Hi friends! Today I want to write about something very, very important to me: snail mail. “But this newsletter is about self-help and being a better person. What does snail mail have to do with that?” EVERYTHING. Well, maybe not everything, but a lot.
First, if you haven’t heard, the United States Postal Service (USPS) is in trouble. I’m not going to get into the details here because honestly, I don’t know if I can really write about it without having a meltdown. I will, however, give you some resources to learn about it and about what you can do.
First, this Instagram post is totally useless for the visually impaired but for those of you who like to read words on brightly colored squares, flip through this post:
You can also see this post on the Slacktivist website (and not Instagram) at this link.
This article from The Atlantic is from April 2020 and this article on What We’ll Lose If We Lose the Post Office is from just last week. This article, The U.S. Postal Service is More Vital Than Ever, also offers audio transcription. At the very least, check out the Top 13 Facts You Should Know About the USPS.
What I want to talk about is the importance of snail mail on the personal and interpersonal level.
When I was in elementary school, we used to get pamphlets for companies(?) that, if you sent them a dollar, your address, and filled out a survey, they would send you the name and address of someone to be your pen pal. I was a 10-year-old girl, so they’d send me the names and addresses of other girls around my age from the countries I checked off. At one time, I had pen pals in Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, the Philippines, and Japan. (You can imagine my excitement when the internet came around in my late teens.)
I come from a line of snail mail writing women. Dozens upon dozens of Christmas cards were sent each year. I still send almost 150 holiday cards, though the list has gotten shorter this year because the racists I’m related to have really outed themselves.
Anyway! That’s my background. I want to tell you what you can get out of writing snail mail.
Note: I still write a lot of snail mail. If you become a Super Supporter of this newsletter, I’ll send a handwritten thank you note. Recently, Nicole and I organized my sticker collection:
Snail mail isn’t as easy as an email or a text or a direct message or social media comment or hitting a like button. You have to have stamps and stationery or at the very least, a postcard or paper and an envelope. You have to ask for someone’s mailing address. You have to take time and use effort to sit your ass down to write a few sentences and focus on doing a thing for someone else and not yourself and maybe not the person you’re sleeping with or maybe not even anyone who can do anything for you. You have to actually get the letter in the mail. Snail mail isn’t as easy as electronic communication, but the impact you can get for the small amount of effort is totally worth it.
I’m not just talking about romantic relationships, though a love letter can go a long way. As I mentioned, snail mail takes time and effort. It could be a little or it could be a lot. Do you want to be the favorite grandchild? Write a card to your grandparents. Trust me. And snail mail is a great way to maintain relationships as well. I graduated from college almost 20 years ago. One of my dearest friends has moved around to many different countries in this time and we hardly ever emailed but I have a stack of cards from him from Kenya, Australia, Germany, Philadelphia, and New York.
I also feel like snail mail can allow for a level of intimacy that some people aren’t comfortable with verbalizing or sharing electronically. Assuming you’re writing to someone you trust, it’s unlikely that the contents of the notes you write are going to be shared.
I still regularly write love letters to my wife, though. Fellas, take note.
I never got into journaling but I think I get some of the same benefits when I write letters to friends. I can share feelings (written down) and send them off into the world where I know they will be heard (read) and kept safe. And my friends and loved ones can do the same with me.
I do not think I can put into words the satisfaction I get when someone says, “Your postcard arrived just when I needed it. I was having a horrible day but then your card arrived and I smiled.” I also have some people in my life who are extreme introverts and I’ve heard from them or from people who live with them that the snail mail I send is therapeutic for them.
Somewhat related, one of my best friends and I write to each other almost weekly. The snail mail often crosses like ships in the night, and it’s usually not a correspondence situation where one letter is an answer to the other. Sending snail mail is our love language and getting a postcard anywhere from one to four times a month, especially when things in my life are extra hard, has made the difference between me being depressed and me sinking deeply into depression. Sometimes it would just be a postcard that says, “LOL BUTTS” and I don’t care, it is the best. Especially since I know someone spent 35 cents to send a postcard that just said that.
Many people can’t name the last time they received something in the mail that wasn’t junk, a bill, or something they ordered online. Someone younger than 80 years old writing mail can seem like a bit of a unicorn. The accessories, though, can’t be beat. I have thousands of stickers, I have multi-color pens, I HAVE SEALS AND SEALING WAX. I find it fun and crafty in a way that means I’m not making something and then it sits around our apartment. I send it off to sit in someone else’s home!
The person you write to doesn’t have to be far. They can live in the same town as you!
I never require people to write back. Sending snail mail is something I do without expectations of reciprocation. It’s cool when someone writes back, but I never ask them to. Snail mail should never feel like an obligation.
We’re not in a Jane Austen novel (thank god). Snail mail doesn’t have to be lengthy nor do you even have to write anything of substance. Nicole wrote a postcard to a friend the other day that had a weird animal fact on it that we Googled beforehand. Our friend loved it.
For people we want to send birthday cards to, we usually put their birthdays on our Google calendars with a reminder 2 weeks ahead of time so that the cards arrive on time. I’ve not yet perfected sending birthday cards every time, but having the reminder helps!
Don’t know where to start? Think about writing some thank you letters. I absolutely adore this book: The Thank-You Project: Cultivating Happiness One Letter of Gratitude at a Time by Nancy Davis Kho.
I could probably fill a whole book on the power of snail mail as a way of connecting and creating community, as an avenue for self-care, and as an integral tool to relationship building. And maybe you’re interested in writing mail beyond the people you know personally, so I wanted to share a few resources:
Prison pen pals are still totally a thing! You can Google and get all kinds of results for how to find a prison pen pal. What I want to share specifically is this article on Vice.com on How to Find an Incarcerated LGBTQ Pen Pal—and Why You Should with the link to the pen pal org here: Black and Pink.
I don’t know too much about Letters Against Depression but I think it’s a great idea.
You can write letters to senior citizens and oh oh oh my heart just grew three sizes!
The Letter Project is a nonprofit that helps women write encouraging letters to girls and other women who need it. It is a faith-based org and I have Opinions™ but some of you might be into it!
I’ve been really hesitant to be active on reddit but the Random Acts of Cards subreddit is just soooo lovely and Nicole pointed out to me that people thank each other and they track it and then there are little notifications like “so and so got 100 thank yous!” and I cry.
I used to be obsessed with PostSecret and I am amazed to find that it is still around. The idea is that you write your secret on a postcard and mail it. You do not sign your name or identify yourself. It will be shared as part of the massive ongoing art project. You can also read other people’s secrets. I never shared a secret myself because one of the results of being an avid snail mail writer is that many people know my handwriting.
Postcrossing seems pretty cool! You write a postcard to someone and you get a postcard from someone entirely different!
Letters to Strangers has a mental health focus for youth and it looks really wonderful.
Like I said, snail mail is my love language. It feels good to do a small thing for no other reason than to give someone a bit of joy. If you want to send me some snail mail, you can find me at P.O. Box 21481, Oakland, CA 94620-1481.
That’s it for this week! If you enjoy this newsletter, feel free to subscribe, forward it to a friend, and/or give me a tip!