A List of Reasonable Length Declaring Why Being Pen Pals Is Great!

Pen pals, having one and having been one, is something I’ve be reminiscing about recently. I’ve also been proposing that people start writing to other people. Either me, a friend, or – in true pen pal tradition – some rando. Being pen pals is a great way to connect again or for the first time. Here are some reasons why.

  • It is and always has been, socially distanced.
  • Smooths out the awkward re-entry to socializing. Face it, it’s been awhile. Things are going to be weird. Hide the weirdness in a piece of long form writing.
  • You get to talk about yourself in large chunky monologues. Just let it flow! Let it all out. 
  • Your pen pals also gets to talk about themselves in large chunky monologues. Which is great because people are like TV shows. Imagine trying to watch a show again after missing a couple of seasons. Because – *SPOILER ALERT* – that’s what has happened!
  • Connecting via video and phone are great, but they are a bottle neck.  The conversation is real time. People will accidentally talk over one another. Smaller, but just as important details and threads of thought will be lost. The minutia is easier to track in written from.
  • You don’t have worry about being muted or if the camera is on. 
  • There are so many ways to write! By hand, phone, or computer are obvious. Go pull that typewriter or wordprocessor out of some closet. Send it by email or blow the dust off that printer and classic mail it! Who doesn’t love mail that isn’t bills?
  • Perhaps best of all, writing can be done on your own schedule. No need to set up a coinciding time with your pal. Write and read at your convenience.

Pen Pals: Remember Those?

Remember pen pals? At some point in my grade school career I had one, from somewhere. Pennsylvania maybe? How fun was it to write and receive letters from a person on the other side of the country or perhaps world? Why did we – in general – stop the pen pal thing once we got older? Sure the phrase “adult pen-paling” sounds kinda gross and should never be uttered or written again. Burn it! Generally, people seem to look down on being pen pals once we get older. There’s some negative connotations around pen paling and mental health, self-worth, and being lonely. If this pandemic should have taught us something, it should have been to empathize better when it comes to those three things. Reaching out to people and letting them know they are not alone is a small thing to do with a big impact. What better way to reach out to people then by being pen pals.

I think I remember having a pretty okay time. I don’t remember where he was from or his name exactly. Nor do I remember what we wrote about specifically. After looking through my journal – a school assignment from around the same time – I’m sure I brought up video games, comic books, and Dungeons & Dragons more than few times. I’d go as far to say those three topics made up my body of work. For whatever reason, I feel like my pen pal – Bjorn, Jasper, Mikey, I really do not remember his name – wasn’t into those things. 

Somehow we managed to trudge along through our words for the small amount of time we were pen pals. The trudging was made even more difficult by all the letters having to be handwritten and fulfill some sort of length requirement. I don’t know how my pen pal and I made it through the required time having no shared interests other than we had access to a pencil, a sheet of paper, and were being forced to write to someone. Maybe we did that kid thing that kids do where they simply co-exist in the same space but do not interact with one another in the slightest.

Back to being all grown-up. Ironically, now there’s so many ways to connect with people. Many of them involve the written word. Yet so many of those ways seem impersonal and superficial. In many cases that thin veil of communication is totally acceptable and all that is needed. Sometimes though, there needs to be more. More thought, more connection, more words that could help us understand one another better. Much of the social media experience is about quantity not quality. That’s an observation, not complaint. There are plenty of reasons to measure quality by the quantity of engagements. What a rush to have people engage in a positive way!

As it turns out, my youthful time spent pen paling wasn’t as enjoyable as I’d originally thought. While that revelation is sort of making me second guess the original purpose of this post, I still think suggesting that people pick up pen pals once more is a good idea. Especially now during the pandemic. It’s not over yet and people are still feeling isolated and cut off from their normal lives. Pick up a pen and a pal and get writing.

What do you think about pen pals? Have you had one in the past? Would you get a new one now? 

Long Form Writing: For Communication

Long form writing for communication has been at the front of my mind lately. I recently took a course on communicating effectively and listened to CBC Spark’s Civilization – Correspondence episode.In which long form written communications were discussed at length. Both made me realize how much I miss communicating with long form writing. 

While working from home over the last year I noticed a shift in the way my peers communicate with one another. It made me realize how a majority of my recent written communications are short form. Coming from either social media platforms or instant messaging apps. They are brief, but can sometimes kick off longwinded and intermittent conversations that can take a while to resolve. 

Not only are there possible issues around the efficacy of short form communications, they can leave something to be desired. Which was something I realized while taking Communicating Effectively. Due to the course’s online nature, I had the opportunity to write all my communications in long form posts. Forming my thoughts, building a narrative, and then leading the reader through the construct I’d created was rewarding. 

It wasn’t just me, everyone in the class was communicating with long form writing and by doing so, we had some really great discussions. At times, there were multiple paragraphs and multiple responses within those discussions. So many words and a whole lot of thought. It was both enlightening and gratifying. Communicating through long form writing was the only official way we interacted as a class. There were no video or audio components for the course. Aside from one Linkedin network request, these words were the only interactions I had with classmates and the entirety of what I know of them. In a way, we were pen pals.

During one class discussion I had the chance to reflect on long form writing. In particular, the strengths of email. Stating that, when communicating in long form via email, the only real constraint is time. There may be an outside factor of some kind but if there isn’t, one can carefully craft a great long form communication. Having the time to analyze thoughts and construct a controlled structure of words that leads readers through a topic is invaluable. In some cases, there’s the opportunity to calculate and address recipient’s responses and reactions before reply alls get out of hand. Email is invaluable as a tool.

A week after the course concluded, I listened to the previously mentioned episode of CBC Spark. David Heinemeier Hansson was on discussing and promoting Hey, a new email service from Basecamp. He acknowledged that email used to be fun and exciting and that now, it was quite the opposite. Spam and unwanted communications along with plenty of privacy issues have caused people’s inboxes to fill up and become a source of stress. I know he was promoting his product, but I had to agree with a lot of what he was saying.

There is a joy to be had from writing in long form. Getting a few paragraphs of thoughts down. Letting ideas flow and analyzing those words can be beneficial as a writer and as a person. Getting a chance to reflect on what has come from your own mind can provide a better understanding of yourself for yourself. Not to mention that everyone else gets to know you better as well.

During the pandemic have you noticed a change to how you communicate? Do you also find yourself missing long form writing? Is email just for junk mail now? Have you tried Hey? Let me know in the comments.