Last week, a young colleague celebrated her big 3-0. Like some (many?) young people about to leave their 20s, she was reluctant to make the transition.
Instead of giving her some novelty item, I decided to give her a birthday card. Actually, I couldn’t find something that suited the young lady’s personality so I settled for a card with another set of wording, and then I added “Happy birthday!” Aside from the abovementioned, I also wrote that age is just a number and that “30” is a turning point for new beginnings. What I forgot to say was, “This is especially true for young professionals.”
When I handed her the card in the morning, she smiled this big grateful smile. It helped that there was a packet of chocolates, her favorite, that went with the card. Late in the afternoon, just before leaving the office to call it a day, she thanked me again, and this time, a big hug came with it!
I’m not an emotional person (er, I think), but I admit to being sentimental. I believe in marking important occasions and milestones with something tangible because for all the electronic gadgets we’re surrounded with in this age and generation, people are more simple and sentimental than they care to admit. They like something they can hold on to, like a handwritten note, because they can read the message over and over again. There’s a “connection” (at the risk of sounding mushy) that you just can’t establish with a message that’s communicated electronically. Agree?
People may acquire possessions, may be constantly on the lookout for the next new shiny object to save or lust for, but I think, it is the carefully worded, handwritten notes and letters that they will consider their true treasures.
From a personal branding standpoint, you immediately set yourself apart if you practice this as part of your strategy. Picking the right card, card stock, words to say, and even the ink to pen those words all take effort. You have to admit: that’s certainly admirable of the person who goes the extra mile for you.
Please don’t get me wrong; I’m not averse to electronic gadgets. They offer much-needed convenience and productivity solutions, especially in an era where juggling family, work, and everything in between is an art.
As an analog communicator, though, I’ve always considered gadgets as tools for quickly getting messages across. Nothing more. For developing and deepening relationships with family and friends, my ‘weapons of choice’ remain to be stationery, cards, and pens, among others. Here’s why:
• Letters, cards, and handwritten notes don’t break when you drop them. I don’t need to be extra careful, especially when I’m working on several cards at a time.
• They don’t need batteries; poor backlighting is never an issue. When writing or reading messages, all I need to do is sit near a window or a powerful table lamp. The balcony is the best!
• I don’t need to worry about hardware specifications, operating systems, programs, and applications.
• They don’t need an upgrade. Letters, cards, and handwritten notes get better with age. The longer you keep them, the better you appreciate the thoughtfulness of their writers and the messages.
• Using pen and paper to get my message across, I don’t need to worry about “low” or “no” mobile phone signals. They’re stressors I don’t ever want to worry about, if I can help it.
• They don’t take up shelf space and too much space inside cabinets and drawers. Notice that we’re usually “pleasantly surprised” when an old letter or card drops out from a pile during spring cleaning. Can you honestly say the same of an outmoded gadget? A loud “ouch” is more likely, especially if it falls on your foot! This just occurred to me: do people get sentimental over an old phone or, say, tablet, they find in the closet? Will they smell it the way they do old letters?
• Letters, cards, handwritten notes – you can make them as personal and colorful as you want for your intended recipient. It shows effort on your part, and for the recipient that means you think they’re special. Come on, admit it! They are!
• You can’t send packages through gadgets. You still have to go to the post office to do so. Like the previous bullet, nothing is more telling that your receiver is ‘special’ than a well thought-out gift sent just in time for a birthday or sent to commemorate the birth of a new member of the family.
It’s almost impossible not to think of my trip to Paris while looking at “The French Connection” postcards from Cardcetera.
I’ve been there many years ago. The group study exchange program I was a part of had wrapped up, and my fellow students and I decided to stay in Europe a few more weeks before flying back home. Although our group of four subsequently parted ways, one of our common destinations was, you guessed it, France.
While I can no longer remember the exact places I went to, it’s not too difficult to pull up details like the Eiffel Tower, River Seine, Arc de Triomphe, Sacré Coeur Basilica, the trip to Cannes, the small apartment I initially stayed at, the much bigger apartment I lived in before going to Germany, the very cold weather (it was spring), the train ride I took to visit a popular science museum (all I can recall is the extensive – and impressive – collection of bugs), a flea market I stumbled into, getting lost in an unfamiliar neighborhood, and so on.
This is because when one is more focused on experiencing rather than recording a trip, it’s much easier to go back in time. Even the minutiae are easily taken in when one is simply living in the moment.
I’ve had these “French Connection” postcards for about two weeks now. It took me “this long” to say something because each beautiful image looks just like a glossy picture! Much better than those I took back then! Each time I take a postcard in hand, my world slows down and I find myself carrying a conversation with my younger self, “You never went inside Sacré Coeur Basilica. Why’s that? You mean you chose the science museum over a historical building?”
When I was looking at the postcard bearing the croissant, baguette, and confiture, it actually made me think what a friend and I had for breakfast when we stayed for a few days at the Assumption Motherhouse in Paris. Similarly, the bucket of macarons made me wonder if we had those for dessert in Paris or Cannes . . . or if we had them at all. Surely, we drank wine!
That is the kind of whimsical conversation and rumination I have in mind all because of Cardcetera and its “French Connection” series.
Have you ever seen postcards that bring you back to your favorite places or make you wish you could be in those places? Take a look at “The French Connection” and see if you don’t start feeling wistful, too.
Title: Pictures in the Post: The illustrated letters of Sir Henry Thornill to his grandchildren
Edited by: Michael Baker
I purchased this coffee table book from a bookshop that sells books in various forms of state: new, used, overruns, and so on. This particular copy is used; its jacket is torn in places. I decided to buy it, just the same, for inspiration.
I’m the kind of letter writer whose imagination is limited by what she has on hand: rubber stamps, decorative tape, and stickers, among others. I used to draw when I was much younger, and then it was totally forgotten when I pursued communication – and not fine – arts in college.
Sir Henry’s illustrated mails to his grandchildren are like little works of art! I hope I can do the same to the letters and cards I send to the young, and even not-so-young, people in my life.
The advice below was taken from a book called “Popularity Plus” and which was published in 1950.
Then as now, a “thank you” or an acknowledgement from the receiver would be much appreciated.
– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
So-o, Uncle Harry sent you a check for ten smackeroos for your birthday, and little Sister Sue came up with a ten-cent hanky?
Did you remember to acknowledge Uncle Harry’s gift promptly? And did you tickle Susie pink with a warm “Thank you” for her nice little offering?
Always give thanks on the dot and heartily.
Never act bored with a gift, don’t give it away to someone else, and never, never ridicule it.
If you’re away at school and Pop sends you some folding money – even if it’s only your regular allowance – write and say, “Thanks, it came.”
Same when Mom ships off a box of food to you. Let her know you appreciate it. Besides, she’s probably wondering if it’s lost in the mail.
Source: Popularity Plus by Sally Simpson (1950)
Which of the social letters do I find most challenging to write?
I admit I rarely send letters of encouragement not because I don’t know anyone who can make use of a few positive words, but because such letters are emotionally draining.
In my experience, it’s not enough to simply say, “You can do it!” For a letter to sound sincere, I noticed it helps if one points out why a person should keep going, should remain cheerful despite temporary setbacks, should pursue something he or she has been dreaming of, and so on. Let me give you an example.
A few weeks back, I began a conversation with a young lady who was helping me put together my purchases. While chatting with her, I gathered the following: she’s quite new in the working world; she rarely writes letters (I asked her), and she was seriously considering picking up journal writing again, but is deeply hesitant to do so.
Her reluctance, she revealed, stems from the fact that someone might accidentally read her musings. At the same time, she wished she had been keeping a diary all along so that she could’ve taken note of “recent incidents” in her life. I didn’t press for details, but something in her tone conveyed regret.
When I got home, I decided to send her a card to thank her for assisting me and to nudge her into taking up the pen again. Not surprisingly, it took me some time to put together a short message. Not because I hardly know her, but because I wanted to make sure the words I put on print will be understood and easily remembered by someone her age (24 years young) and by someone who was going through the same experience as she was.
It’s been a couple of weeks now since I put together and mailed her packet of goodies: an envelope that contains a note card and two sets of sticker sheets for her diary. I hope she uses them.
The formula I follow for writing letters of encouragement is “one size does not fit all.” To create the most impact, think of each letter as if it’s a perfectly tailored jacket, and you want to make sure the owner – in this case, the reader – will truly treasure your gift.
What about you? What kind of letter do you find most challenging to put together?
The very first “letter stuffing” I made was a little heart (about the size of a dollar coin) made of bread dough clay. This was way back in high school, when I was very much into sewing and drawing. I found the recipe in one of my craft books and thought it might be fun to try something different.
Making bread dough clay is very easy: just mix bread, water, and tacky glue. Mash and knead until the dough is no longer sticking to your hands. Once dry, anything you form from it can be coated with clear nail polish or sealant (such as spray varnish) for protection.
I remember making a batch of those bread dough hearts for Valentine’s Day. The heart is attached to a length of pink satin ribbon. The friends I gave those hearts to liked the token. So encouraged, I made another batch for mailing.
I was already into writing and sending letters at the time. Not knowing any better, I thought sending those hearts was as easy as slipping them inside an envelope along with a card. No so.
I didn’t realize a letter goes through so much “punishment!” By the time one of my friends received her Valentine’s Day card along with the heart, it was crushed. She was crushed and, well, so was I. I put my heart (pun not intended) into making those hearts!
Quickly thereafter, I learned that you have to choose the kind of stuffing you’ll put inside your letter.
• What material is it made of? I’ve sent beaded bookmarkers and handmade door charms to friends. The door charm is pretty tough in itself, but it can ‘pierce’ the envelope you slipped it in if not packed properly.
• What about weight? How light or heavy is it? Please remember that the heavier your letter stuffing, the more expensive your mail will cost.
• Consider the distance. Fragile items have to be packed well.
• Think about the packing material you’ll use. It need not be expensive. In recent years, I simply re-use the plastic covering that many greeting cards come in. When I receive gifts swathed in sheets of tissue paper, and the latter is not torn and still in good condition, I re-purpose them as packing material. I’ve also begun stocking up on padded envelopes, those with special bubble wrapping inside.
Putting stuff inside letters is fun! I wish I can take a photo of the expressions of friends who receive surprises in their letterboxes. But I have my share of misadventures, too. One time, I sent a batch of letters with door charms in them to a select group of friends. All but one received hers. We waited, chalking up the delay to a weeklong government holiday. Lesson: be aware of the risks of sending letters with stuff inside.
Having just narrated all these, it occurred to me how a friend’s letter stuffing from Tokyo – a small, decorative bottle – arrived at my letterbox intact. Anyway . . .
How about you? What letter stuffing have you sent and for what occasion was it?
Writing-font.com is not a substitute for real handwritten letters, but it is a cool way of sending messages! Giving it a try reminded me of typing a Word document, except that I can choose the paper background, among other nifty features.
By: Anne Bogel (@AnneBogel, 2011)
Link: How to choose good stationery
There are endless stationery options, in stores and on the web, and you can find all sorts of designs on paper that is low-end, high-end, and everything in between.
Good stationery is whatever kind of stationery carries your message the best.
When I was much younger, I used to think writing a letter meant filling out the entire stationery, some of which were as big as an 8.5 x 11-sized bond paper. Not surprisingly, I ended up with letters that sounded contrived, if not boring, because they were long. Long on words and short on essence.
Eventually, I learned I didn’t have to write everything that’s happening to me. I discovered my hands are less tired – and my readers less bored – if I talk about one experience and elaborate on that.
Nowadays, I get more satisfaction when I send a card to congratulate a friend on an upcoming wedding, on the birth of a new member of a family, or simply to surprise someone. In short, I find it more meaningful to write letters that focus the spotlight on those around me.
Sentences are no longer just letters put together to fill a space. They’ve become important components in building and sustaining a connection between me and those I cherish.