MALAVIKA JAGANNATHAN ALWAYS has been a letter writer. But her hobby fell away for a few years as work and life commitments pushed aside time and mental bandwidth.
Then stay-at-home orders hit, and Jagannathan’s commute time to her job at the University of Washington went to zero. Wanting to connect with other people during a physically distanced time, she got out her stationery and stamps.
She wrote first to friends she’d been corresponding with since high school or college, but then sought out “people who were kind of lonely or people who lived alone, people sheltering in place,” Jagannathan said. “They were people who I wouldn’t necessarily have thought to write to, which is nice.”
High-tech communication tools have helped many of us keep in touch during the enforced isolation of recent months. But some are taking the opposite tack. With fewer chances for in-person chatting and more time on their hands, they’re rediscovering the joy of sending snail mail.
Leah Wohl-Pollack, an artist, incorporates her talents in sending personal messages, mailing cards and also drawings, and maybe even a recipe with her notes. She’s sent seven creations so far, with plans to send more.
“The internet is a great way to keep in touch, but I’d been spending a little too much time on social media during quarantine, and less and less of that time seemed to be about connecting with people I love,” she said. “A few folks in my life were dealing with various life struggles, and I wanted to cheer them up, so I sat down to make some cards and write loving messages.”
A few years ago, Noël Frodelius-Fujimoto founded the Puget Sound Postcrossing Group for local people who’d signed up on the Postcrossing website, which matches up postcard senders and recipients all over the world. Their monthly in-person postcard-writing events used to draw 20 or so, but now they meet weekly by video chat.
“It’s one thing to do the whole ‘write a postcard to a stranger’ thing, but it’s also nice to share that in person,” Frodelius-Fujimoto said. Members talk about unique cards they’ve found or newly issued stamps, and they often add elaborate decorations to the cards they’re going to send.
Frodelius-Fujimoto averages about three cards a week; a professional graphic designer, she often hand-decorates cards or even designs her own postcards to send. She started doing it because “It was something I could do whenever I want to, without a lot of money.”
Five years in, she’s received postcards from places as far-flung as Nigeria and Kazakhstan, and some of the notes have led to lasting friendships. “I’ve met many of my closest friends through Postcrossing,” she said.
Writing letters is now part of Jagannathan’s morning ritual — a way of taking a moment for herself at a time when it’s all too easy to go straight from breakfast to work.
She says what she writes doesn’t matter as much as the thought that goes into taking the time to do it. And she enjoys getting mail in return, but that isn’t the main benefit of sending things out. There’s something uniquely satisfying about picking up a pen and paper and writing thoughts by hand.
At a moment when everything started feeling both increasingly virtual and overwhelming, “It gave me something tactile, meaningful and practical to do,” she said. “At that time, anything I could do to feel connected to people was good.”