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Written by Stuart Sheldon, BT Contributor   
August 2018

The many life lessons of letter writing

I Pix_FamilyMatters_8-18sent the postcard shown here to my grandparents from summer camp when I was nine. They loved it so much, they kept it forever. I see why. Any day that includes archery, riflery, kickball, softball, bingo, and a cookout is one worth writing about.

When was the last time you received a hand-written letter? Or more important, when did you last write one? I’m not talking about a long dump-your-heart-out scenario, though I’m all for that. A mere thank-you note can be a game-changer for the recipient. There’s that wonderful moment of anticipation as you open the envelope. And then you’re holding the very paper that someone far away poured his or her contemplations into?

Here’s a question. You receive a letter and an e-mail on the same day. Both say the exact same thing. Which touches you more, and which feels more sincere? When was the last time your e-mail smelled like your lover on the other end? The power of this analogue, sensual connection has been studied at length.

Author John Naisbitt first explored the concept of high-tech versus high touch in his 1982 bestseller, Megatrends. He theorized that in a world of increasing technology, people long for personal, human contact. I know this to be true, and go out of my way to have lunch regularly with people I admire, instead of merely pinging them digitally. I need the eye contact and the skin-to-skin of a good hug. I cherish any afternoon where I fall asleep on the couch with an old-fashioned book on my chest as opposed to a reading device. And my heart sings any time my kids (or anyone) actually make me a card for any occasion, bonus if there’s a drawing included.

In our ever more digital universe, writing a letter is such an easy way to affirm and enhance our most cherished relationships. Surprise someone with a note today, and see what happens. Write your mom or your favorite uncle for no particular reason. Or drop a thank-you note to the neighbor who helped you move.

One lesson I took from my years in finance was to always write a thank-you note after each meeting, basically acknowledging someone for taking time out of his or her busy day to hear me out. I’m confident that in a field where my prospective clients had many choices, that simple act of kindness helped me stand out in the crowd. All for under 50 cents. Talk about money well spent.

There are also hidden life lessons in the physical writing of a note. My mother showed me how to turn written mistakes into little pictures within the body of the letter, so that my scratched-out comma became a little happy lion face or a crescent moon punctuating my musings. The greater message here was that any situation can be salvaged with a bit of creativity, so don’t lose heart. This has served me very well as an artist.

Writing a letter also brings out the eagle-eye editor in us all, for we often must economize our thoughts into a limited space. This forces us to think twice about what we wish to convey to a friend or loved one, a process that literally makes us more thoughtful.

In today’s sordid and bitter world, a good letter is one antidote to mend tears in our social fabric. Not only does it keep us connected across distances that seem ever farther these days, it deepens the bonds we often take for granted. And puts an exclamation point on the love we feel for those closest to us. It doesn’t even have to be mailed. Leave a note for your husband or wife on the kitchen table tomorrow -- Honey, I know I should say it more. So let me be clear. I. LOVE. YOU…and I’ll prove it later.

My ten-year-old son left for summer camp this morning. I’m sure he will feel unduly burdened by writing one letter a week (for three weeks, do the math). But I hope he’ll take a few extra moments to ponder his day, the people he spoke with, the funny joke he heard, the triumphs, and failures. And I hope he’ll experience a moment of emotion in that reflection. Optimally, that emotion will be pride or delight. But even if it is shame or rage, he’ll be taking stock of himself, and that is what matters.

I hope my son shares the things he did, as I did with my grandparents. Perhaps he’ll best his old man and finish first in tetherball. More important, I hope he shares a taste of the particular emotion that made his day meaningful. That’s a good letter.

 

Stuart Sheldon is an artist, author, and Miami native. Follow him on Facebook and Instagram @stuart_sheldon and subscribe to his blog at FancyNasty.us.

 

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