By Serena Lin
Writer’s note: In order to better build the reading experience, the writer suggests listening to “Letters” by Alexandre Desplat while reading.
Just last night, I ran down the hallway giggling after slipping a note under a friend’s door in an undisclosed dorm (I don’t want to out him in case his date reads this), wishing him good luck on a first date.
Personally, I love making and receiving these. After a long day, it felt nice to be excited about something and reminded me of my love for small surprises with personal touches. In fact, these tend to put me in awe even more than typical birthday presents and holiday cards. Their unexpectedness swings in their favor, and the hustle and bustle of celebrations don’t get in the way of appreciating them.
At the beginning of this school year, I unpacked my boxes to find a card that had been left unopened from the past spring quarter. I am a peculiar type of person who usually chooses not to even read cards because of their often predictable content. As a result, this card had become my victim for the past three months. Luckily for the card, my mood had shifted towards it, and I eagerly opened the card now.
The card read nicely, filled with words of encouragement from an old mentor. However, the timing really made it stand out to me. At this point, I was still gearing up to take her place in leading the group where we had met, and this offered me encouragement to continue on.
True, messaging someone spontaneously can also demonstrate genuine care, but the act of handwriting takes this to the next level for me. Through seeing my mentor’s words on the page, her intentionality in writing and thinking about it showed through. If you’ve never written an extensive card or letter, I can tell you that the time investment often becomes quite surprising, especially when it’s not filled with trite, celebratory words like “Happy Birthday!” Let’s face it, most people now have their designated birthday message which often involve phrases used both sarcastically and seriously — “another year older, another year wiser.” By countering this trend, her specifically focused writing personally felt different and insightful. Not only that, but handwriting and its unique quality often make me feel like I can know someone better. In a world where typing has become the norm, I often become close friends with someone and rarely see their handwriting except through these occasions. As more handwritten things exchange themselves over the years, the familiarity begins to grow nostalgic and offers a different understanding of our relationship. I always love seeing the cards of my childhood friends, whose handwriting has remained relatively constant the past few years aside from some subtle shifts in character design.
In high school, I fell very much in love with this concept. To the surprise of my friends, my boyfriend and I wrote letters to each other every night for around two years. We also spent our nights messaging and Skyping, so these letters weren’t meant to keep up with each other since we were already doing that. Instead, it demonstrated that we thought about each other aside from the time we spent together. This often may seem implicit, but making it explicit honestly feels so satisfying. These letters filled up with random thoughts, often just with the sole purpose of opening a window to the writer’s mind. Ironically, when we moved our relationship to long-distance in college, we stopped writing letters. That’s the other thing: My favorite letters can always be brought along with me and allow me to peek into his mind at that very moment when he wrote the letter. Nowadays, messaging has become the norm for everything, and most people type as quickly as they read, making this form of written communication require much less commitment. That’s definitely not the case for letters that require the slow penning of each word. After this work, it often feels like giving part of yourself away. Also, since the writer does not get to keep a copy of it, the thoughts often remain only with the reader while the writer loses the ability to return the particular ideas as they fade with time. This additional effort just underscores the investment that the other party often forgets about.
As the holiday season rolls around, it’s easy to get consumed with gifts and card-writing, but also keep in mind that for those you really care about, a handwritten note can remind your loved ones how much you care, regardless of the season.
Contact Serena Lin at serenal ‘at’ stanford.edu.