Please Write! Confessions of a Lousy Pen Pal

If I were to grade myself as a pen pal, I’d give myself a C-. Honestly, that’s being generous. I have such good intentions. I cherish each letter I receive, pore over it, then dutifully log it into my dedicated Circa notebook. Weeks, or even months, pass before I sit down to pen my reply. What the hell?!

Part of the problem is that I feel like I have to, or should, write long newsy letters because that’s what I receive. If I don’t have time to do that, I write nothing. Dumb. Surely a nice card or a short note would do in a pinch. But my all-or-nothing brain thinks that it’s better to hold out until I can get a handful of pages written. Even if that means waiting. And waiting.

It’s no wonder, given my issues, that I was immediately drawn to the vintage postcards I came upon at a recent antique show. One vendor had so many postcards…literally thousands of them…that I had no idea what to hone in on. Cats? My hometown? New York State attractions? Owls? Then my eyes fell on the “Please Write” section. BINGO.

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Some postcards feature polite verse, while others get straight to the point. “WRITE! I’m tired waiting for you to write.” Both provide a much needed nudge to slow-poke letter writers like myself. “It’s not how you write, but the words you indite…” (Is “indite” a word?) “Makes me anxious your writing to see.” Forget about writing the perfect letter. Just write. A few pages. A few paragraphs. A few sentences.

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I found and purchased a couple more gems, as reminders to myself. The vintage rhymes not so subtly admonish the recipient to sit down and write. Now. Tonight. They pull no punches.

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On the back of the 1916 Dutch girl postcard is a handwritten message that made me laugh. In case you can’t quite make it out, I’ll transcribe it here…

Lost! Strayed! or Stolen! Mabel Kritzmacher. Any information regarding her whereabouts will gladly be received by her friend Florence E. Senn, 32 First St, Newark, NJ 

Then…

Hello! Mabel. Thought I’d remind you that I’m still living. Why don’t you come over or write? Write soon. F.E.S.

I love Florence for her comical and direct approach. Florence wants a return response and Mabel is dragging her heels. This postcard is 101 years old but the plea penciled here never goes out of date. We crave mail, and we want it now. Real mail lights up a day more than any text or Facebook post or email. Real mail is a treasure.

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I’m using InCoWriMo—International Correspondence Writing Month— and the kick in the pants from these postcards, to break my letter writing procrastination—this belief that I need a large block of letter writing time and the perfect setting. Yesterday’s mail brought me two postcards and one note from three InCoWriMo participants, which thrilled me. As our chicken dinner roasted, I sat at my desk and wrote my replies, rather than getting sucked into CNN or falling down a Twitter rabbit hole. I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve been “Lost! Strayed! or Stolen!”

How will I improve my letter writing turnaround time? If a day or week looks particularly busy, I’ll turn some of my morning journaling time into letter writing time. I’ll make letter writing appointments with myself in my Hobonichi planner as I tend to honor the commitments I’ve written down. I’ll use random pockets of time to write postcards or quick notes. I’ll back away from social media and the news a bit (better for my mental health, anyway). Sending and receiving handwritten mail is important to me. It’s about time that I made it more of a priority. I owe that much to my loyal pen pals and to the new ones I’m meeting through InCoWriMo. I owe that to myself.

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Postcards look very different these days. I bought these stunning “Afghan Girl” notes and postcards after going to Steve McCurry’s photography exhibit at our local art museum and love using them. It takes just a little time to dash off some thoughts or a couple of paragraphs. There’s something satisfying about dropping a few pieces of mail into the mailbox on the way to work—forging a connection with a new acquaintance, or strengthening the ties to friends you’ve known for years.

And so I will write. This very, very night.

Added later: I did it!

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