and sending snail mail to pen pals near and far. As part of a wider movement that seeks to revive this art of letter writing, LetterMo facilitates connections with whom to begin a pen pal friendship. So far on the site I have 22 contacts with whom I can exchange mail.
A whole wide world of mail
Until my friend Mari linked me to LetterMo, I had no idea such a large traditional mail movement existed. I should have thought about that — Everything retro gets a resurgence in times of rapid technological progress.
When I asked my fellow LetterMo participants for other pen pal sites, they flooded me with suggestions (thanks, friends!). Here are some of the hundreds of sites out there:
www.thetoptens.com/pen-pal-websites/ (A round-up of top sites from one of the LetterMo Facebook group’s admins)
Post Crossing (more for swapping post cards than for regular pen pal relationships)
Swap Bot (more than just letters)
On my Facebook feed, I asked friends to message me their addresses if they wanted mail. LetterMo is flexible – “mail anyone” is the guideline. Your pen pals don’t have to be signed up for the challenge. I had 12 personal friends say “Hey! I want a letter!” When I asked friends if they wanted mail, it was in understanding that I would send them something for a nice little pick-me-up for them with no obligation to write back. On LetterMo, an exchange is the expectation.
On Mari’s suggestion, I built a tracking document of all the addresses, with columns to mark the outgoing and incoming pieces of mail. Organization is a fun thing for me as I am a data nerd at heart. Keeping it current is a chore sometimes but the record has already proven helpful. I take pictures of my letters and refer back to them so as not to repeat myself in subsequent mailings.
Another reason for record keeping is to track a particular piece of mail. When my first artistically-addressed envelope didn’t get to Mari quickly, I looked back at my records to estimate when it actually got to Philadelphia (local mail hub) for processing. Also, because I have photographic records as well, I could at least send her pictures if it was lost entirely. The envelope I sent Mari was heavily embellished, which made me worry it would not pass the United States Postal System’s muster. There’s a rumor that “unmachinable” envelopes can get tossed in the garbage by USPS. I was so worried my first attempt at “mail art” (as the kids on Pinterest call it) was going to be a big FAIL. It did get to Mari eventually. She says she’s including it in a mail journal! I’m so flattered.
For the month of February I managed to send out 28 pieces of mail (an average of 1 per day, which is what the LetterMo site encourages). Granted, some of those were postcards, which are easier to write and send than letters. Postcards are great ice breakers, though. When you’re writing to a stranger, it’s easier to just send a quick “Hello” at first.
About a week went by before I received any mail. In total in February I got about 19 pieces of mail. I am still receiving and sending this month (March 2019). Getting something in the post other than a bill or junk is always fun, but pulling out an actual letter addressed to you makes you feel like a kid again. When I realized I was sending that little spark of excitement to others, I just wanted to write more. It’s addictive, that spark!
Most of the mail I sent and received was standard. Note cards in regular envelopes. Some of the other LetterMo participants are creative whirlwinds, though. I received some breathtaking mail! One was an envelope filled with what is known as “ephemera” – paper embellishments to add to collages, envelopes and letters. You may recognize it as scrapbooking paraphernalia. Another was a semi “letter locked” note – folded almost like origami. Then just last week I received a letter book. It’s a mini scrapbook with a letter inside. It’s a work of art. I’d been drooling over them on Pinterest and then like magic, a LetterMo penpal sent me one! I was honored to get it. It obviously took so much time and creativity. And with it, my pen pal sent along a bag of tea! I’m going to drink it while I write her back.
One letter came with an authentic wax seal on it! I was so jazzed I made everyone in my family look at it and touch it. It was so beautiful, so traditional and lovely. I wondered if one day I’d get serious enough to add wax seals to my letter-writing endeavors. A few days later, a lady in my neighborhood posted a wax seal kit in the “free” group. I jumped at it! I picked up the brand new, 100% untouched kit later that day with my son. Once he saw what I dragged him along to get, he surprisingly was jazzed too! Apparently there are wax seals on the letters sent to Nintendo characters in the latest game, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. My son wants to recreate the invitations for fun or a possible future cosplay.
Stationery and pens
All of this leads me down a path of wanting beautiful stationery and handwriting. For a Christmas gift I received some actual fountain pens and brush pens, and I’ve been teaching myself how to use them with library books and work sheets. Earlier this year I also attended the Philadelphia Pen Show. I bought some paper. I met a few pen traders and one or two calligraphers, but with fountain pens there priced up to $10,000, I doubt pen collecting will be part of this writer’s journey.
A few years ago, a friend gave me some high-end stationery for my birthday. I discovered during LetterMo that it took the fountain pen ink very well. I also discovered I get attached to stationery. I have one of designer Brenda Walton’s “Juliana” cards left out of a set I bought 2 decades ago. Sending it out or saving it in some sort of stationery archive is my dilemma right now. I’ve been “Kondoing” my house over the past several years. Starting a stationery collection doesn’t seem like my kind of thing, but it’s been really hard for me to give out the last of this set. I also have 1 sheet and envelope left that is of a Hindu/Indian aesthetic; I don’t want to send it out because it’s so unique. Both of these things have been sitting in my cupboard for literally decades. That’s silly. I should use them and look for more breathtaking papers to share.
Instagram has a ton of accounts to follow. Beautiful envelopes, letters and stamps can fill your feed daily if you so choose. Start with the LetterMo and Paperpostie accounts and you can fall down your own rabbit hole of mail art. Pinterest will suck you in on a “mail art” search even if you’re not interested in mail art. It’s just a fascinating medium. Those arted-up addresses actually do make it through the post (sometimes extra postage is necessary).
As you may surmise, I am pretty hooked on snail mail writing at this point. I’ve always loved paper, pens and ink. Paper crafts have been one of my go-to stress busters. Scrapbooking and origami never pulled me in but I’ve always loved collage, coloring, and drawing. Lately I’ve gotten into bullet journaling too. Letter writing is an obvious segue, especially when combined with some envelope art. And, I am a “writer” am I not? Writers write.
Speaking of work titles and vocations… Another side effect of the letter writing is I’ve re-discovered writing for its own sake. As you know, I’ve been an infrequent blogger here on PurpleCar. I’d like to start posting more regularly again, even if I’m just shouting out into the darkness. I journal every morning; Blogging isn’t much different. I’m hoping more writing begets more fiction writing and more confidence in all creative areas. LetterMo may have just been the thing to bring me back to center again for good. Wish me luck.
More letters to come!
For those of you I haven’t written to yet, no fear! I’m getting there. Stay tuned.