When I first moved to the Mission in San Francisco, I lived in a teeny room in a flat with with several roommates, one of whom was a brilliant writer, Karen Wiederholt. After reading several of her poems, I asked if she’d be okay with me turning one of them into a song. I was particularly taken by one in the form of letters between two friends who miss each other. From this epistolary poem, the lyrics for “How’s the Weather” were born.
This was way back in the the days of letter writing. You know, snail mail. Time moved slower then. No one stared at screens all day. When a friend lived overseas, you couldn’t afford to call them on the phone. So you wrote airmail letters on crinkly paper you could almost see through, and attached a special airmail stamp to a special envelope, imprinted with the words par avion, which made the endeavor seem wonderfully exotic. Before slipping the letter into the mailbox, you might pause to summon up a bit of faith that this thin wisp of a letter would make it, somehow, all the way to the hands of the one you loved across the world.
I recently read an article in the New York Times about how, during the pandemic, real letter writing on actual paper, with actual ink, was making a comeback. This doesn’t surprise me. Too much time in front of screens has deprived us of so much of the sensory world.
Real letter writing is sensual. And tantalizing. Each day you check your mail box, with the hope a letter will have arrived in reply to the one you sent weeks ago. You check and check, day after day. And then finally, without warning, it arrives. The tactile pleasure of receiving the letter, touching the paper touched by your friend’s hands, with the stains from their coffee cup on the edge, and suddenly you’re that much closer—even though they might be thousands of miles away. There’s something so intimate about seeing a loved one’s handwriting on the page, the way their letters loop delicately, or are scrawled out in indecipherable hieroglyphics.
Have you written any pandemic snail mail letters or postcards? I’d love to hear about what inspired you to do this, or how it felt when you received a letter. Please share your story in the comments below.