Pen to paper: The forgotten art of letter writing

Mar 18, 2023
Source: Getty

I was tidying up a box in the back of my cupboard when I found some letters from my mum. They were from when I had first come to live in Australia many years ago.

What almost bought me to tears as I looked at them was her beautiful handwriting. That beautifully formed cursive script written with a fine pen on pretty notepaper. She would put a decorative sticker on the envelope. I’m so glad I kept these, as that handwriting is from such a bygone era.

In sharp contrast, my dear old dad had very clunky printing. He was not a wordsmith like my mum but kept his letters short, informative and practical. A few stick figure drawings would embellish the page. Mum’s would be full of news and events, big and small. She had a newspaper column as a young woman, and her way with words would shine through. 

But sadly I have not inherited her skill with “running writing” as we called it as kids. I’m now so used to keying on an iPad, phone or laptop that my printing is scrawled and hard to read. I do journal and I doubt very much that anybody would be able to decipher it.

It’s sad to me that such a large part of our past communication style is now almost gone. However, my little sister has developed a beautiful semi-cursive style of printing which she can do quickly and it still looks beautiful – and it is legible. 

Letters with stamps and aerograms held up to the light from faraway lands. Colourful and exotic stamps that were collectible and special. Unlike the immediacy of text messages and emails, a letter required some thinking and editing before it was inscribed onto a page. We shoot off a text or email and it’s gone off into the ether. Those words can’t be retrieved or taken back. I’ve been guilty of doing that a few times. 

Our communication styles have needed to keep up with our fast-paced twenty-first-century lives. There is a certain usefulness to the immediacy of being able to receive a quick response. But in doing so we have lost some of the more gentle nuances of a handwritten letter with a photo slipped in which has been inscribed on the back, or a ten-dollar note for a birthday treat.

I’m so glad I kept some of my parent’s letters. Re-reading them stirs up memories and takes me back to a different time. I treasure them. They’ve survived many moves and a flood. I hope my children and grandchildren will also enjoy reading them one day and enjoy a brief, nostalgic glimpse into the past.

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