To Get A Letter, Send A Letter; Where To Find A Pen Pal

I promise to write you back.

Jan 30, 2014 at 2:00pm | Leave a comment

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I've had that pad of stationery for years -- I'm running out now and it's freaking me out because I can't find more.

Much like s.e. discusses in ou's piece on letter writing, I, too, was a prolific letter writer, once upon a time. When we lived overseas, sending mail into the great international stream of post was the only way to really tell people that even though I was in tropical paradise, I was still thinking about them. Also, I was, like, 12 when we moved to Thailand -- it's not like my schedule was an impossible burden to manage. Writing letters was easy.

A friend and I would take a giant stack of postcards, paper and envelopes to one of the Western fast food chains over on the beach road, and we'd write and write until we were out of supplies. Cute stationery was plentiful and cheap, way more easily available than it is here (I have gone on some epic quests to find post cards in Orlando and been sorely disappointed).

Over the years, my letter-writing habit has waxed and waned, ebbed and flowed, and other such nature metaphors indicating that sometimes I didn't mail any damn thing and it was nothing personal about the folks who used to get letters from me. Letter writing is fantastic and wonderful -- and sometimes you just cannot with the brain and the postage and the getting to the mail box. That's okay, too. Because you have to take care of yourself.

Last year, I started to get back into writing letters, sending cards, and just generally mailing things to people I thought about. I've been dismayed by the state of the stationery industry ever since. I went into a Hallmark the other day, remembering their stock of yesterday -- finely printed vellum sheets with matching envelopes. When I asked if they had stationery for sale, the clerk told me I'd need to go to a stationery store.

My dreams, oh, how they were shattered that day.

Melodramatics aside, I've been sending a lot of mail. (I even got most of my intended Christmas cards out, which is a measure of how together I really am during any given holiday season.) I've had some old pen pals for years -- folks I met via Livejournal or friends who just really like getting and sending mail. But new pen pals are super exciting and wonderful, too.

They can also be hard to come by -- not least of all because a lot of people have good intentions and then are unable to follow through with letters (see: my two month gap in sending mail because of the holidays). But there are some totally awesome ways to find strangers who want to share this hobby with you, if you are interested in writing some words up and tucking them into the mail.

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Washi tape and Vincent Price, my letter writing companion.

1. Postcrossing

Are you looking for a low commitment way to get into writing to people? Do you love getting mail from all over the world? Are you not looking to form a strangely intimate and intense bond with strangers because why would people want to do that? Postcrossing might be the site for you!

On Postcrossing's website, people all over the world register their mailing information and a little bit about themselves. Then the system randomly picks the address of a person to give to you so that you can send them a postcard. Just a postcard. Nothing too wild or personal. You have to start sending cards before the system will give your address to a random person somewhere in the world, but once you get the hang of sending postcards out on the regs, you get a steady flow into your mailbox! There's no expectation you'll exchange info with any of the people either. No stress here.

2. Handwritten Inspiration

This is a fairly new one to me. Handwritten Inspiration is a nonprofit that sends mail to folks who are having a hard time, who might just be sad or who might be dealing with serious issues of depression. I got a note in the mail from the woman running it and so I checked it out -- and I kind of love the idea. I've received unlooked for letters in the mail before and it's given me a little bit of breathing room when I dearly needed just a few minutes of not feeling like complete shit.

This is great because you can suggest yourself as a person to receive a letter if you need one -- which is such a nice exception to the general rule that you need to send a letter to get a letter in return. I'm hoping there's an option to pay it forward and write to other people who need it as well. You can follow Handwritten Inspiration on Twitter to get the answers to those sorts of questions: @handwritteninsp.

3. More Love Letters

I found out about this one through a friend who has been spending her Sundays writing letters. She calls it Snail Mail Sunday and posts pictures on Instagram. I checked it out because who doesn't like love letters? Also, I was mega intrigued as to how writing love letters to strangers worked.

Basically, More Love Letters creates bundles of letters. They run campaigns so it isn't constant. Everyone writes to the same person and that person gets a giant stack of love letters. They also encourage people to leave random notes in public places. I kind of enjoy that a whole lot.

4. Letter Writers Alliance

I admit, this one is my favorite. The LWA is like a club -- you have to have a membership to take advantage of the pen pal swap. But the pen pal swap is awesome! You write a letter, and then you receive an address. Someone else receives your address in return. You can continue to write in for more pen pals -- as many as you can handle.

Right now, I have three -- someone got my address but hasn't written to me. That's okay, too, though -- it's a whole new year and who knows? I might find a letter from a fourth person I don't know any day now. My pen pals are very different from each other but we all somehow have things in common. I find myself writing page after page and then watching my mail box eagerly in hopes of a quick response. When you're ready to find a stranger to get to know, I recommend joining the LWA. And then you can send your mail in a pigeon. (It's so awesome.)

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My address: Marianne Kirby, P.O. Box 781101, Orlando, FL 32878-1101

5. A Month Of Letters

Did you know February is a thing for letter writing? It's totally a thing for letter writing! February is the Month of Letters! The challenge, if you want to think of it that way, is to write a letter for every week day. One letter, each day. It's not really so many. And if you have a super busy day, well, sometimes that happens. It's still okay.

The important thing is to write back to everyone who writes to you -- and thus you get a regular correspondence started. Mary Robinette Kowal started this back in 2012 and it's gaining quite a following. The website is having some trouble as I write this, so please check them out on Twitter (@lettermonth) and Facebook (facebook.com/lettermo) as well! Or read the original post about the project on Mary Robinette Kowal's website.

So, all of that is well and good, you say. But maybe you are not comfortable giving out your address to strangers. I really do sympathize with this! Which is why I got myself a P.O. Box. It costs me about $20 for a three-month rental. I think I went ahead and got a six-month rental last time I paid for it. My P.O. Box is actually at a post office closer to my job than to my house, so I can run over on my lunch break to check the mail. (And also it makes it easier to surprise Ed with gifts. Drives him nuts. I love it.)

I'm still having a rough time finding stationery locally -- but I've resorted to making my own. And there's nothing that a little washi tape can't cure when it comes to dressing up your mail. Decorated envelopes are super fun and washi tape is everywhere right now. Must be its moment in the craft trend sun! Take advantage and stock up. I'm obsessed with this Etsy shop at the moment (be aware, she's slow to ship but great with the communication) so I have a bunch of miniature spools that I look for reasons to use.

Are you into writing letters? Are you looking for a pen pal? Should we do some sort of xoPen Pal Swap? Let me know in the comments.

And if absolutely nothing else: if you write to me, I promise I will write you a letter in return: Marianne Kirby, P.O. Box 781101, Orlando, FL 32878-1101