Keys Homes
Sunday, April 14, 2013
The Art of letter writing

By LESLIE LINSLEY Citizen Columnist

The other day I wanted to invite my neighbors on either side of us over for a drink. It was an impromptu invite, nothing formal, just a last minute idea, so I lazily scribbled the information on a piece of lined paper torn from a notepad I carry around and stuck it in their doors on my way to the market. Then this week, Suzie from exercise class, handed me, by comparison, a lovely note, handwritten on yellow lined paper. And while she apologized for the informality of the invitation, to me, it was a noticeably great improvement over my invitation to my neighbors. On the other hand, Michael and Claudia Whittacker from my class printed out a nicely designed invitation to a party at their house in honor of our class leader, Mike Mulligan.

While the wording telegraphed an informal party, it was definitely a bona fide invitation, printed on shiny card stock, on the computer, complete with a rainbow border. Very impressive! When isn't an actual invitation that comes in the mail not cause for celebration? It is so infrequent these days with email and texting being the modern form of all communication. Even thank you notes arrive via a "beep" or vibration. I for one do not want the "old- fashioned" form of communication to disappear and try to do my part not to let this happen. However, from time to time, laziness prevails and a penciled scrawl on a ragged edge notebook page substitutes for a real, honest-to-goodness card, invitation, or stationary. I consider this a missed opportunity.

I have always enjoyed writing personal notes, keeping a journal, sending thank you cards, birthday wishes, even writing condolence cards in longhand. Today I received in the mail a little booklet on the do's and don'ts of thank you notes. It fascinated me so I'm passing along some of the ideas in my small effort to do my part in promoting the lost art of writing.

The first rule of thumb when thanking someone is to send a note as quickly as possible. As for stationary, the booklet states that all notes may be sent on informal stationary, except for wedding thank yous. Not sure who the authority on all things proper in the letter writing department might be, but when I got to page two the writer was scolding me. Here's what I read, "Even though most thank you notes can be sent on informal stationary that doesn't mean it's OK to use a piece of paper torn from your shopping list pad." This did not deter me from reading on. It seems that thank you notes must be personalized, something I love doing. It's a creative challenge. For example, the booklet suggests, when you write a thank you for a birthday gift, the gift giver deserves to know how much the gift was appreciated (even if you hate it!). When you don't like a gift, the booklet suggests saying, "thank you for your thoughtfulness. I will always think of you whenever I use the ......." Or I might write, "Thank you for the gift book about everything I need to know about iguanas. I will pass the information along to my friend Claudia who is seeking ways to get rid of the unwanted visitor."

Apparently wedding gift thank you notes should be sent within three months of receipt of gifts. Sounds like a long time to me. I'd probably get them out as each gift arrived, usually before the wedding, so you can do them one at a time and put some heart into it. But then I'm a writer and it almost doesn't matter what it is, I love creating sentences even if they're merely instructions on how to get rid of an iguana.

"There is no need for a thesis length thank you note," we are advised. The following would suffice: "Thank you Betsy for the lovely dinner. Please let Aldo know how much we appreciate your gracious hospitality and his very entertaining anecdotes over dinner." I would love to always have a box of cards on hand for any occasion but never seem to get that organized. I am often known to write a note on the back half of a card someone sent to me and justify this as recycling. I send it back in a new and unimproved form as a postcard. Finding the envelopes is another chore. Maybe this is why emailing is embraced. No paper, no pen, no envelope, no stamp, no cost.

For over a month I've been musing over the fact that I ran out of printed personal stationary about two months ago. I go to the Internet and check the online suppliers. I spend more time than I find acceptable, searching and selecting the least objectionable design and price and then find that the cost of shipping is more than the stationary so I don't. And this is why, for now at least, my notes both formal and informal arrive on ragged edged lined paper from my notepad. But, they ARE handwritten!

Leslie Linsley has written more than 50 books on crafts, decorating and home style. She resides on Nantucket with her husband, photographer Jon Aron, and has a store on the island that specializes in her one-of-a-kind creations. Her latest book is "Key West, a Tropical Lifestyle" (Monacelli Press), with photos by Terry Pommett.

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