The agony and ecstasy of snail-mail

Deutsch: English: U.S. Mail Storage Box

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There’s something so satisfying about getting real mail. REAL mail, I mean, not bills or junk mail or 8-tab sales flyers. 

There’s Christmas cards (which come with just the faintest whiff of obligation) and birthday cards (which make you feel warm all over (unless they’re from someone you know you didn’t send a card to for their birthday, because you have no idea when their birthday even is)). And I suppose there are weddings and funerals every so often… but there just aren’t that many other occasions for real mail.

And real mail is nice. It’s so… solid. It feels so much more permanent even though, in reality, a message on paper will probably get lost or thrown away or otherwise disappear forever someday, while electronic messages get stored on servers and will probably still exist until the apocalypse (and possibly beyond though who will still be able to read them)…

Writing mail – real mail – also makes you get your thoughts in order. Write and rewrite and perhaps even scrap the whole idea. 

Email lets you do that too, but there’s an immediacy to the “send” (versus addressing an envelope and having it stare at you… “Are you sure you want to send me? Are you sure I am worth this effort and paper and postage and delivery time and the recipient’s time and possible paper cut at the other end?“) 

For email, Save as Draft works in the same way, if one has the presence of mind to use it. And personally, I’m a big believer in Save as Draft. Though it occurs to me that should probably go through and clean out the words I decided not to say after all. (Hmm. Someday.)

Text messaging – not that I do much text messaging – is the ultimate in immediacy. Almost demandingly so. “Here is a brief thought, made briefer to accommodate space limitations. Probably not spelled correctly or using proper English. Respond to it. NOW.” Oh sure, you can rethink it and not send, or even save as a draft and come back to it. But that is not the spirit of texting.  Which might be why I do so little of it. (OK, that and the cost; it’s not currently on my phone plan. Again, someday.)

No, mail is different. It takes time. In every sense.

I don’t use mail all that much any more. I guess very few of us do. My grandmother was a big believer in sending letters, while I’ve been a big believer in sending emails.  Or, you know, blogging my flotsam out to the world. Where it’s right here for me to check on. I can reread it and make sure I didn’t write anything too terribly far afield from what I meant. I can get and respond to comments. I can watch over my posts, and monitor the stats. For the most part, I have some idea of what’s become of my words.

Not so much with mail. A little more than a week ago I sent a birthday card to my SBN, and I didn’t actually know if she got it, or when she got it, until I emailed my sister to find out. (It came, on time, and she read it to everyone herself. YAY!)

Yes, mail is lovely to receive. And knowing that it’s lovely to receive can make it lovely to send.

But it’s also horrible to send, in these days of immediate communication gratification. 

Because there’s this:  I write a note to someone I haven’t talked to in a while, and in the writing of it, I almost feel like I’ve communicated with them. But they don’t know that, so it isn’t really true. In reality, the note is still in that envelope waiting to go out. Still in my control, still time to rethink it. (There’s nothing unsuitable; it’s fine to send. Really. And you know what? Get over yourself.)  And then it’s in the mailbox, waiting to be picked up. (Am I sure? Am I really sure? I’m sure. And did I mention “Get over yourself?”)  Then it’s in transit.  For however long that takes. And in this window between sending and receiving, I both have and haven’t actually communicated with them. It’s in communication limbo until they get it. And even then, I won’t know when they get it. I won’t necessarily know if they get it. Or what their reaction was, if there was one. Unless of course they reach back out to me, which I really wasn’t trying to prompt. At all. It was just a thinking-of-you note, not a get-in-touch-with-me note.

And this is what’s awful about snail-mail: my words are out there, beyond my control and protection, and I don’t know if they’re safe.

How did people live like this, back in the day?


About aka gringita
Flotsam generator. Amateur photographer. Avid traveler. Christ follower.

9 Responses to The agony and ecstasy of snail-mail

  1. Pingback: Where was this knowledge 5 days ago? « aka Gringita

  2. Paul Streicher (@Pstreicher) says:

    You must not have gotten your neighbor’s mail by mistake, have you? Did any of your mail end up at a neighbor’s house by mistake? To answer your question about how they lived with this in the old days, maybe it’s because that’s all there was.
    I’d like to have everything email and eliminate the snail mail. Have Fedex or UPS take over the service. They might be better at getting it to the right addresses on time. At least that’s what I’m to understand.
    I won’t go on as I could write a book I feel on the subject. There’s quite a history of how the U.S. Mail all started but it’s not like that today, a far cry I’m afraid. The bulk and volume mailers get the discount and their junk covers over your mail. You have to flick through it all to make sure you haven’t missed any of your important letters. It just makes me cringe every time I have to pick up the same flyers and advertisements that I have to carry over and drop into the recycle bin before going on into the house to open my ‘real’ mail. How I miss the days of old….


    • aka gringita says:

      “Because that’s all there was” is probably exactly the point. When there are no other forms of communication, a letter by post is a lifeline. Today, it’s almost archaic. Thanks for the visit and the comment!


  3. Pingback: Scaring Away Junk Mail « The Laughing Housewife

  4. Jada Robitaille says:

    Great post. Cool.


  5. Pingback: What are you searching for? « aka Gringita

  6. Brett Duffield says:

    Very good blog article. Want more.


  7. Marcel Pawlak says:

    Thanks so much for the article post. Really Cool.


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