Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Raising Funny Kids 18: The Art of Letter Writing

In an age of rapid-fire, efficiency-obsessed, typed-with-one-finger-on-a-tiny-keyboard communication, most young people have not been introduced to the fine art of letter writing. Instead, their idea of communication is often limited to school reports, quickly jotted down concepts on sticky notes, text messages, or status updates - few of which convey the correct structure, composition, punctuation, and/or epistolary formalities long since forgotten, but which were once the proud hallmark of handwritten sentiments. 

While the allure of email is ever present in our lives and notably one of the fastest ways to convey information to our bankers, professional colleagues, friends, and family members, there's nothing quite like receiving a handwritten note in the mail to brighten someone's day. In the same respect, sending a note to our friends and family is charmingly urbane. It reminds us that communication is just as much about how something is being conveyed as is what is being conveyed. 

It was a treat to see the kids writing letters, laughing, and imagining what others would enjoy reading as they sat and crafted their notes to friends and family. It was also an opportunity for me to share with them some of the formalities we were taught as kids that are no longer being presented at school. 

No doubt the most difficult aspect of writing a letter is knowing what you want to say. In this respect, invention precedes all writing and is the most difficult part of crafting a letter for it is a purely intellectual process which requires originality, talent, judgment, and information. 

Once you have something to say, you have to know how to say it, which takes a bit of skill. It's a noble thing to have great thoughts, but without the power to express them even the finest sentiments are lost. In an age when we're losing pictures and letters to easily deleted digital formats, handwritten letters are priceless momentos. Like photographs, they are snapshots of who we are at any given time during our lives. In this respect, letters are as priceless as they are personal. 

Letter writing is an artform that can communicate an extraordinary range of sentiments and can be adapted for many tastes and interests. In an email, "Hey" is a common salutation, whereas in a letter, it would feel out of place. While there's infinite variety of forms of salutations and complimentary closes from which to choose, nothing looks as elegant as a well-chosen phrase of courtesy, respect, or endearment at the beginning or end of a letter. It's like the cherry atop an ice cream sundae. 

Raising funny kids isn't just about teaching them to tell jokes, it's about emphasizing the importance of an incubation period for ideas and the organization of knowledge, and stressing the importance of communication in an era that often times must rely solely upon someone's written expression of thought to formulate an opinion. We may not recognize it, but many people do discriminate based on whether or not someone can write. Never has the written word been as visible and wide-reaching as it is with the Internet, when sharing thoughts have become faster than it ever has been before. 

When writing a letter there is a restraint induced by the feeling that a thousand eyes are peering over the writer's shoulder, scrutinizing every word. However, when writing via email, we naturally presume people will give us more leeway given the pangs of technology. In a global society, we rely on instant communication to get things done quickly, however, in personal relationships, we rely on each other, confiding things that pride or prudence compel us to withhold for fear of our thoughts being "plastered" all over the Internet.

In this respect, letter writing allows us to be ourselves, to chronicle who we are and the times in which we live. Nothing, historically speaking, is as revealing about an individual as a personal letter they wrote to someone else. 

While few of us have or make the time to send handwritten notes or cards, it is indeed a treat to receive one, to send one, and to pass along to future generations the notion that these things still matter, no matter how technologically advanced we become. 

No comments: