The Sunday Edition

The lost art of writing letters — Michael's essay

Letter-writing by hand takes work. In our screen-crazy world, the idea of a refreshing break from the vertiginous onslaught of digital dreck is very appealing.
A selection of handwritten letters and postcards written to Italian tenor Enrico Caruso. The Sunday Edition's host Michael Enright says the act of writing letters by hand 'is infused with all kinds of reaffirming memories.' (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)
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My millennial son is now a full member of The Handwritten Letter Appreciation Society (HLAS), headquartered in Swanage, Dorset, England. His membership number is 0117.

How and why he joined are something of a mystery, much like his ongoing obsession with expensive footwear and vigorous exercise.

The mission of the HLAS is of course to foster and promote sit-down, pen-written letters sent to friends, or even enemies.

I can't remember the last time I sat down with a pen and wrote a letter by hand to a friend. Postcards, yes; letters no. The last real handwritten letters, printed actually, might be when I handwrote letters to Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy.

A blindingly obvious reason is my appalling penmanship. My handwriting is unreadable to me and anyone else.

For example, my day book says I'm scheduled to interview Mr. Ms. or Dr. S. Tzhitko in a few days. Have no idea who that is.

I have, over the years, written numerous letters on a portable typewriter, hoping to never have to inflict my penmanship on anyone ever again.

'The sound of the clacking of [typewriter] keys reminded me of early newspaper days,' writes Enright. (Patrick Fore/Unsplash)

The idea of writing a letter to someone is infused with all kinds of reaffirming memories.

The love letter, for example. It's comforting to read the letters sent by lovers to each other in wartime.

Not just nostalgia drawing you in, but the personal partnership between you and the pen that formed the words.

Whoever heard of a touching series of love emails? And I hope we never do.

Letter-writing by hand takes work. More so than emails. You have to sit down, take pen in hand and think.

The philosopher Blaise Pascal once apologized for writing a very long letter to a friend, saying, "I didn't have time to write a short one."

Letters on paper, in an envelope, have a solidity to them that seems to suppress time. Or recover it.- Michael Enright

Working at it focuses the mind. In our screen-crazy world, the idea of a refreshing break from the vertiginous onslaught of digital dreck is very appealing.

Letters on paper, in an envelope, have a solidity to them that seems to suppress time. Or recover it.

For example, I was upset some months ago when a bundle of letters between myself and an early love was thrown away a few days after her death.

Recent studies have shown that penning a letter can in some weird way reduce stress (an aside, don't you just love sentences that begin: "Recent studies have shown ..."?)

Is it my imagination, but are the things of yesteryear, not just letter-writing, making a retro comeback?

My favourite used bookstore, for example, has set aside an entire section to vinyl LPs. It is always jammed. Vinyl stores are flourishing across the country.

'Are the things of yesteryear, not just letter-writing, making a retro comeback?' writes Enright. (David Donnelly/CBC)

Which is not to say that we are breathlessly waiting for the return of the rotary dial or Princess phones.

My eternal beloved gave me an old Smith-Corona portable recently, as an early Father's Day present.

As I sat down and began to type, the sound of the clacking of keys reminded me of early newspaper days and how young we all were.

I'm sending it out to get fixed.

There are hazards in looking to the past for recovered enthusiasms. Obviously you are open to charges of old fogeyism. People smile at you and say: "How quaint."

I'll take my chances. As the Peter Allen song Everything Old is New Again puts it: "Don't throw the past away. You might need it some other rainy day."

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