Tin Letter Box

[Guest Post] The Little Tin Box – Ellen Kushner

Today’s guest blogger is author Ellen Kushner, who still has a shelf full of beautiful and quirky stationery she’s saving for special friends. She is the author of the Riverside series of novels and stories, beginning with Swordspoint, and now including the collaborative serial Tremontaine from Serial Box. Her bottomless need for constant communication with friends is horribly enabled by her accounts on Twitter and Facebook. She only pretends to understand Tumblr.

Tin Letter BoxI won’t be sending hand-written letters every day this month.

Because I’ve done my time.

When I met my best friend Kate at summer camp, I was 13; she was a wise and wonderful 11. I lived in Cleveland, she lived in Detroit – 3 hours apart by bus (and in those days, your parents let you go on a Greyhound by yourself for visits. . . Just sit up front near the driver, dear). We couldn’t talk on the phone much, because long distance was so expensive that we actually had to invent a special code: one placed a collect call to the other from Alfred Quigley Birnbaum, the (anti-)hero of a song I had written; the call would be refused, of course (because who wants to talk to that wastrel?), but then we’d know the other was home and wanted to talk for as long as our parents would let us.

And so we wrote. Letter after letter, pouring out our hearts about the miseries and small triumphs of junior high and then high school, about books we’d read and people we had crushes on and mystic dreams we’d had and how much we hated our parents, sketching velvet dresses with long, hanging sleeves, or the lutes and harps we’d buy if we had the dough. . . Kate was great at decorating the envelopes, too. Often I’d come home from a bad day at school to a beautiful letter from her, and take it up to the quiet of my room and read it, and then write back immediately. Of course, it took 2-3 days for my reply to reach her, and 2-3 more days for her response. But meanwhile, we were acquiring even more to write about!

In summers, all my high school friends and I must needs write to each other, as family vacations or jobs or camp took us away from the 24/7 anthill of communication that is the lives of teenage girls. When Linda went off to college a year ahead of the rest of us, she wrote of her strange and wonderful adventures there. And when I followed suit, I did the same.

After graduation, the letters flew thick and fast. Nobody had the money for long-distance phone calls, but there was so much happening, and so quickly your pen could barely keep up with it!

I hate the fact that I don’t know what any of my newer friends’ handwriting looks like. Handwriting was as much a part of my friends’ identity as their faces were–maybe more.

We all wanted to be writers. And so we began submitting manuscripts, short stories in manila envelopes, with the requisite SASE (Self-Addressed Stamped Envelope) enclosed. Then the vigil over the mailbox began in earnest! Not only might that little tin box on the wall with all the others in the lobby of W. 110th Street contain the latest comfort from a friend, but it might. . . just might. . . not be your return envelope at all, but a slender white one with a magazine’s return address, your SASE no use to them because THEY WERE TAKING YOUR STORY!

And so, to this day I check my mailbox often. Even though the doorman in my New York apartment building insists–helpfully, he thinks–on informing me that the mailman hasn’t come yet, or that my wife Delia’s already been and brought it in.

He doesn’t understand. It might be something wonderful. Something life-changing!

Or at least, a letter from a friend.

22 thoughts on “[Wayback Repost] Why do letters seem more daunting than email?”

  1. Having been a letter writer for several years now, I don’t particularly find this challenge all that difficult, other than remembering to do it every day instead of when the whim takes me to write. And since I may not have a penpal’s letter to answer, then I need to think outside my normal circle of penpals and write to others. I saw this as an opportunity to reconnect with a few old penpals that had lapsed, family members that live outside of the city, friends I haven’t seen in a while, and strangers or persons of stature. I think it’s a great challenge and maybe it will even boost the joy of those who process all this mail and deliver it to us. 🙂

  2. I love your post. And I totally agree.

    Email, tweets n twitters, FB comments all have their place and moment in time where they are the appropriate way to respond.

    However, sending a letter, postcard, or notecard is the only way to connect with someone on a more personal, even intimate, level.

    The act of sending a missive does take time, but more importantly it takes thought. What paper will I use? What will I add (stickers, washi, etc.)? What will I say? Combined these choices will be a bright spot in someone’s day. Added bonus? It was created specifically for them.

  3. Great article on postcard apps but you should also take a look at Postsnap’s easy to use postcard app.
    The app offers a number of unique features compared to the other apps reviewed including:
    – Guest checkout with Apple Pay
    – Extensive personalization options including collage layouts, stylish borders which can be adjusted in size with a slider and the option to add editable text in a variety of font types and colors and position it anywhere on the cards
    – iPhone and iPad support
    – Apple Pencil support
    – Facebook and Instagram integration
    – US postal address verification and UK postcode lookup
    Cards are printed and posted in our facilities in the UK, USA and Australia on the same or next working day and so cards typically arrive quickly. Enjoy!
    Stephen Homer

  4. I have been writing letters for several years now. My go to paper is Rhodia Premium or Rhodia Ice pads. I also Life pads too. I like them because they are not quite as slick as the Rhodia.

  5. I love Tomoe River paper for letter writing. I buy 100 sheets at a time and print my own mermaid stationery. I found an envelope that I like and ordered a mermaid address stamp and finish it off with mermaid washi tape.

  6. I too love journals to pull apart for writing. For me the most important aspect of the paper is the pattern. I love to have some colour and some design on the paper. I’ve managed to find a number of nice colours and designs at one of my local “Home Sense” discount stores in the book section. Most of the small journals are a perfect size to fit in the envelopes I use. If not I just give one edge a bit of a trim (but sometimes I really like the ripped edge look too!) ;P

  7. Hi, Christmas cards & more recently a letter (a bill) from the UK to Australia have taken 3 weeks to arrive. The exterior of these envelopes were stamped with a mark such as this from the latest envelope:
    DLC 992-4
    The example quoted arrived at the Australian address on 28/07/2017, unfortunately it contained a bill dated 06/07/2017 which had to be paid within 14 days, by 20/07/2017.
    Why is the post so slow? What does the DLC 992-4 stamp signify? Would appreciate your feedback.

  8. My letter that I wrote was in September. The person who it was for still hasn’t gotten it and it’s now November….
    I don’t understand why it’s taking this long. I live in AZ and he lives in NY. I want answers.

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