34 Comments
May 18, 2023Liked by Mark Dykeman

I’d be delighted to correspond with ppl via post again.

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Great newsletter! When the pandemic began in 2020 I started mailing postcards to friends. Often these cards had my artwork on them. I still mail postcards now. Perhaps at less volume than I did during the lockdown days.

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Mark, this is wonderful - what a terrific idea!

I used to have a couple of penpals, and I treasured our correspondence. One early correspondent was a girl I'd met on holiday, and we wrote to each other for years - we became firm friends, and I really treasured that friendship. My first boyfriend - we were twelve! - would write to me from boarding school. I'd get a four-page letter every single week, which I would struggle to respond to at such length and regularity. Talk about pressure... 🙄 And when I was a teenager we each had either a French or German penfriend from one of the twin towns of the town we went to school in. Excellent language practice! I didn't have anything in common with my German penfriend but we still found plenty to write about, so that was interesting from a social perspective as a well as a language one.

Gosh, I've really enjoyed remembering this stuff - thank you for making me thinking about it!

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Four page letters per week! That IS pressure!

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Yup! Some context: he would write his letters in 'prep' at boarding school, which is when all the boys would do their homework. They were not allowed to leave the classroom until the timed session had ended, and he was pretty bright, so would always have time to spare once he'd finished his work. Lucky me...! 🤣

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I want to do this; I miss fun mail (your latest mail to me not included). Great post ☺️

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Love the handwritten letter. For the right person, prison pen pal exchanges are also a great (and still very existent and appreciated) outlet for this.

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May 17, 2023Liked by Mark Dykeman

Im hopeless when it comes to real mail... I can hardly keep up with emails & texts & Substack notes... sigh!

Mike’s handwriting is fantastic, by the way!

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I agree with you on keeping up with emails and Substack notes. Sometimes I'm two weeks behind.

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My cousins and I (three girls, born six weeks apart) wrote letters for years! I still have most of them, a bundle dating from probably age 8 or so through age 14, when my parents finally got the internet at our house (it was 2006). Now, we write emails, the three of us just moving our gel pen updates to email. I have every one of those too. I have loved this relationship, and writing to one another makes things real.

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Interesting thing, when you interviewed me, one of my uncles read it and I was informed it made him a little sad about the decline of physical mail. So I've been meaning to send an actual snail mail letter to him for a while. My handwriting is bad though so I'm going to type it.

Pen pals always seemed like a thing that happened on TV and not in real life, never knew anyone who even had a pen pal. Must be too young for it.

I don't often send social emails, tend to either call or text. With my friends it feels like I have to be the one to start things or we go too long without talking. Wish I was geographically closer to them.

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Ha, that's good. I have always thought of missives as being lengthy or even formal or official. And yes, in our day circle-strike cancellations can be collected by doing that but no one in 1861 would have been doing that. It is a mystery worthy of some kind of narrative, I imagine.

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I love that you used to exchange audio and video cassettes in addition to letters! I was matched up with my childhood pen pal by a shared birthday, but the more we got to know each other, the more we realized we had in common- a sister the same age, a brother the same age, living in a rural, farm town (me in Indiana, her in Wisconsin). Our families eventually planned a weekend trip and we all got to meet each other.

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What a great story! I actually met one of my long time correspondents in person twice (maybe a third time, not 100% sure) and I enjoyed that although we eventually drifted apparent. Sadly, he passed away a few years ago and we had lost contact, so there's some regret there.

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May 17, 2023·edited May 17, 2023Liked by Mark Dykeman

Oh I'm so sorry to hear that. I've also lost touched with Jill. Once I abandoned the Facebook ship, a lot of those early friendships didn't fully transition into my present. I'm realizing I'd like to find a way to remedy that...without having to jump back into Facebook 🤍

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Oh, Facebook.

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There is a friend I have who I met on the internet, but we both decided to get off of social media at the same time, so we started writing each other letters. He's in California, I'm in Maine. We only send them a few times a year, but I love receiving them so much (also he's a great artist and draws incredible things on the envelope -- I can't reciprocate in that department). I find I really love the slowness of it. And I miss the more frequent letters of my teenage years. A lot of me becoming a writer was writing letters to my friends, telling them a story that I hope made them laugh.

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Sounds quite wonderful!

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In my teens I had a pen pal who lived in eastern Canada, and I lived in western NY. She had the most beautiful handwriting I'd ever seen. I don't remember how we got matched up, possibly through Girl Scouts. I think our correspondence ended with our high school graduations. It felt so exotic to write to someone in another country, and I loved writing her. I came from a family of letter writers on my mom's side. I had regular correspondence with her mother (my grandmother) and one of her aunts (my great aunt). After I moved away from home, my mom also wrote to me often. I've saved some of their letters--you're motivating me to dig them out.

Sending greeting cards has been a constant part of my life since I was a child. In the olden days, it was expected to send and receive them regularly. I'm one of the earliest members of the Hallmark Rewards program. They even sent me a thank-you card (naturally) on the program's 25th anniversary. I still USPS-mail a couple hundred cards a year (from me or from me and my husband) to family and friends for birthdays, anniversaries, weddings, babies, sympathy, thank you, graduation, congratulations, and holidays like Christmas. Every year I get compliments on our 2-page annual holiday letter, which we print and include in our snail-mail Christmas cards.

When I moved to my current city, I left behind a good friend who sent postcards to remind members of the next meeting of her writing group, which I was part of. After I left town, she and I started sending postcards to each other and have kept it up for 30 years, even after email came along.

I still have some samples of my handwriting over the years, and it's interesting to see how it's evolved. I mourn the fact that handwriting is no longer taught in schools. There is a BIG difference between writing by hand versus typewriters (which are having a comeback) and computers. I think differently when I write by hand. It also feels more personal.

Thanks for the wonderful question!

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Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories Mary Anne! We do a family letter every Christmas as well, although I keep it to one page.

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I exchanged letters with a fellow writer that has since moved to a different platform. It took forever (same pesky border issues), but was really fun to do. He very diplomatically described my handwriting as "a challenge," and in turn, I received 2 pages of the graceful penmanship I'd ever read.

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Love the bit about challenging handwriting! The diminished role of handwriting is probably one of the reasons why the paper letter is dying off, although they could be printed I suppose. Maybe our resident Millenial, Alison, will weigh in.

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Handwriting is useless! Jk but yes. Most of us don’t physically write much anymore, even as much as we used to, and that degrades the skill overall.

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Almost as good as reciting the name Beetlejuice!

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There are times when I can't even read my own handwriting. He was being kind. lol.

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Everyone seems to have handwriting issues these days. We don't ever need to use it. The only time I use it is when I'm writing a paper check or signing my signature on the debit/credit card machine. With the advent of computers, there is no need to hand-write anything.

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Love this. So romantic. It makes me think of the book of Henry Miller’s and Anais Nin’s letters to each other, which I devoured as a teen and I can’t imagine that we’d now publish a book of some author’s emails. Like no.

I sometimes send mail to my old friends in Uganda, usually a letter plus something I think they will like from the states but it’s an expensive gamble. Usually the shipping costs more than the item and it take months to arrive and sometimes never arrives.

But I like it when it does arrive. Makes everyone happy.

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Glad you liked it!

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Liked this a lot - there's been a lot lost in the decline of postal correspondence. I recently found a box of letters from my grandmother in the 1970s and again various ones from university friends who went abroad immediately after graduation. The amazing thing is that I must have responded, but I have no recollection of doing so! But there's something about the way writing a post (especially by hand) requires you to slow down - and that's something from which we could all benefit. And as for names ... we're all interconnected by repeated names in my family. Which can make for some odd misunderstandings at times.

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The epistolary form is certainly a disused one, but not entirely deceased. My wife's mother still writes once a month to her daughter, and it takes about three weeks for these missals to arrive. There is a tenderness to the homely letter that cannot be duplicated by anything other than face to face encounters. 'Paulianity' is made up of letters, not tender on their face but yet compassionate in their principle. Many famous epigrams appear only in letters - Acton on power, Freud on Nietzsche, and most poignantly, Freud's comment on substitution versus actual 'letting go' - and correspondence between great minds is still highly valued, even if it now takes place by email and perhaps also in comments sections to blogs (what do you know!). As a philatelist, I have many epistolary artifacts, including first flight covers and Victorian shill of all kinds. I recently had occasion to return an unopened piece from 1939 to the sister-in-law of the deceased sender. But most intriguing are the antique envelopes sealed and posted with nothing at all within. I have one from 1861 mailed to a small Connecticut town, empty of content, never opened and yet kept for all those generations in family and then in collections. An historical romance novel lurks, perhaps to be written in epistolary form.

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Hi Greg, I think it's wonderful that your wife still gets regular letters from her mother (missals? or missives? are they religious in nature?) I'm intrigued by the idea of sending envelopes devoid of letters: was it just to collect the postmark?

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