To send a letter is a good way to go somewhere
without moving anything but your heart.
— Phyllis Theroux
I remember when my elementary school teacher walked into the classroom one morning and asked who would be interested in corresponding through letter writing with kids from a school in England. Exchanging letters with another person, someone I had never met and who lived far away in a different world, or so it felt to me at the time, was fascinating and intriguing. And so I ended up having my first pen pal in second grade, when I could hardly put a string of sentences together myself. This (pen)friendship didn’t last very long. I think we exchanged a total of 3-4 letters until the correspondence seized, but I still remember that this was a moment of change in me. I wanted to write letters, I wanted to receive mail in my mailbox and to correspond with people that I had never met. I wanted to know what life was like in other places.
So, I had a lot of pen pals over the years. I found people to write with in different places. When we were on our family vacation, I asked other girls that we met and that stayed at the same hotel if they wanted to write letters with me. I exchanged daily letters with girls in my class. I sent letters in respond to pen pal ads in kids’ magazines. And then one time, I applied for a pen pal ad in a magazine myself and it was published. I received hundreds (!) of letters from girls all around Germany and beyond. And all of them wanted to write letters with me. I was thrilled, but obviously, I wasn’t able to respond to even half of them. I did correspond with a few girls for a few years, but then that fizzled out as well.
Then I was introduced to something called “friendship books” (oh hey, there is even a link on Wikipedia that explains what they are), or FBs for short (not to confuse with the abbreviation for Facebook). Are they still around?
This opened a completely new world of opportunity for me. I started making my own friendship books and sending them off to the small number of pen pals I had, they passed them on and my number of pen pals grew from there. I received letters from Germany and from all over the world… Norway, Sweden, the Netherlands, Italy, Spain, Denmark, UK, USA, Australia, New Zealand, Brazil, Israel, Indonesia, you name it. I had 50+ pen friends at one point. Some of those pen-friendships were short-lived, but there were and still are a few people that I still keep up with to this day.
One of those people is someone who I call one of my best friends today. Cathy and I will celebrate our friendship anniversary of 20 years this year! She’s from Sydney, Australia and we exchanged hundreds of multiple-page letters over the years. We shared joy and heartache, struggles and successes. We even were lucky enough to meet each other in person once, 13 years after becoming friends through the written word. She and her husband traveled to California in 2005, where I had moved to previously. It was one of the most exciting moments in my life to finally hug her in person.
This is one of the most amazing friendships that came from my letter writing.
I still love – even prefer! – to make friends through writing. It’s easy to carefully craft your first messages and then slowly evolve from there. By the time you find yourself in the situation to meet up, you’re already close friends.
I guess, it only makes sense that I started blogging at some point. It seemed like a logical choice and it made it so much easier to learn about and connect with people from all over the world. Writing has always been more about communication for me than just for the sake of writing. Of course, like every proper female, I used to also write a journal for myself, but then I always had the urge to share thoughts and ideas with others through writing.
I still write letters. There is nothing better than a handwritten piece of mail in my mailbox. As you can imagine though, blogging and emailing has replaced a lot of the interaction – just because it’s more immediate and you can easily be in touch every day (and because I trust the postal service less and less. But that’s a whole different story).