Ah the pleasures of letter writing. Just the thought of it makes me happy. Not the email type, of course, but that proper, ink-to-paper, paper-to-post kind of letter writing.
I love its slowness and deliberateness, the lack of expectation of immediacy, its absence of predictive text to both assist and confound: it evokes that greatest of luxuries: time. It evokes an era when the ladies of the house dispatched themselves to their “morning” rooms to take care of the correspondence of the day. I find it fascinating that there was an age (and not too long ago) where people – from the authors to the everyday – were defined by their letter writing, that it’s these artifacts through which we know them.
The objets of letter writing also fill me with inordinate pleasure. my Pilot Namiki vanishing point fountain pen and my lovely set of inks from Japan; cards and note paper on good, thick stock, beautifully letterpressed or engraved, like this from Thornwillow Press. I get my fix from a nearby store that despite its completely over the top aesthetics, is utterly irresistible. Castle in the Air sells me the tools that make me fantasize that my life could be this ordered, orderly, beautiful world where correspondence and writing are taken seriously.
And yes I’m a sucker for the variously rude / funny / just stupid pre-printed cards and invitations. I have amassed quite the collection of them, and they sit in my father’s vintage Dunhill briefcase, just waiting to be sent out. Of course as I hunt for the perfect card which I assume I must have, I often discover that what I found so witty is not something that a recipient might feel the same way about, but I hold onto them anyway, hoping that I’ll find that right nexus of friend/sensibility/occasion when I can use them. (For example, the beautifully letterpressed card, bearing the single word, fuck, still awaits the perfect occasion.) And some are so great that I am loath to hand them out, with no friend or occasion quite worthy of them.
I even inherited from my mother an incredibly lovely item: a rather sumptuous oxblood leather letter writing case from Smythsons, I think, complete with blotter (remember those?) and pockets for letters answered and unanswered. I think that it was a gift from my father who was an inveterate letter writer (I found entire suitcases of letters he’d written her during their courtship). My mother – not prone to writing letters – never used it, but I always found it fascinating. Every time I came across it at her house I’d open it, hoping that it had finally been put to use. Alas, it never was. Instead, it sat there in her closet, a rather grand but terribly sad object, waiting to be put to some decent use. That case now sits on my desk, housing my letter writing implements.
Notice, however, at the outset of this note, how I say the thought of letter writing. Because I do not do it nearly enough: I didn’t even get around to Christmas cards this year. Moreover, since I don’t write by hand nearly enough, I’ve become a rather slow writer, and sloppy to boot. I even found myself typing a note to my non-computer-owning uncle in Japan, rather than writing it by hand. I know, shameful.
But I may have found something that might change that for me: something mysteriously called “scented sachets for stationery” from a gorgeous little site called Anzu New York. It’s incense wrapped in handmade Japanese washi paper, meant to be included in your letters.
It appears to derive from a Japanese tradition where letters would be scented either with sachets, or more commonly – by waving the letter in front of burning incense. (A bit more on this tradition here.) I love the notion of letters carrying scent (the right kind) and I’ve even been intrigued by the notion of scented ink, made with essential oils, but that feels messier to me than incense – rather than perfume – sachets. The best bit: the sachets can be used by you or your correspondent anywhere: car, bag, inside a desk drawer. That sensual hit, anytime of day? Luxurious, essential to living a good life. And what a nice thing to give.
Will this really convince me to write more letters? Possibly. But why not? If it can get me taking the time to write properly and thoughtfully, taking back the time from everything else, I say bring it on.