Blog Header: Enhappied - Noticings, sentence-strings, & explorations

of letterly matters

February 26, 2019

 

I suppose I was first drawn to the writing of letters on a day in childhood when my Japanese-American mother took me Little Tokyo to Kinokuniya Bookstore. I can see the bookstore so clearly in my mind. Stepping through the double glass doors, the cashier counters to the right, books and manga and magazines stretched out on countless displays down the center aisle- each one so tidy and balanced- and floor-to-ceiling bookshelves lining the entire perimeter of the vast space. And immediately to my left was my favorite place in the land of Kinokuniya. Aisles and shelves lined with beautifully packaged stationery sets, a rainbow palette of flat notebooks and binders and gel pens, sticker sets, origami paper, and all matter of office-related supplies.

 

As eager as I was to rush forward, I consciously slowed myself, afraid I would miss something. I carefully studied the delicate design of each stationery set, noting the matching envelopes and any accompanying stickers tucked into the cello packaging for an added delight. Knowing I would only be allowed to pick one or two things to take home as treasures, my eyes took them all in. As my eyes landed on each blank page, I imagined filling it with sentence-strings for one of my chums, carefully addressing the envelope, selecting a complimentary postage stamp, and watching my mama toss it into the postal box alongside the family bills as we drove through on our way to or from somewhere. Watching it slip into the postal box, I imagined my friends' faces as they opened their mailbox to discover something especially for them.

 

And while it may seem that it was my love of paper that first drew me to letters, it was something about the way the beautiful paper was not really for me, but rather something to be shared with another to brighten their day. It wasn't until I was a little older that I was able to better articulate what made this experience- the picking of paper and the writing of a letter- so special and significant to me. 

 

Letter writing has become to me synonymous with intentionality and thoughtfulness. To pen a letter means that the writer has intentionally retreated from the busyness of the day and created space in order to share, comfort, encourage, or dwell on another for some quiet moments. To receive a letter is to know that someone is thinking of you in a tangible way. While "thinking of someone" can so often be invisible or unfelt, a letter folds the thoughtfulness there into a physical thing to be experienced. Letters are unobtrusive and can be read immediately or tucked away for a moment a little less tired or perhaps one that can use a little extra light. Its contents can be read as time and energy permit, all at once or in increments. It requires no immediate response or action from its reader nor does it ask anything of them in return, and it carries with it the potential to bring new warmth each time it is remembered or re-read.

 

It is for these reasons (and many more) that I believe in the handwritten note, the power of words turning to action, and the meaningful impact of written affirmation. So, when I first learned of International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo, for short), I knew I wanted to participate and put my long-rooted passion into practice.

 

InCoWriMo

 

The InCoWriMo challenge is a call to people around the world to hand-write a letter, card, note, or postcard, and mail or deliver one each day of the month of February. Originally inspired by National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in which participants commit to write a novel in one month, InCoWriMo participants are encouraged to set aside a little time each day to intentionally pen a letter to a friend or stranger. The only parameters are that the letter must be handwritten (no computers, typewriters, emails, or texts), and InCoWriMo goes the extra mile to facilitate an annual address exchange for letterly souls looking for new pen pals.

 

Beginnings

 

February started off with me quite eager, pen in hand and poised to begin. I had a handful of recipients in mind, but for the most part had planned to wing it. With each new day, I would take a moment to sit a spell and see who came to mind. I'd then pick out the perfect card for said individual, pen a letter, and pop it in the mail.

 

In my excitement, I created a progress calendar GIF template for fellow snail mailers posting to the #InCoWriMo and #InCoWriMo2019 hashtags. IGers could screen capture the template, add a GIF for each day they snail mailed, and post it to their Stories to share their progress.

 

Within the first 12 days, I seemed to be settling into a rhythm and ritual of daily letter writing. I happily made a dent in my extensive greeting card stash, dwelling on kindreds and engaging with fellow letter writers through IG. Yet I began to notice that some days were easier than others simply due to the fact that penning a letter is always a personal endeavor and based on what each day held, there were some when I felt more inspired and others when I felt less so depending on my mood or other outside stressors.

 

Middles

 

Despite my resolve, it was around Day 15 when I found myself struggling to put the same level of energy into my letters as I had at the onset of the challenge. I recognized that winging it each day wasn't working for me and that a list of recipients and some creative ideas would spur me on. I pulled out a lined notebook and jotted down names that had been floating in my mind the last several weeks as well as well as some new ones. Being a visual person, I immediately felt the pressure begin to ebb away simply by having a list in front of me.

In an effort to shift back to the art of letter writing, I took break to illustrate an art print with letter writing ideas and invited fellow InCoWriMo-ers to download it in the hopes that it would spur us all on through the last 8 days (and for future letter-writing endeavors). Having a chance to pause and refocus on the joy of letter writing through a different medium reinvigorated me. {Snag your Letterly Matters art print.}
 

Endings and next times

 

And now as InCoWriMo draws to a close and with only a few letters left to send, I find myself reflecting back on the experience and the practice of penning a letter everyday. Here are a few things that I learned along the way as well as some takeaways I look forward to implementing next year:

 

Planning ahead keeps momentum steady

 

A little planning minimizes the natural feeling of overwhelm when participating in any sort of daily challenge. Make a list of letter recipients ahead of time, jotting down a few things you wish to share or ask. When it comes time to pen your letter, you already have a starting point to help you avoid feeling pressured to simply "get something out."

 

Spice up your snail mailing

 

Brainstorm creative ideas for adding a little something extra to your outgoing mail. Compile some letter writing prompts (snag your Letterly Matters art prompt print), brainstorm goodies that can be easily tucked into a letter as an extra surprise, or spend a few extra minutes embellishing your envelopes with rubber stamps, stickers, or drawings.

 

Consider signing up with InCoWriMo's address exchange, More Love Letters, or another pen pal program or hashtag (#penpalswanted). There's something exciting about meeting someone new, learning about them through the written word, and sharing your thoughts with someone far away.

 

Special somethings like these allow us to be more intentional with every letter and therefore, enjoy the process all the more.

 

Engage in the letter writing community

 

Do a little research to see if there are any local letter writing societies or group meet-ups where you can join fellow letter writers and enjoy penning letters side by side.

 

Spend a little time each day to pop into the InCoWriMo hashtags and engage with fellow letter writers. Participating in a daily challenge can feel a bit lonely and as with any kind of daily practice, it's only natural that it can feel like a chore if you're already having a rough day. Engaging with others who are going through the same experience is not only a fun way to keep to your resolve and stay accountable, but also to meet new people who share a love of snail mail and intentional acts of kindness. There is so much inspiration, positive energy, and shared experience to be found in the hashtag feeds as you soak up the vast creativity to be found in envelope art, handwriting, stationery, and postage stamps.

 

Cheers to everyone who participated in InCoWriMo this year. When it comes to letterly matters, every letter matters.

 

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