The other day, Geoff was reminiscing about the days before we were quite so internet-oriented, when we used to send letters on actual paper in real envelopes through the mail. I had taken up the art of letter-writing at about the age of thirteen and had combined it with the art of the decorated envelope (sometimes stationery as well), and was still pursuing it fairly diligently by the time Geoff and I met.
Geoff recalls our correspondence and the decorated envelopes with due nostalgia. In fact, I think Geoff was one of the last people to whom I regularly sent my decorated envelopes, because I knew he appreciated them (and sometimes reciprocated with sketches on his own envelopes) and I was reluctant to give up the visual element of my correspondence for the purely text-based. But eventually our postal correspondence lapsed.
Had I any of my special envelopes handy, I'd scan one for illustration, but I think they are all in a box in my parents' shed (I didn't initially envision being away from the Bay Area for more than a couple of years and the acquisition of an MA). Most of them were done in collage and, I think the recipients will generally agree, were rather peculiar as a rule. I could make a new one, given that I have some suitable materials to hand (a Pottery Barn catalog arrived just the other day, despite the fact that I don't actually shop there). But then who would I send it to? Who would I choose to surprise?
I'm not sure who. Everyone I once sent them to, and it was a reasonable number of people, now keeps in touch with me via holiday cards and/or infrequent emails. They have spouses, children, pets, jobs, and the like occupying their thoughts. Some of them, like Geoff, live in foreign countries now, which makes for some caution about non-standard packaging.
It is true that my friend Megan keeps in touch with certain of her friends through exchange of physical letters and bits of stuff that almost make my old envelopes look like hasty productions; the wall of her bedroom in Kutná Hora was well decorated with mail of this sort. I gather, then, that there are indeed people--in their twenties!--who do not care to lead an entirely digital life, and I think this is a fine thing. But Megan and I do not habitually write to each other; we just make sure to see one another when in the same part of the world.
Actually, when I think about it, there are not all that many people in my life who engage in real correspondence of either the paper or the electronic variety. Nobody at all sends me paper letters. It's all email.
Some people send out a couple of long emails a year, or when something exciting is going on in their lives like (latest example) buying a house in Mexico. People in my department, of course, frequently email me about this or that in a relatively personal way, and this sometimes provides some interesting reading, but it is not what I would normally term real correspondence. Most of them do, after all, see me fairly often and so our emails tend not to be very discursive. When I think about it, there are really only a few people who exchange email with me that can be regarded as an ongoing conversation. Now, it is true that in part I am no longer very good at carrying on a correspondence with people when this involves doing a lot of catch-up on what has happened in my life, and this has probably dissuaded some of my friends from bothering. I try to do my big catch-up over the holidays, which renders it less individual. And for that matter I take the view that the blog ought to mean I shouldn't have to laboriously explain what I'm doing--if people want to know, they can come right here and get the public side of it and not have to ask things like "Have you finished your dissertation yet?" or "Are you still living in Prague?" But, of course, some people are convinced that "blogs are self-indulgent drivel" or that they can catch a virus by visiting a blog. Um, fine. Be that way.
In any case, while I rather miss the excitement of thinking there might be something delightful in the mailbox, with or without foreign postage, email and blog comments have the advantage that an entire multi-part conversation can occur on a topic in the course of a day or two. I am glad that at least a few people partake of this sort of entertainment with me.