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Putting Pen to Paper: Why Handwritten Notes Still Matter

 

As I settled in to my new office, I quickly hung diplomas and cherished photos of my family. However, looking around my space, I realized that I have a plethora of handwritten notes displayed as well. These beautiful cards and scribbled messages on scrap paper outnumber my children’s framed faces. There is something comforting in reading the carefully thought out words etched in a friend or colleagues’ unique penmanship. It is grounding, and a tangible reminder of a connection to another person, and, even if professional, reflects what is often missing in the modern digital age—authenticity.

Rapid email correspondence, text messaging, and social media have sped up our personal and professional lives so much in such a brief period, that we are constantly bombarded with information. We are overstimulated and, while our circles are ever broadening, loneliness and social isolation are becoming public health issues. A 2015 article published in the United Kingdom’s The Independent stated, “…our growing reliance on social technology rather than face-to-face interaction is thought to be making us feel more isolated. It means we feel less connected to others and our relationships are becoming more superficial and less rewarding.”[i]

Although not a cure-all, the simple act of writing notes can have an enormous impact on personal and professional relationships. While emails, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, message boards, E-vites, constant “likes,” and texts give us instant and often too constant contact with one another, humanity is filtered through devices. We have resorted to using Emojis to relay emotions, without realizing how simplistic these cartoonish characters are and how completely incapable they are of expressing the complexities and nuances of our feelings. I shamefully became way too excited recently when I realized that I can add color to my Facebook posts… it is time to disconnect.

Meanwhile, the handwritten note, with words carefully chosen to fit within the boundaries of stationary, is neither too romantic nor passé.  To send a note requires time, patience, reflection, a good pen, careful attention to script, an address, and a stamp. It requires a purposeful effort, which then, in turn, relays the message that the recipient matters. Meghan Markle, former author of the popular lifestyle blog The Tig, wrote recently about the “Art of the Handwritten Note.” In the post, she expressed her joy at receiving a personalized letter. “I am a gal who just loves getting mail… I absolutely relish it.  I know my mailman’s name, I race to the door when mail comes (usually just fliers or bills), but I always hold out hope that there will be a letter.  A sweet letter.  And that I will have the tactile experience of un-creasing the paper, reciting the words, and holding someone’s thoughts in my hands.” [ii]

Office mail is no exception and can offer a respite from the hectic professional world. Electronic communication is fast and free; but you get what you pay for. The Harvard Business Review points out that, “Personal messages are often notes of gratitude, civility, and appreciation that reach beyond the conventional thank-you.” They show what author John Coleman describes as “acts of investment” and can leave lasting impressions and memorabilia.[iii]

According to celebrated blogger and etiquette expert Janice Sessums Gibson, “Professional emails and texts are easy to save, but lasting memories are created when you send a handwritten note. The handwritten note lets a friend or colleague know that you appreciate them.”[iv]  Cards are displayed on desks, on boards, and on refrigerators. They are a cherished gift of encouragement.

Further, when asked whether handwritten notes still set job applicants apart in today’s digital age, Ben Milsom, Chief Ticketing Officer of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, stated, “The handwritten note is a differentiator. Today, we live by text and email, so for someone to take the time to purchase nice stationery and sit down and write a letter is something that I value and conveys their personal brand.”

Be mindful, however. Issa Sawabini, Partner at Fuse, warns professionals about reliance on electronic spelling and grammar checks: “In a digital world, sometimes a handwritten note can have a big impact… Make sure you write something meaningful and actually proofread your work. You can’t include a note at the bottom blaming your iPhone for any spelling errors.”[v]

[i] Rebecca Harris, The Loneliness Epidemic: We’re More Connected Than Ever, But Are We Feeling More Alone? Independent (2015), http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/the-loneliness-epidemic-more-connected-than-ever-but-feeling-more-alone-10143206.html (last visited Apr 5, 2017).

[ii] Meghan Markle, The Art of a Handwritten Note The Tig. (2014), http://thetig.com/art-handwritten-note/ (last visited Apr 5, 2017).

[iii] John Coleman, Handwritten Notes Are a Rare Commodity. They’re Also More Important Than Ever. Harvard Business Review (2013), https://hbr.org/2013/04/handwritten-notes-are-a-rare-c (last visited Apr 5, 2017).

[iv] http://etiquettewithmissjanice.blogspot.com/.

[v] Abraham D. Madkour, In Today’s Digital Age, Do Handwritten Notes Still Set Job Applicants Apart? Street & Smith’s Sports Business Journal (2016), http://m.sportsbusinessdaily.com/Journal/Issues/2016/04/11/Opinion/From-The-Executive-Editor.aspx? (last visited Apr 5, 2017).

Identity Crisis {The Year of Yes}

StudentsWhen I was a little girl, I did not play with baby dolls. I played with a chalk board, and I would force my brothers and the neighborhood kids to be my students. I would give them assignments, grade papers, and line them up and march them around the yard. I tutored the kid across the street, and his dear mom, Peggy, may she rest in peace, joked that the grades I gave Brian were the best he ever received. She would hang them on her refrigerator.

When I describe myself to people, “teacher” is the first word out of my mouth, right after “mom.” It is my natural gift, and education is my passion. Unfortunately, I was always told I could and should do more, whatever that means, so a relationship in my early twenties with a high-powered attorney inspired me to leave my beloved teaching career for law school.

I do not regret my legal education one bit, nor do I regret practicing. My favorite job was working for the law school immediately after graduation, because it combined a little of both worlds. My degree and experience have opened doors for me that I never dreamed possible growing up in a one red light town. However, the classroom is where I am my most comfortable, creative and inspired.

When I had my children, it seemed natural for me to return to teaching. There is no better schedule for a family, and I was able to work at one of the best schools in the state, which allowed my babies to eventually attend the best schools themselves. I was so excited to get back to my calling, and I did it with joy and enthusiasm. However, even with clear objectives, I was given grief by those I loved most. I was told I did not have a “real job” and questioned about how I could turn my back on money and prestige by simply being a teacher. As sad as it is to type these truths, it was even more devastating to live them.

After my divorce, I hung in as long as I could, until I could no longer financially justify my position. I was highly effective, successful and involved. I absolutely considered my students my own and have built life-long friendships that I will forever cherish; but the rumors about teacher pay are real.

More than anything, though, I was emotionally drained. After visiting my closest friends over the holidays, both T and K commented to me that they had finally figured out what was keeping me from completely healing. My storehouse was dry. I was “Mama B” to 200 kids a day, then had to come home to my own, and teaching at the level I was doing it was sucking up all of my extra energy. My brain was fried. Both friends encouraged me to pray about the situation and start looking for jobs.

To say I was terrified was an understatement. I was not sold on the fact that I needed a change. I did not think I could take the leap and give up my time at home with my children. I was not sure I was even marketable. But, then there was this #YearofYes promise I had made myself, and I decided to start applying. It is not an accident that Shonda Rhimes ended her book with one of my favorite quotes:

You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

So, there you have it. Within a month of me applying for jobs, I had an offer I could not refuse, and I had to say good-bye to some of the most incredible people I have ever met. My students were so wonderful, and they showered me with gifts and cards of encouragement. It was amazing how much love I felt as I packed up my classroom and prepared to leave a place that was mine and my kids’ home away home for eight years. But it was time for me to graduate, and I think everyone knew it but me.

I was explaining to a colleague this week about my #YearofYes challenge and how powerful the book has been to me. When I told her it had inspired me to change careers, she was shocked, but it is true! As my bestie K said, “You’ve sacrificed enough of yourself. It is time for you to thrive.”

I am still a mom and a teacher, and I absolutely think teaching is the most important profession in our society. However, my focus has changed, and I think the move will make me a better mother in the end, because I will have balance for the first time in a long time.

Letter from Studt

letter from student

A Night of Stars {Honor Flight Tallahassee}

Honor Flight 3

I previously posted advertising the community event that my students and I organized for Honor Flight Tallahassee called “A Night of Stars.” It was a huge success, and I want to share that we hosted a packed house of veterans, parents, students and community leaders, including Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

Honor Flight 5

The event featured catering by Marie Livingston’s Steakhouse and performances by the Chiles jazz ensemble and chorus.

However, everyone was there to meet and hear the stars, World War II liberators Bryce Thornton of Tallahassee and George Aigen of Valdosta. These gentlemen have both spoken to my students numerous times, but they never cease to move me. Each time I hear them, I learn more details about their experiences, and our audience was equally blown away.

Honor Flight 4

Of all of the fundraising drives I have been apart of, this is by far my favorite. My heart was over-joyed bringing these generations together in the same room to honor America’s Greatest Generation. Honor Flight is such a fantastic cause, and I am proud that we were able to make this year’s trip to Washington, DC a success.

Honor Flight

My First Praise & Worship Concert {The Year of Yes}

I am a firm believer that God puts people in our lives– for good, bad, a challenge to grow– for purposes which we may not always understand. For the very few that have left bitter tastes in my mouth over which I have to pray, there are oh so many more for whom I am grateful. JZ is one of those!

We have known each other for about a decade but have become spiritually connected as we have gone through divorce and single parenting simultaneously. She is that friend who always seems to miraculously know when I need prayer, uplifting, a word of encouragement, and a batch of her mom’s divine homemade cookies. Without fail, my phone will vibrate with the most beautifully on-point messages of hope and survival from her, and they are always at precisely the right times.

Recently, she and I went to my first praise and worship concert together. We had so much fun seeing Rascal Flatts in the fall, that she invited me to see TobyMac with her. I am a traditionalist and new to the more modern spiritual genre, so I was not familiar with his songs. I do love the #speaklife messages that he circulates on social media, though, and I was thrilled with the experience.

JZ at TobyMac

My favorite performer of the night was Mandisa. When we were both going through the toughest times, JZ would send me songs to listen to during the day. “Overcomer” is our joint mantra.

It was incredible to get to hear this song live and belt it out with my sweet friend. It is funny, I recently looked at pictures of JZ and me taken a few years ago and, although we look the same on the outside, there was something missing before. Now, it is as if we glow. That shimmer is God, y’all, and He is indeed good, all the time! Our friendship is proof of that.

 

 

Southern Gothic

cemetary

Confederate Soldiers at Rest, Montgomery, Alabama

I have always loved cemeteries. Even as a young girl, with a nostalgic historian’s heart, I enjoyed walking through them, admiring the artwork, the names, the family groupings. To me, there is great beauty in them, and old Southern graveyards even enchant with their ancient trees and draping moss, harboring sassy mockingbirds who keep watch over the quiet stone inhabitants in respite from the busy modern world.

Since my Mom died, I have rarely been to a cemetery. I have always been good about visiting my family plots, regularly placing flowers and cleaning up their resting places, an obligation ingrained in me from childhood. Write thank you notes, Becky Jo, and visit your people, that’s what Southern Belles do. But my Mama, against all family tradition, chose to be cremated. Three months before she died, as we were leaving our swimming hole on the St. Marys River, she told me that when she died, she wanted to be cremated and her ashes spread. I fussed and fumed at her, because she was young and healthy, and I did not want to be talking about death on a hot summer afternoon. She insisted, however, and I was forced very soon to honor her wishes against the protest of many of our kin.

I never understood why she made this choice. I tried to and I even spread her ashes in a poetic manner, playing her favorite Beatles song, “Here Comes the Sun” at dawn while doing it. Now, I get it.

Yesterday, I was in Montgomery, Alabama, making my way through the lovely Oakwood Annex Cemetery, and an overwhelming wave of emotion hit me. I realized sort of stupidly for the first time that my Mama wanted to be cremated, because she was single and did not want to be buried alone. I knew it as if she was whispering the message on my heart, and I got teary-eyed, because I, too, now have that fear.

As the day went on, I thought about my  life and my relationships and got very, very morose at the thought of dying and not having a loved one to lay beside. Granted, I have my grandparents and other family members and I have my kids who will hopefully, God willing, be with me when that fateful time comes. But not having a husband, not being a Mrs. whomever, not belonging to another human being when passing, just breaks my heart and makes me cry.

Maybe this is part of some midlife crisis I am having. A quick search actually showed that the fear of dying alone is quite common. I am not scared of dying itself and have no sense of its impending call as I think my Mama must have had. Maybe this new sensitivity is a sign of my longing for deeper companionship. Maybe it means my heart is healing, that I am ready to be fully committed, hell if I know. Whatever it is, the flood of emotions that overcame me as I snapped pictures of magnolia trees and Confederate graves haunted me like a ghostly specter throughout the day, and the fear lingers with me, even now.

I do not want to die alone.

As women glide from their twenties to thirties, Shazzer argues, the balance of power subtly shifts. Even the most outrageous minxes lose their nerve, wrestling with the first twinges of existential angst: fears of dying alone and being found three weeks later half-eaten by an Alsatian.” ~Helen Fielding, Bridget Jones’s Diary {my favorite book}