I have never been a big believer in New Year’s resolutions. In fact, I have never ushered in a new year with any firm resolution to do–or not to do–something. This year, however, I may make an exception. This year, I may make one, single solitary resolution.
Last week I sat down to write some personal notes to a few alumni of Lord Fairfax Community College where I am a professor of English. It seemed to me that the personal touch would be the right touch.
Armed with my blue-ink, roller ball pen—and just barely into my second note—I realized that something was wrong. My fingers felt cramped. My upper arm muscles felt atrophied. My relaxed and cursive grace of yesteryear was gone.
I was “drawing” my letters. They were tight and cramped like my unused writing muscles.
Once upon a time, I knew how to use those muscles, and they were robust and firm.
Once upon a time, I knew how to write naturally and smoothly and uniformly.
But that was long ago when I wrote letters in cursive—in longhand—with my special pen, on my special paper.
Suddenly, I realized that I had not written in longhand for a long, long time. For nearly four decades, I have word processed nearly everything. I just don’t “do” longhand anymore, beyond the mechanical “Enjoy the holidays” or “Feel better soon” or “I love you” scrawls. How strange, especially considering that I love reading published volumes of letters and, in fact, I spent ten years locating, deciphering, and editing the letters of New England writer Mary E. Wilkins Freeman, and I am now working on a revised, updated, two-volume edition.
Suddenly, I realized that I have not received many personal longhand letters and notes in a long time either. Over time, the volume has decreased steadily, and I no longer need trunks and file cabinets to store those personal artifacts, treasured objets d’art. Handwritten notes from friends and family have been hardly better than the scribbles I have sent their way. Touché.
Paradoxically, I receive far more communiqués these days. My smart phone goes with me everywhere because I want to stay connected and be accessible. My email inbox has nearly reached its maximum storage capacity. Truthfully, those messages are far more frequent, far more detailed, and far more extensive than the longhand letters of yesteryear.
I store these electronic messages in virtual folders, where, hopefully, they will remain, virtually forever. But I doubt it. Maybe I should start printing those messages. Maybe I should start putting them away somewhere for safekeeping.
I’m thankful that I sat down to write personal notes to some former students. Writing them has given me a wake-up call. I realize that some traditions can be preserved alongside all the marvelous advances that propel us magically forward.
Ironically, here I sit at my computer on New Year’s Day, pecking away at the keyboard, wondering: What else in my life is cramped? Atrophied? What else should I re-train? Re-learn? Preserve? Potentialize?
For now, I’ll resolve to make one—just one—New Year’s resolution for this year and this year only. I’ll strive to renew my old tradition of reaching out to folks from time to time with longhand letters—my hand, my pen, my ink, my paper, my postage stamp. My arm, my hand, my mind, my heart, my soul—retrained to a cursive tradition that is natural and social and graceful.
I think we are all guilty of choosing the clacking of keyboards over the scratching of pen to paper. Don’t worry though. I’ve seen your handwriting and it’s utter perfection. Happy New Year!
I love your phrase “scratching pen to paper!” That is exactly how I see my handwriting: scratching! When you say that it’s “utter perfection,” you are demonstrating your utter generosity and kindness!
Happy New Year to you, too!
Let’s get straight to the core here: will I be one of the chosen few to receive such a letter? 😅 But seriously, resolutions like this are the most rewarding and easiest to keep. Maybe hand write your syllabi, though…
Yes: you will be one of the chosen few to receive a handwritten letter from me!
Handwrite my syllabi? I don’t think so! However, if I were to be pulled in the direction of that improbable adventure, I would probably opt for a mimeograph! OMG! What on earth brought that primitive technology into my mind? Oh, of course: handwritten syllabi!
I suppose, seriously, that I need to give a definition here of mimeograph, since no one reading this post will know what it is, and I am certain that no one reading this post will have ever used one, except for me!
Mimeograph: “NOUN: a duplicating machine which produces copies from a stencil, now superseded by the photocopier.”
Or, hear me out, carbon paper 😂
The mere suggestion has given me such shock that I am speechless!
Recently, as I have begun getting my affairs in order (prematurely, I hope), I’ve been returning letters to family members who wrote to me. Many of the letters, scrawled in crayon with huge X’s and O’s beside their names, are from my nieces when they were very young. They love to see who they were when they were so young.
Letters that I receive now are in email, of course, and I save them too. I lightly edit family emails into an occasional newsletter, and those from a very dear friend into a kind of double diary. The benefit of electronic letters is that you can save both sides of the correspondence. The joy of these letters, especially over the decades, is in the everyday life they reveal. “How could I have forgotten that?” a sibling or a friend will remark, but there it is, printed out; hopefully to be saved for another generation.
I love your idea of returning letters to family members who wrote to you! Hopefully, they will appreciate them as much as you.
Emails are fabulous, too, and yes: it is beautiful to be able to preserve both sides of the correspondence.
One of my oldest and dearest friends–oldest not in terms of age but rather in terms of how many years she and I have known one another–has saved “both sides” of our email correspondence down through the years. By her account, they number more than 20,000 messages. (I think that’s fairly accurate! I’m sure that it is!) How impressive is that! I am thrilled, of course, that she has saved those electronic communications! No one can possibly top that record! Who knows? Maybe she will contact Guinness World Records!