What is it about a letter?
A letter is, prima fascie, a way to communicate information across distance. An old-fashioned way that we have, for the most part, tossed aside for the faster methods like emailing, phoning, and texting.
And yet, letters remain. When we receive one, we get a jolt of energy, a little hug of happiness that lets us know someone was thinking of us and took the time to tell us so. We don’t usually get that from email. Why is that?
Letters require effort.
- You have to either keep an inventory of stationery, envelopes, and stamps and keep up with the rampant postage changes, or you make a special trip to purchase them.
- You need to write your message in your best handwriting.
- You need to know where to find the nearest blue USPS mailbox, or make a trip to the post office.
And all for something that could be relayed instantly, free of charge, through your own computer. Why do we do it?
A Little Story
When I was traveling westward across the U.S., I made a list of people with their addresses that I wanted to send a letter or postcard to, and I got to most of them. I did the same thing while in Asia, even though it seemed like the postcard-sellers there had all decided to hide from me.
Then when I finally landed in Portland, I wanted to keep writing these letters, but I made myself stop. It felt like a distraction, a way of procrastinating by wanting to send encouragement, positivity, and care to far-flung friends and family, when what I most needed was to give it to myself.
So I stopped writing letters for two weeks.
What did I gain from this?
What did I lose?
Lessons on Self-Denial
It did allow me to focus on tasks that needed attention: apartment-hunting, soul-searching, life-recalibrating. It did this by holding onto that energy that wanted to go out, and redirecting it in, forcing myself to absorb the now, the here, instead of imagining or regretting the there, the then.
This was a good exercise, but I think it’s served its purpose. I learned that frittering away so much energy in those short bursts was taking away from my ability to focus on and enjoy where I am in this moment.
Writing letters is part of “who I am,” but I was letting it become an excuse for dodging that big bullet, the one with my name on it that says Destiny.
When I put things back in perspective, ‘Who I Am’ does need to write letters, especially in my current situation, where I don’t know many people close by, and many dear friends live worlds apart. A letter dispatched connects me to them and makes me feel less lonely. Denying myself the pleasure of this activity was useful for a term but then ended up making me feel isolated.
Like a dieter denying herself any sweets at all, it was unsustainable! So I am back writing letters, but now aware of my penchant for using this good activity as a shield for not making progress on something bigger and scarier.
Have you noticed any habits that are good to start but end up becoming harmful? Are you using something as a shield for not doing something else? Something to ponder… and share with others in the comments!