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Author Nancy J. Cohen discusses the writing process and life as a Florida resident.

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Lost Skills

Posted by Nancy J. Cohen on April 16, 2012

I’ve been sorting through a box of memorabilia dating back to congratulation cards my parents received when I was born. In the interest of decluttering, I’ve thrown out all greeting cards except the ones from my immediate family, old report cards, menus and certificates that are no longer meaningful.

I’m more hesitant to discard letters. Some are written by me to my parents describing my travels and experiences. Some are letters that my parents wrote to me. And some are from my husband in our early acquaintance days. What a treasure these represent! And what a sad loss to society today that we no longer receive hand-written letters like these.    Letters

Emails and text messages are so much more impersonal, quick paragraphs in abbreviated language that don’t describe events with the depth found in a hand-written letter. A person had to take the time to compose their thoughts, write them neatly in legible script, and mail the letter. These missives had emotional impact sorely lacking in today’s form of communication. One used to find such a letter in the mail and open it with anticipation and joy. Pages of handwriting would unfold, and we could share the scribe’s life albeit vicariously.

In this age, end of the year holiday letters might summarize events in typewritten form that goes out to all the people on a sender’s mailing list. It’s not personal, directed to the receiver. Nor is an email a keeper. Sure, we can print one out, but it lacks the personal touch, the ink on paper, the crinkly feel of a real letter on a piece of pretty stationery. When’s the last time you used old fashioned stationery? Sent a real greeting card? In schools today, cursive writing is no longer being taught. I am sad for this loss. I am sad that we no longer get letters that are worth saving in our time capsule boxes of memorabilia. Writing letters is a lost art, subjugated to the progress of technology. Or maybe it’s just one less thing for our heirs to throw out some day.

Are you a saver of memorabilia or are you a minimalist? Do you miss the days of hand-written letters and personally penned greeting cards?

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21 Responses to “Lost Skills”

  1. Betsy said

    My cousin and I have continued a hand-written letter tradition for 35 years. We started as young adults and just kept on writing. And yes, all of them are in lovely boxes in order. One of these days I’ll return to them and see what I can do as a writer. There’s nothing in there but memories, certainly not a memoir, but the memories should be useful in fiction…

  2. It’s true, Betsy, that some of the stories revealed in these letters could inspire fictional works. How nice that you and your cousin keep up your personal correspondence.

  3. Pamela Lear said

    I’ve been bemoaning the lost art of letter writing for years. I have memorabilia, like yours, of letters that between myself and my parents, and I have kept all cards with messages, from various people, that are of significance. However, the collection is not growing as it used to. I often send cards for occasions, and periodically sent people hand-written letters … and I get teased for it. Don’t worry – – that won’t stop me! I print out and paste e-mail messages that are meaningful into my journals. I even print out typed journal entries and keep them in a binder; we are more likely to page through them and re-read ideas if they are on paper; as a document in a computer, they are fairly well hidden. I write hand-written thank you notes. However, the world is an ever-changing place and I’m trying to appreciate all the new methods of communication as much as the old! (After all, I wouldn’t have seen your article here if it wasn’t for Facebook!). Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this. I think it’s an important topic!

  4. Pamela, I’m like you in that I print out important messages. Otherwise, they’ll get lost to time, whether due to computer failure, power outage, or my kids someday erase all my files. And hand written thank you notes are always appreciated.

  5. dianeokey said

    Nancy,
    Really empathisize and agree with your thoughts here. Tugs at the heartstrings to hold those precious hand-written cards and letters. What are we losing…what have we already lost…
    I know I need to pare down my stuff, but like you, there are some things I just can’t bear to part with. Irreplaceable and precious, forever keepers 🙂
    Diane

  6. scrapgirl1467 said

    Oh Nancy, I am SO with you on this! I have blogged about it frequently and u fortunately most people don’t seem to miss real letters, etc. . . I, however, miss those days terribly. There is nothing that is the same as holding the same piece of paper that someone you love held in their own hands, there is nothing like seeing the handwriting of your loved one, smelling the scent of their perfume or cologne – no email or text can compete with that! Thanks for reminding us of the importance of real communication.

  7. Diane and Scrapgirl, thanks for adding your comments. I’m afraid our children won’t have this pleasure unless I start writing to them now, and I am hesitant to add that item to my already full list. I wrote in a notebook when they were little and that will have to suffice.

    Occasionally, I’ll get a hand-written fan letter. I’ve kept every single one that I have received because I’m so appreciative of the time and thoughfullness it took a reader to write personally to me, stamp and envelope, and put it in the mail. I print out emails too but the penned scrawls are special.

  8. Hi Nancy!
    I am so with you on this lost art. I was just lamenting with a friend about this the other day. Yes, I still have a stack of old love letters tied with a ribbon hidden at the back of my drawer. I also have every letter my son wrote from boot camp. (only because that was the only form of communication allowed during boot camp! ) Now, all I have is a file of printed out e-mails from him while he was stationed all over the world. Letter writing is definitely a lost art. I look forward to a next generation that embraces all things retro and rebels against cyberspace by reverting to writing letters once again. 🙂

  9. Imagine when we die, and our spouses/children don’t know how to access our files, or just delete everything because they don’t care. I worry about this, because I’ve started donating materials to the Popular Culture Library at Bowling Green University. I’ve already sent my old manuscripts but am keeping my notebooks for now. That’s fine for the pre-digital days. But what about now? All my files are online, complete books, research notes, etc. To some extent, I still keep notebooks for paper files, but most things are in cyberspace. And here’s the ultimate horror: we get an electromagnetic storm/bomb and it wipes out everything electronic. Our lives are being reduced to a thumb drive.

  10. I’m a huge hoarder. I still have the letters my husband and I sent each other before we were married. And just last week I sent out a couple of printed greeting cards. One of these days I’m sure I’ll have to do some cleaner out, but so far I’ve avoided moving from the home we’ve been in for 39 years, and we have plenty of room for the wonderful things I can’t get rid of. And I even save special emails in folders online. Thanks for your thoughts on this, Nancy.

  11. We’ve been in this home for 31 years, so you beat us, Madeline. It’s true that a house can hold a lifetime of memories. But what happens when we get old and have to downsize? I’ve cleaned out both my mother’s and my aunt’s apartments and they had a ton of stuff. I want to reduce the burden on our kids. I’ll keep the letters and other things that mean a lot to me, but many of my childhood souvenirs are unimportant to anyone else. It’s bad enough that I’ve saved this stuff from our kids. Here’s some special memories for you: I found a book of love poetry my father wrote, and it wasn’t to my mother!

    • Yes, you’re absolutely right, Nancy. I had to clean out my mother’s things three times with her moves from her own home to assisted living and then to a nursing home and then after she died. All terribly grueling experiences. I also did a lot of cleaning out after my oldest son died. That was even worse. So, I keep putting off the inevitable. Funny, my husband wrote a lot of love poetry before we were married. Maybe I should start with that.

      • I’m so sorry to hear about your son. How horrible that must have been. I can’t even imagine what you went through.

        It’s sad that our lives get reduced to so little. And two generations or so down the line, no one will remember us. I leave the legacy of my books if nothing else. My aunt wrote a mystery and I still have her novel. It’s hard to part with these things.

        • Thanks, Nancy. My memoir Leaving the Hall Light On is about him and my memories of him. Thankfully I was able to write that book, get it published, and get our story out. I think our writing and our books define us. I wonder who will really remember him when I die.
          And, please don’t try to imagine what I went through. I’m glad you don’t have to.

      • He’ll be remembered by all the people whose lives he touched. That’s the best any of us can hope for. It’s good you were able to write about him that way.

      • Thanks, Nancy.

  12. Nancy, this is a wonderful post! I absolutely miss the days of hand-written letters and notes. I’m always thrilled when someone takes the time to send me a hand written thank-you note instead of an e-mail. I’m glad other people feel the same way, I was feeling hopelessly old-fashioned!

  13. You’re not old fashioned, Mary. It’s especially meaningful to receive a hand-written thank you note. It is too easy to dash off a quickie via email.

  14. I definitely miss the hand written letters that friends and family sent out years ago. My sister used to write 30 page letters to me when I was away at college—I can’t tell you how special those were to me! Emails are nice, but there’s just something about receiving a nice, thick envelope in the mail that you knew someone cared enough to sit down and write for you!

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