Over the past year, two developing news headlines have left a particularly prickly thorn in my side. Two stories that are simply another indication of the challenges we face in the 21st century and the direction we are travelling in as a nation. The first jeopardizes one of our country’s oldest institutions and questions the way we deliver communication and the second impacts our children’s school curriculum and the purpose and use of writing instruments.
I am referring to the numerous articles surrounding the United States Postal Service and the accumulative debt that threatens to shut it down entirely this year (unless Congress takes immediate action) and the movement adopted by forty-two states that no longer requires the teaching of cursive handwriting as one of the standards students will need to learn before college.
These perhaps seemingly unrelated issues are actually inexplicably linked as the skill of cursive handwriting is often employed to formulate handwritten letters which are then mailed through the U.S. postal system. Unfortunately, both are now under scrutiny and face extinction as we continue to veer away from these traditional systems in favor of increased use and dependence on computers.
I don’t know about you, but I am adamantly opposed to the removal of cursive handwriting in the schools and thank goodness, the State of California agrees opting to re-include the instruction into student’s curriculum. I can’t imagine not knowing how to write beautiful script and being able to compose a letter incorporating my own personal style of loops and lines. After all, nothing is as gracious as the written word. With many new electronic ways to communicate, it takes a special effort to put pen to paper.
I also am a fierce advocate for the preservation of the post office. I cannot fathom the thought of living in a home without a mailbox, not being able to receive a special invitation in the mail for a birthday party or have the latest Vogue issue delivered right to my door. I absolutely love getting the mail. It is exciting (well most of it, not the bills part!!). You never know what surprise you might find and there is just something different about holding a piece of paper or a catalogue or a magazine or an invitation in your hand that has some permanence, some extra everlasting value, that you can refer back to time and again, that I totally appreciate.
Now I know there will be a fair share of naysayers who think I am totally un-PC and wasteful and everything else opposed to the environment, but I don’t care. I’m holding my ground on this one! For those that subscribe to my old school style, here are some great tips on good old-fashioned stationery etiquette and the art of letter writing.
Stationery Etiquette. In today’s world of electronic communication, the ritual and art of letter writing by pen has become almost extinct. Yet, it is the thoughtful handwritten letters and cards from our loved ones that we keep in a special drawer to refer back to year after year. Developing this tradition takes a real kindness and compassion for the other person and requires much care and attention from the inventory of stationery that is chosen, to the type of pen that is used to write the letter and even the choice of postage. All of these elements play an important part in the art of letter writing and should be valued and appreciated.
Getting Started. Create a special place for the supplies needed to write a letter or note. Purchase an inventory of stationery and note cards that reflect a particular interest or exhibit your personal style. If you are creative, you may wish to embellish your notes with decorations from a craft store. Collect an assortment of writing instruments in various colors to choose from and make sure they have plenty of ink. Add a calligraphy pen for more elegant handwriting.
Proper Letter Writing. A simple format begins with the date in upper right hand corner, followed by the salutation. The body of the letter is next. The letter ends with a nice closing and signing your name.
Personalizing Your Letters. A letter is meant to embody a bit of your personality not only in the words, but in the stationery you choose and in the handwriting. Often these letters are saved and read by others and may be put on display. As a result, the message should be clear and succinct, and proper spelling and grammar should be used. Everything about the letter is a reflection of you.
Writing Thank You Notes. A thank you note is one of the most important letters to write. Writing a well-expressed thank you note takes practice and is an ideal occasion to show someone that you appreciate the effort they expended. A thank you note consists of 3 parts: saying “thanks” at the beginning and end of the note, naming the gift, event or act of kindness that you are acknowledging, and including a unique detail or high point to describe your thanks. A thank you note ends with an appropriate closing and signing your name. Thank you notes should be sent promptly within 48 hours.
Mailing Invitations. A mailed invitation provides insight into the party or event that will be taking place. It is a preview that lets you know what to expect. Written invitations are always preferred. Avoid fill-in-the-blank invitations as they allow for little imagination. Make sure to include the what, where, when why and suggested attire. Invitations for birthday parties or other small gatherings may be mailed 2-4 weeks in advance. More formal celebrations or special occasions require a longer lead time of 6-8 weeks.
Letter writing skills will always be necessary. Although technology has become increasingly important and typing skills have become the preferred method over the teaching of handwriting, there is still a relevance to learning penmanship and practicing cursive. If we don’t make an effort to re-integrate handwriting into our schools and everyday life, technology may cause it to disappear forever. The same goes for our conventional mail system due to the rise of email and other forms of electronic communication. So join me in turning the tides and break out your stationery and your card invitations and let's start writing! Buy some decorative stamps and pop those puppies in the good 'ole reliable U.S. Mail!!
Do you share our sentiment about cursive writing and snail mail? Let us know. If not, state your case. We're listening.