The Power of Handwritten

For years, I was nagged by my parents to write thank you notes to friends and families after parties or gift exchanges and it was such a chore. As I got older, it was even harder to write a note to thank someone for card and cash—are you supposed to explain how you spent it, or completely ignore the gift and describe how glad you are to have spent time with them instead? Birthday cards from the dentist always come with a scolding for putting off your teeth cleaning, holiday greetings from your accountant are a not-so-warm greeting before tax season. There are not a lot of great social reinforcements to make writing a note to someone a special and fulfilling task.

This season of Coronavirus has left me with an abundance of free time and the echo of my parents nagging me through my teenage years might actually be helping me become a better citizen of the world. “Ehren—I heard you are going to law school?!” wrote an old teacher of mine in the inscription of his newly published book of his which he had sent to me last fall. Each week since I have added “Write letter” on my to do list. All of them.

A little bit of what he has heard is true, I suppose. I am planning on taking the LSAT this year, but surely word has not traveled well from across the country and in a classic game of telephone through my home town. A phone call could solve my problem, although suddenly my kind intentions of reaching out and catching up become a task, a forced conversation, and a less-than-organic way to pick up a relationship that has been unrefreshed in years.

My handwriting is not tragic, although it is not elegant by any means. Printing and signing off on a letter I’ve typed would be convenient but, no matter how poetic the text may be, would lack character and affection. Leftover letter head from my school or old job could elevate the aesthetic in some ways in the chance that it is not mistaken for an invoice at first glance.

I drafted my note on my laptop and decided to handwrite into a blank, brown-tinted sheet of card stock. The first lines were perfectly legible without smudges, curves, or imperfections. For a moment, I pictured myself in Rapunzel’s tower, experiencing perfect solitude and nostalgia as I dreamt back to classes with my teacher. I had achieved that perfect flow state of emotion from my heart as it rippled down my arm and behaved as instructed by the ink of my pen.

And then came the fucking comma.

This comma was not in my drafts. I am quite certain that, whoever you are, you will not lay eyes on this letter sent. I do not have much to prove to you, however I am proud of my ability to competently usually use commas correctly. This was an embarrassment. This was a mess. This was a disaster.

White out could work, right? Except it was brown paper. I was one third down the page with a cramped hand and my moment as Princess Rapunzel had viciously spiraled into one of much less satisfaction. There was nothing to do—go on, or start over. I shook my hand and grabbed my pen. Onward.

My focus returned and I completed the next line. I read the next paragraph word by word as my English teachers sat perched on my shoulders debating the appropriate punctuation. Mr. McLay taught British Literature in 9th grade, so he encouraged the romantic, run-on type sentences, but Mr. Maselli argued for a more direct and straightforward sentence structure. I kept writing feverishly as I questioned my articulations. Finally, I wrote my last line and I leaned back in my chair to observe my progress.

As my intensity had increased in my writing, so had my font size. Each line was slightly larger than the last. Again, I debated—do I rewrite once again, or accept this imperfect execution of the letter?

This, though, is the beauty of handwritten letters. Cramped hands and wrists are the recipe for a warm fuzzy feeling en route to someone you care about. The same words written on my laptop lacked the character that came to life when written by hand. Despite the size fluctuations, there was evidence of emphasis and structure that does not come as a standard customization in any basic Microsoft program.

Trapped at home, I have had the time and space to feel my full range of emotions with several more letters written for mentors and friends across the country. I even took time to build a stencil to use to draw a sketch on each personalized letter. A text message to my mom helped me preserve the magic of asking future recipients for their mailing address. And there you have it—a tangible and timeless way to seal some warm fuzzy feelings into an envelope and send them wherever your choose.

And on that note, I am off to buy some stamps!

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