I love my job. I get to deliver mail to people in the town where I live in all its splendor, all year round. The summer traffic is intense, and I am not great at left turns onto the highway, but most postal routes keep us turning right, so that is helpful.
While I am not fond of large, heavy packages that are hard to fit in my little mail truck (I mean you, kitty litter and bottled water!), most of the time I get to deliver fun packages, or so I assume. I hope you all are ordering more than just paper towels and other mundane household items.
Sadly, I don’t get to take a lot of fun outgoing mail from the mailboxes I visit. Those little flags on your mailbox need some exercise! And I have some suggestions.
February is “A Month of Letters” (LetterMo.com) as well as International Correspondence Writing Month (InCoWriMo.com). Both projects involve challenges to write one letter or postcard every day for the entire month. LetterMo was started by author Mary Robinette Kowal in 2010 as a way to stay connected when she took some time away from online activity. InCoWriMo was started in 2013 by fountain pen enthusiast Eric Schneider to get fellow devotees to use their pens writing missives worldwide, although people who don’t use fountain pens are also encouraged to write.
If you don’t use fountain pens, by the way, why not? It can be a rabbit hole, but it is a really fun rabbit hole — and no one will ask you to drink the ink.
I’ve been a mail enthusiast (when I say that aloud, people sometimes think I am offering too much information about my love life) for more than four decades, and I have participated in both challenges every year from their beginnings. For me, it started as a way of collecting postcards on specific themes, but, as an introvert in those pre-internet days, I discovered it was much easier to make friends through the mail.
One of the first resources back in the 1980s for finding penfriends was the Letter Exchange (letter-exchange.com), a magazine issued three times a year and filled with listings, a bit like short penfriend ads, that range from simple topic requests to full-on “ghost letters,” where correspondents write as fictional (and sometimes not fictional) people. They are still publishing, and I’m still a subscriber.
I lost touch with all of my earliest correspondents as my life took me in different directions, but in 2005 a young man in Portugal, Paulo Magalhães, started a project called Postcrossing (postcrossing.com). I was one of the first participants and it opened my world. Postcrossing is a postcard-centric project, but over the years many of the people I sent postcards to became letter-writing friends. The project celebrated 60 million postcards exchanged on Jan. 24, 2021.
All of the projects I’ve mentioned are free, except the Letter Exchange, which has a small subscription fee. People often ask me if sharing their addresses with strangers is a good idea. I reply that having a post office box is a good idea, but I have not always used one and I can say without hesitation that I have had no scary mail in all my years of writing. There have been some letters and cards that did not mesh with my interests, and I often just “ghosted” those writers. My mother would be disappointed that I didn’t take a moment to reply, but I must be honest. One big benefit of the Letter Exchange is that it uses a cool forwarding system, so you don’t ever have to reveal your address.
Even if you don’t participate in the February projects, I hope you will give your mailbox flags a bit more exercise this year. One saying you’ll hear in the mail enthusiast world is “Senders receive.” One of the best feelings is to open your mailbox and find a greeting from some faraway place, or even just next door, rather than just a bunch of junk mail, which, by the way, can be turned into some wicked cool mail art — but that is a subject for another time.
Bonnie Jeanne Tibbetts lives in Wellfleet.