But being dumped by a pen pal, well that is simply one of life’s cruel fates.
And what are you supposed to do? Write back to them using CAPITALS and an excessive amount of exclamation points!!! to let them know Just How Horrible they are to stop writing to you? Which then gives them yet Another Opportunity to ignore you completely?!! And quite possibly also provides them with justification for deciding to stop writing to you in the first place…
Back when I was a young girl – perhaps 11 or 12 - I saw an ad for pen pals in an American teen magazine and I begged Mum to let me write to one of them.
I was sooooo excited to write to a girl my age who lived across the ocean. A girl who would become my friend forever (clearly, I had rather high expectations). A girl who was one step closer to Scott Baio than I was. (No judgement please, I was young and impressionable and had a Serious Crush on Chachi from Happy Days).
The desk in my room had a map of the world on top of it and I would sit there happily scribbly down my thoughts that would be sent in a plane to the Other Side of the World! And going to buy airmail envelopes, well, that was just about as exciting as life could possibly get at that age.
I was going to Send My Words to the Northern Hemisphere so Someone Else could read them. Amazing.
Or perhaps not so amazing from her perspective.
We wrote a few times and then nothing.
She just simply stopped writing to me.
Nada. Zip. Zilch. Not a scrap of Letterbox Joy to be found.
I was harshly and in my opinion, unfairly, dumped by my pen pal.
I was devastated when Kim Patterson…
… suddenly stopped writing to me.
Oh the shame of it all.
What could I have possibly written about at such a young age to offend her or to have made her Not Want to Write To Me Any Longer?
I've been rejected a number of times in my life but to be rejected for My Words, that's a very deep blow to the very essence of what makes me Me. And yes, you'd think someone as outspoken and quirky as I, would be used to having people react to my words, but perhaps I didn't quite have the requisite armour in place at the age of eleven.
I never did find out why Kim Patterson, Terribly Bad Pen Pal stopped writing to me but one of the many life lessons I’ve learnt since then, is that what you think, suspect or imagine is happening for someone else, is Usually Completely Wrong so it probably had nothing to do with me or My Words at all.
But it's so hard to not take things personally when you're eleven and are super excited about making a new friend. Especially one who lives far far away and who might know Scott Baio.
I am willing to concede that perhaps my passionate commitment to our newly formed relationship was too much for her. I can't remember the actual content of my letters of course but there's the slightest of chances I may have mentioned how awesome it would be to go to America to meet Kim some day (perhaps I dared to mention an actual timeframe in my first letter, who knows?) and yes, there's a very high likelihood that Scott Baio’s name may have been jotted down on those lined pages quite early on.
An old love of mine once commented that the letters I wrote to him were 'kind of crazy'. Yes, yes they were. Because I usually write with the teeniest tiniest of tiny filters in place, particularly where Matters of the Heart are concerned.
Letterbox Joy is quite simply one of the Most Delightful Joys Ever and I have decided part of My Mission in Life is to share the absolute delight of Letterbox Joy throughout the world. I haven’t quite figured out how to do that just yet but I’m working on it.
And after a few decades of healing through Letterbox Joy Therapy, this year I finally felt ready to make that commitment again.
Yes, I have a new pen pal. (Take that Kim Patterson, Terribly Bad Pen Pal!!!!!)
Because I obviously couldn’t just rush into a long-term, committed relationship like this without giving it serious consideration.
What if it happened again?
I simply couldn’t bear it.
But I needn’t have worried.
As my new pen pal so gorgeously and eloquently pointed out in Her First Official Pen Pal Documentation to Me – we had loved each other for 3,877 days prior to Taking This Next Important Step in our relationship.
You simply can't rush these things.
This next important step in our 3,877 day friendship came about because earlier this year I couldn’t resist buying Very Cute Notebooks from Typo (one of my favourite stationery stores - now that I’m doing The Year of More, I just drop in there to visit The Cute Things which is rather a large feat for me as cute stationery is one of my greatest temptations. I did however buy five pens for $5 there last night. Pretty coloured pens to write on cards with. Did I need five? Perhaps not, but if two would have cost me $4, well that's a no brainer isn't it?).
After I'd bought them, I thought what on earth am I going to do with five Very Cute Notebooks?
So I wrote to my friend in The Very Cute Notebook covered in Dalmatians asking if she’d like to be my pen pal and thankfully she said yes. My friend’s name is Lauren (or LC as I affectionately refer to her) - I’ve used her real name as opposed to the Sally and Tom fake names I usually use because Lauren has given me permission to publicly out her as My Official Pen Pal.
She’s clearly a very brave soul. And I love her to bits.
My letterbox got rather excited after reading The Dalmatians are on their way back to The Tree House.
We fill up lined pages with heartfelt thoughts, messy handwriting (mostly mine), drawings, quotes and unfixable typos – in the absence of spell-check and auto-correct, incorrect words are lovingly crossed out and written again. It’s very Old School, which I adore.
I can’t even begin to tell you how excited I get when the A4 sized envelope containing The Dalmatians arrives in my letterbox – it’s a childlike excitement (see what you stole from me Kim Patterson, Terribly Bad Pen Pal!!!). I know that envelope is so completely filled with joy and love and hugs and friendship. I leave it unopened as I have dinner and wash the dishes and then, and only then, do I sit down to open it – to spend time with My Friend LC because that’s exactly what it’s like. To see her handwriting is like having Lauren Hugs jump off the page.
I have a goal to improve my handwriting because I basically type everything these days – apart from notes at work and shopping lists because that would be nerdily weird even for me - so hopefully this will help. I know LC will be hoping it will help as it will make her Letterbox Joy experience that much more enjoyable if she can actually read what I’ve scribbled.
My love of Letterbox Joy really took off in 2010 when I sold my house. I had pages and pages of return address labels which I wanted to make use of before I moved - as you know, I’m very passionate about inanimate objects having every opportunity to fulfill their purpose in life. But that was a lot of labels to use up in a short space of time. So a friend at work (hey HJ ☺) suggested I write to people.
Lots and lots and lots of people. So that’s exactly what I did.
I wrote The Very First Letterbox Joy Day Letter and sent it out with one of Louise Hay’s beautifully inspirational cards for each person (chosen randomly... the cards not the people, I know all the people). And I had such a marvelously nerdy nerd time doing it that I decided to do it every year. And although I send it in December, it’s really got nothing to do with Christmas and some years I don’t even mention Christmas! But the letter is my way of celebrating friendship, love, life, home, joy and words. Oh how I adore words and the power they have to connect us, to move us, to comfort us, to entertain us and to inspire us.
The first year I sent my letter to 63 friends and last year I sent The Fourth Annual Letterbox Joy Letter to 97 letterboxes around the world so it’s quite the Letterbox Joy activity that’s for sure!
I absolutely love sending it and each year I’m amazed at how many friends let me know how appropriate their Louise Hay card was. Mine is always really spot on as well.
This year I volunteered to do a ‘Pay it Forward’ challenge on Facebook, which has been a delightful thing to be part of. Throughout the year I will surprise five friends (who have also volunteered to participate) with some Letterbox Joy and it’s been a huge amount of fun making cards and buying little gifts to send to each person. I’ve sent two so far and the third surprise is waiting patiently on my kitchen table for me to wrap it and send off in the mail. I actually believe Letterbox Joy has magical powers because it’s amazing how many times it arrives At Just The Right Time.
I know the Letterbox Joy I receive usually does.
There’s an element of safety in expressing something in words - admitting a fear, delivering some news, sharing excitement or joy, expressing love or sorrow or regret. For some people it’s incredibly difficult to do that verbally, but The Written Word – those inky flourishes which have the capacity to convey so much – allows us to say it without our voices shaking or without having to worry about how someone will react in the moment. It also lets the other person sit with the news or emotion without being expected to respond immediately.
I never, not even once, heard my parents say ‘I love you’ but they always wrote 'all my love' on cards to each other. From a very young age I loved peering into those cards and seeing Love sitting there in the form of unique little squiggles – an insight into the world of love they shared which was particular to them as a couple.
I had never heard my Dad say those words out loud until after Mum died. He now says it every time we say goodbye on the phone. And every single time, my heart sings, because whether it's using written or verbal words or hugs or tears or a chocolate cake made by hand, saying I Love You is always, always special.
I often wonder if he and Mum said it in private to each other. I hope so. I hope he doesn't spend his days wishing he'd said it. When he says 'I love you' to me it has a newness to it, as though that particular string of words is quite foreign to him. I hope I’m wrong. I'd like to believe it was just something they kept private.
It’s a dear friend’s birthday today (Happy Birthday Joy Day Beautiful Girl) and I can’t even remember how it came about, but a year or two ago, we decided to break with tradition so we now send each other a birthday card on Some Random Day of The Year rather than on our birthdays. And the first time one arrived I just laughed out loud at the randomness of it. If your birthday is in March, receiving a birthday card in the mail in October is as unexpected as it gets!
Random or ‘Just Because’ Letterbox Joy is one of my favourite kinds. I recently sent a friend sticky notes with spots and flowers on them because I know she loves spots and flowers and a couple of weeks ago I sent a Wagon Wheel to a friend who loves Wagon Wheels.
In the (almost) words of Clint Eastwood…
There is one last piece of Letterbox Joy I wish to share with you…
‘Dear Kim Patterson,
Thank you for instilling a deep abiding passion for Letterbox Joy in me.
I sincerely hope your life is filled with love and joy and words which touch your heart. And people who write back to you. May your life always be filled with people who write back to you.
Aged 46, Sunshine Coast, Australia’
(See what you’ve missed out on for 35 years Kim Patterson!!!)
Remember lovely peeps, a hug in an envelope is the next best thing to an in-person hug.
Say hi to your letterbox for me!
‘Harry picked it up and stared at it, his heart twanging like a giant elastic band. No one, ever, in his whole life, had written to him. Who would? He had no friends, no other relatives — he didn’t belong to the library, so he’d never even got rude notes asking for books back. Yet here it was, a letter, addressed so plainly there could be no mistake:
Mr. H. Potter
The Cupboard under the Stairs
4 Privet Drive
J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone