Hey there! Long time, no see.
I’ve been travelling, taking a break from writing, and following my own advice of giving myself some space and self care in settling back into my regular routine of work and creativity. I’m feeling back up to speed and am so thrilled about it.
I’m here with a short piece to serve as an inspiration for all those who feel the dread at notifications, pressure at read receipts, and shame at forgetting-to-reply-and then-it’s-too-late-and-it’s-awkward-to-text-now-and-I’m-the-worst-oh-my-God.
Living in this interconnected world is awesome. If I want to reach out to someone I never talked to in high school and congratulate them on what looks like a fucking banging catering business they’e created, I can totally do it — it’s in the realm of possibility. If I want to hit up a business I went to forever ago where I had the best donut ever — I can do that right now. If I want to find my long-lost crush from second grade who I used to play beanie babies with — I can probably find them somewhere on the net, and then find like 87 pictures of their recent vacation and 32 videos of their dog shedding. Like, whatever. We are so interconnected it’s ridiculous. And the possibilities have grown and grown and grown. But, we as humans are still the same. We still have about the same social capabilities and attention as before, even though the possibilities are endless. So, a lot of the opportunities we have for communication and connectedness now can feel a little… overwhelming.
I am old enough to remember when cell phones first became a thing (I feel so grateful I can understand the impenetrable Nokia phones with SNAKE on them jokes, whew, being old is awesome). And I remember the feeling I had of, “Wow, I can talk to anyone I want and now my mom can’t listen in like she did on the damn home phone.” And after they did away with paying per text message (insane!) I also remember this one night where I got into texting a few friends for the first time about this awesome night we had together — and it got very stressful, very fast. This could have been because back then, they grouped texts not by conversation, but by date and time (old.) –but it was more like, “Oh my goodness, my phone just keeps going off and going off and there’s so many messages to answer and so much being said to keep up with and it’s hard to follow all this at once and also I want to go to sleep but feel the need to just…keep…replying…”
That’s a lot! There’s a lot of pressure with texting, and now you have that bleeding over into IMs, and DMs, and notifications, and requests, and private chats, and group chats, and transactions, and emails, and group projects, and pictures, and videos, and reaction videos, and voicemails, and voice messages, and stories, and streams, and 800 apps — like, holy crap. That’s a lot. No wonder it’s anxiety-provoking.
I’ve spoken before about my zeal for journaling as something helpful for processing emotions and thoughts. I also think it’s important to add some variety into activities so you don’t get focused into stressful bite-sized interactions and opportunities. So this feels like a natural evolution of this: one of the best things I’ve gotten into for managing stress while not totally isolating myself from others to do so is to send mail.
Now I know, I know, this is a really old-person suggestion. Bear with me.
Letter writing combines the slow, the methodical, the ritualistic, with the processing and emotional wellness-promotion of journaling, and the social connectedness of having a close and intimate conversation with a loved one or best friend. It checks the box of quality time and vulnerability with a peer, as well as gift-giving in a way: you are sharing a tangible and well-thought-out piece of yourself with someone who may be very far away with you, even.
It consistently amazes me that I can pay, now, $0.58, and have a letter that was in my hands be sent across the country (and it’s a big ass country, I would know) and land, well-received, in someone else’s hands. How freaking amazing is that!!! Less than a dollar to burden someone with the interpretation of my handwriting feels like a steal. I love the post office.
Even more amazingly, I have met my suggestion of exchanging snail mail — often said exasperatedly in conversation where I am once again apologizing for my flakiness in responding to texts — with much positive affirmation and even excitement from the folks I’ve suggested it to. It usually goes like, “I’m terribly sorry, I am really bad at keeping up with texts, but absolutely love talking with you and totally want to be in touch. Can I send you a letter?!” And even though folks around our age are pretty incredulous at such an outdated offer, I’ve had it well received and then some: I get the address deets, and send a cute postcard, or regular card (you know, with an envelope) chock full of updates and kind words. And you know what? They write back.
There’s something to be said about sending a piece of paper with writing on it across the country. It feels intimate, rustic, and most of all, exciting. How great it feels, to head down and out to get the mail daily, and expecting something more than just bills and spam! It’s kind of like passing notes in class, except some old person isn’t going to yell at me if I get caught. Maybe.
But in the same, currently-very-trendy 90’s-esque way, I can customize what I’m writing, and make it fun for both me and my recipient, with gel pens if I want (with the glitter!) or watercolor markers, or stickers or stamps. Hell, I can even buy star wars droid stamps and throw them on the envelope, just to show everyone I mean business. Or put “LOVE” stamps on hate mail. (You think I’m joking). Or throw a friendship bracelet in the envelope.
Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Sure Sara, that’s all well and good, but what if I don’t have someone to write to?” Great thought, also-past-me. Here I might kindly direct you to the penpals subreddit, where folks want to meet other folks to write to. Here I offer the caveat that it’s probably better to have strangers send you mail to a cheap PO box rather than to a home address. But do you.
I love sending mail. I love writing to people I care about, processing my own life since we’ve last written, putting pen on paper, drawing, taking risks, jamming sexuality-themed stickers into the envelopes. I love sending something off and fantasizing about the recipient’s joy at seeing it in the mailbox. I love going downstairs and seeing a thick envelope shoved between two insurance envelopes. I love going to the post office and buying silly stamps. I love hearing, in uninterrupted detail, someone’s thoughts and feelings they saw fit to share with me. And in whatever medium they choose to share it with me! (I have one friend who exclusively sends me medieval-art-themed postcards with witty one-liners written overtop the art. Tells you a lot about a person.)
It feels very intimate and connecting. And nowhere near as stressful as having to respond to someone soon because they saw me give a read receipt. Highly recommend you give it a shot.