I went to the post office yesterday and asked for a roll of stamps. The clerk gave me a funny look and said, "A roll?" I confirmed my order and she ventured into a back room to fetch me a roll of stamps from the closet. "You don't sell many rolls?" I asked. "No," she said, "You know . . . the internet."
People don't send enough mail to make a roll of stamps worth buying any more. So sad.
My first resolution in the area of etiquette is to write more social correspondence. Christmas is a great time to get excited about this idea because we've received lots of gifts and been hosted at lots of houses so I started with thank-you notes. I then went through our backlog of Christmas cards that the post office finally delivered and ventured to write brief notes to people who still didn't have our new address. Then I opened a card from an old friend who has, miraculously, kept me on her Christmas mailing list and saw that she'd had a new baby. Last year I would have thought, "How nice!" This year I wrote her a congratulations note and updated her about our lives.
I'm hoping to move on to real letters next but, honestly, I'm afraid that people will think I'm weird. Maybe I should just be upfront and tell people that I'm trying to revive the lost art of letter-writing. I'm afraid, though, of setting my sights too high. I barely have time to eke out a typed blog entry most days.
Then again, the kids don't seem to clamor for my attention quite so much when I'm sitting at the table with pen and paper as when I'm standing at the desk, staring at a screen. There is just something humanizing about paper. Eric just got his first issue of a newspaper subscription this morning and was reflecting this evening how much nicer it was to start his day with a paper rather than an online news briefing. My father-in-law got the new Amazon electronic book reader for Christmas. It's an impressive little gadget but I just don't see myself giving up the satisfying heft of a good book, the quick flipping back to check a detail or re-read a favorite passage. And what would we do with all the extra square footage in our apartment?
It's funny how much I look forward to the mail each day. Nothing ever really comes. Even our junk mail is so scant that some days we don't even get mail. I remember my mom looking forward to the mail each day, too. Why is it? I think I'm always harboring a completely unreasonable hope that someone will have sent me a letter.
Eric and I began our courtship the day before I moved from Boston to Washington. Prior to that day we had met, in person, only four times. We had exchanged letters weekly for an entire summer and we continued to write to each other--two or three times each week--for four months. We've had the good fortune since then never to have been separated long enough to need to write letters but I so treasure the shoebox of letters I have from him.
Besides the romance of letters, I'm starting to see how using the postal service to correspond is generally more civilizing. So often I write an e-mail and get annoyed when there is not an immediate reply. I know the message has arrived the moment I click "Send." E-mail and telephone bumps into someone's day and demands a quick response. Letters arrive at a set time each day and invite consideration and respect. So why do I feel like I'm really imposing on people if I write a letter? Part of the reason Eric and I began our relationship with letters is that a real, hand-written letter is a gift. We wanted to think enough of the other to take the time to create these gifts on a regular basis.
Well, I'm not going anywhere in particular with this at the moment. I mostly want to get the conversation going, if only with myself, about etiquette. Etiquette (much of which involves written correspondence) is commonly seen as something imposed by the rich or snobby on the poor and/or ignorant. My thesis this year is that etiquette is none of these things but is, in fact, a fundamental part of human relations and is abandoned at our peril. I've been reading Miss Manners' book lately and I'm struck with her notion that most failing marriages need help from someone like her rather than a psychologist. An interesting argument. At the very least, I think we have a responsibility to know the rules before we break them.