Heartfelt and Handwritten
Secret slips of paper passed behind the teacher’s back, a teary note saying goodbye, declarations of love on scented paper, yellowed letters retrieved lovingly from the attic—we could have all these even now.
And yet, we choose their impersonal substitutes over the real things.
We shoot off thoughtless emails and status messages. We type away on digital notepads. We have blah IM conversations about banalities.
The fate of all these messages is similar. They’re headed for virtual trash cans sooner or later, because hardly any of them have what it takes to be preserved for posterity.
With a digital message, you cannot know if the sender wrote it just for you.
While reading it, you cannot see a vivid picture of the sender in your mind’s eye.
You cannot admire the sender’s bold and stylish hand or shake your head over his or her illegible scrawl.
You cannot hide the message under a pillow or in a closet to read it later in the dead of the night, crouched under the folds of a blanket, with a dim torch in one hand.
You cannot clutch it to your chest when its contents evoke a flood of emotion.
You cannot sniff it to get a whiff of nostalgia.
Just to be clear, I’m not against digital messages. Many a time they do have a fun and lively quality of their own. And they come in very handy for business communication as well as for connecting with people from across the globe.
But for the most part, they feel like useless chatter that we can do without.
Why then do we stick to these could-have-been-typed-in-by-anyone messengers for most of our personal communication?
Perhaps the dual illusions of convenience and saved time have convinced us to rob ourselves of the pleasure of handwritten letters.
Perhaps, since we’re used to short conversations and breezy one-liners these days, we secretly fear that if we do switch to pen and paper, we’ll be hard put to come up with something worthwhile to say.
That’s all the more reason to make the switch before we completely lose our ability to write by hand and engage in heartfelt conversations, if only on paper.
I have recently started writing the first drafts of my essays in a green-paged notebook, with my favorite black-ink pen. The whole process of thinking slowly and writing carefully casts a dreamy, soothing spell on me.
Surprisingly, when I write by hand, the ideas flow faster than when I’m hunched over the computer, a blank screen staring at my face.
As Steve Leveen writes in this post, the people of this world are now seemingly split into the Paperless and the Paperfull—those who want to be rid of paper and those who continue to cherish it. Maybe we need a third group to classify those who are half Paperless and half Paperfull i.e. those who want the best of both worlds.
I would definitely be part of such a group, because enamored though I’m with online writing apps, I’m enjoying my return to handwritten words just as much, and I hope you will too.
So before we forget how, we must get back to filling up lovely notebooks and sheets of paper with words that can come back to delight and comfort us years into the future.
- November 18th, 2013