Life Rule #0209: A Message In a Bottle
When was the last time you put pen to paper? Let’s leave out the occasional grocery list, the “Don’t forget to do X, Y, and Z” notes lying around the house, and don’t you DARE reach all the way back to your pen-pal days. I’d include writing checks on that list, but how many of you actually write checks anymore, let alone know what in the hell a checkbook is? Regrettably I’m still required to send out a few paper monies to blood-thirsty tyrants from time to time. What I do NOT do is balance said checkbook, much like I don’t do magic tricks. I don’t have the time and I’m not interested; although I suppose balancing a checkbook is a magic act in and of itself.
Now I’d wager a bet on what you’re thinking right about now, “Wait a tick, you post articles online using a computer! You know, those devices you type from, not write with.” and you’d be right, however I put out what I consider my fair share of paper trails. In any event, we’re here to fix a spotlight on the dying art of handwriting. More specifically, we’ll wonder aloud why fewer and fewer letters find their way around the globe, how we can turn that tide, and how we might even find a little fun in the activity. Alright, get out there and track down a vintage classroom pencil sharpener, a pack of No. 2’s, and some Icy Hot for your wrist; time to go cursive.
Reminisce with me back to the days we dedicated time during school to practice writing in cursive. You all recall the fun, yes? That tissue paper with the red and blue-dotted lines which you easily could have used to wipe your ass with. Those were the times when the future looked bright for the likes of Bic and Paper Mate. Any letter, message, bill, and card was sent one licked envelope at a time. Sure, as we chipped away at the years of elementary school we were slowly introduced to and practiced the foreign art of typing, but it was not how one was to properly convey a message.
We sharpened pencils, in the literal sense. We blasted our way through more notebooks than any one paper mill could hope to keep up with. We passed notes to each other! Want to ask a girl out — yet too timid to pose the question face to face? — have you buddy slip her pal a note with your true intentions of love scribbled across the paper. God, that maneuver is a lost art, isn’t it? I’m not so sure there’s a better feeling any one of us has ever experienced than being the recipient of a responded-to note with the word YES stamped on it. Now it’s the instantaneous back and forth of the hand-written note’s limp-dick successor; the text message. There’s no longer any waiting in agonizing anticipation. You sent that note during first period! We’re already well past recess! Where’s that damned note from Katie’s bestie?! Classic turmoils in the game of love.
Allow me to ask the ladies of the audience a question: What would make your heart sing louder? A notification from Tinder telling you some random guy has an interest in you, after knowing full well he’s likely reached out in the same fashion to twelve other women that day; or a handwritten note left on your desk from a coworker you’ve been slowly building a bit of sexual tension with, wondering if he’d ever ask you out? I understand the latter could be a little creepy, but the bigger message to absorb is the effort that came with the freehand version of the ask. Any asshole can swipe their thumb across a phone screen while they’re sitting on the john, but it takes a real Zorro of penmanship to piece your heart with a real letter of love. Now, if you receive a random letter in the mail from a stranger asking you out, that might be the line we draw. Who am I to say?
Let’s take this through a few other scenarios shall we? We’ll begin with the obvious: Birthdays. There is no higher form of laziness or disinterest than someone sending you a “Happy Birthday!” from any one of the hundreds of social media applications running out there today. Oh, you sent me a birthday note via Facebook?! How sincere! Until you realize Facebook takes the F out of fun and places it directly into the “I don’t give a Fuck about you” column. The platform REMINDS you it’s someone else’s birthday! “Hey, in case you wanted to look like a champ, go ahead and click this little link down here which automatically sends your recipient a cookie cutter birthday wish!” You’re apt to experience more effort from a goddamn scarecrow. At least they promise to deliver; it’s in their name! They scare crows guys. Follow along.
Admit it. How special do you feel when you open that birthday card from mom or grandma? Even if we’re too old to watch that $10 check fall out of the envelope, we feel appreciation for being appreciated. When someone sends me an automated message of any kind I just feel dirty. I feel dirtier than Oscar the Grouch, and I don’t even think his trash can has an address on Sesame Street. And now you know why he’s grouchy. Poor bastard can never receive letters.
Another example would be the Thank You note. I’ve personally experienced nothing but positive feedback from pushing out one of those beauties. Funny to think back on because when my wife and I had to rip through roughly 200 thank you notes post-wedding, I thought I’d give up on those damn things for good. You will taste nothing but envelope glue for weeks after you’ve served your wedding card tour, I promise you. Yet there is no better vessel from which to send your feelings of gratitude than with a hand-written thank you card. Just SAYING thank you these days seems to be a task very few can manage. To that I say thank you for being a douche bag; you’re making the rest of us with a little presence of mind look like angels.
Now it’s silly to think of entirely swapping out email/text/e-cards for handwritten letters altogether, but if you select some of those folks you hold near and dear, you could find a little fun and satisfaction in partaking in the process. Hell, apparently some people out there have taken it to a level of forming groups where one can write and send out letters to whomever they choose all while enjoying the company of others with the same like-minded approach. It’s like a Dungeons & Dragons for calligraphy. An adult pen pal club. Pretty neat concept, especially when you consider it’s a very viable storyline for a future Netflix docu-series highlighting murder and mischief. Written In Stone: The Pen Pal Murders. Can’t you see some nutcase luring strangers across the country with his charm and intellect, only to later chase them down and stab them to death by way of fountain pen or quill? I certainly don’t wish it on anyone, but there’s someone out there right now sharpening the tip of a feather.
I’m more interested in the approach of flat out silliness. Walk around your neighborhood and either jot down a few addresses or take that extra step and pick some random PO boxes from a different state. Go nuts! Send a kind and thoughtful message to a stranger and sign it God or something. Make them wonder. You could even send a card of you admitting you eat your own boogers from time to time. Mark it anonymous. Even though you’ll likely never get to see their reaction you can have a hell of a time wondering how baffled your letter recipient will feel upon reading your nonsense.
Care for even more of the outrageous? Envision yourself stranded on an island and for the love of coconuts please don’t think I’m about to ask you what three things you’d want there with you — unless of course one of your answers is Wilson from Cast Away — I’ll accept that answer every single time. No, I want you to come to the realization that upon your lonely island, cell reception is blatantly non-existent. You couldn’t even pass the time scrolling through pornography. No sir. Just you and your thoughts. Terrifying predicament wouldn’t you say? If only there were another way to cast off a cry for help! Well lucky for you, a shipwreck just offshore happens to be freighting a load of paper supplies! How convenient! And next to that shipwreck is ANOTHER capsized vessel chock full of wine bottles! So you now get to enjoy a bit of the sacrament while stuffing bottle upon bottle with SOS notes. What if either of those ships were carrying cell phones to a distant manufacturer? They’re useless to you. There’s really no point to that entire scenario other than to drive home the point that you pen is indeed mightier than the sword….or the cell phone.
In wrapping, perhaps the message is as simple as making an effort. There’s plenty of other ways one can accomplish such a feat, but we’re talking penmanship today. So crank out a few birthday wishes and if no one you know has one forthcoming just push out a few notes to see how people are doing. If you have any ambitions to take that extra mile another extra mile, dress like a pirate while you’re writing your letters. It’ll give the entire experience that much more of a feeling of authenticity.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have a few “letters from God” I have to send out to strangers.