In early May, at the end-of-the-year potluck supper of the MIT figure skating club, of which I am a new member, I sat next to Florence. She is a student from Belgium who, in addition to getting a graduate degree in media studies this year, learned to skate and performed a solo in our March show.
Before the potluck supper, we had never talked. Over salad and lasagna and quiche and meatballs, I told her about my goals as a writer and she told me hers as a photojournalist. We were mutually engaged, and the conversation with her made the awkwardness of a social event totally worth it.
At the end of the night, she handed me a tiny pad of notepaper and pen and asked me to write down my mailing address. She had a book for me, something about narrative journalism, that she planned to send me as a form of inspiration. A few days later, the book The Literary Journalists arrived in a package along with The Midnight Disease. In the accompanying note, she referred to our potluck conversation and wished for “all the best in your writing enterprises!”
I felt as though my ambition, which had been feeling to me like an old dress that had fallen off its hanger and crumpled on the floor among the shoes, was freshened, ironed, and made wearable again by her interest and words. A person cannot always plug along alone without such collegial encouragement and enthusiasm. (There were two exclamation points in her note.)
Meanwhile, that same week, I got a hand-written letter also from James, whose presence in my life as a fellow writer and a real friend keeps me company even though we live far apart. Words — by email or the post — keep the embers of friendship glowing.
And over the past year, I’ve also gotten real letters from Ulrike, Susan, Rosemary, and even one of Rosemary’s friends, who passed along a used book she’d finished with. Marcia sent me a vacation postcard. Leslie, even though we share an office at work, sent me by mail an article she thought I’d enjoy; I know for a fact she also enjoyed creating something mail-able that may have grown out of her nostalgia for a pen-pal-rich childhood. My mother sent me a well received Mother’s Day card, which boosted my parenting self-esteem in one sentence, which, by the way, the children agreed with when I read it to them.
Are you wondering how to get someone’s attention — how to really reach them — at a time when email and status messages and even, gulp, blog posts seem to add to more and more clutter?
In your own hand, write some words. Put them in an envelope; add a stamp. Send.
A postcard or letter is personal and private and therefore more treasured. When I receive one, I think: this is for me, only.