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).

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

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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}

Lessons from the Holocaust Learned by a Young Child

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My son, M, who is now eight and in the 2nd grade, attended a Holocaust Education Resource Council (HERC) education committee meeting with me at Tallahassee’s Temple Israel in October. I had no sitter and, the quiet little man that he is, I knew that I could depend upon him to behave. At that meeting, we discussed how the book And Every Single One Was Someone by Phil Chernofsky can and should be used in high school curriculum. This profound publication literally lists the word “Jew” 6 million times. Something about the number intrigued him and, even though I did not think he was paying attention to our conversation due to his tablet in one hand and a piece of cake in the other, he actually very much was.
Since that meeting, M has regularly asked when he can go back with me to visit the Temple. He has asked me simple questions about Jewish culture and how it differs from ours and our Baptist faith.
Then, a couple of weeks ago, he surprised me. M told me that he had read a book about Anne Frank in school. He is extremely bright and reads on a very high level, but he is also sensitive and internalizes emotions. I worried a little that he was exposed to content too mature for his age.
I questioned him about what he had read, and he told me basic facts about Anne Frank’s story, including her death.  He was matter-of-fact about it, but then he said, “Mama, at the end of the book, I really wanted to cry. I had to hold back my tears so my friends didn’t see me.”
This touched me so much, and I told him that he should have wanted to cry, and that it was horrible what had happened during the Holocaust. I explained that everyone should want to cry about Anne Frank’s story and others’ and that it is bad when we do not.
Several mornings later, while driving to school, M spoke up out of nowhere again. He said, “Mom, was Anne Frank one of the names in that book? The book that had ‘Jew’ written 6 million times? Was her family in that book, too?”
I told him yes, and I praised him for understanding that truth. I realized once again that he is like a little sponge and absorbs so much more than I give him credit for. I also thought how profound it is that an eight-year-old can make such important connections, when adults often cannot.
NOTE: M’s teacher confirmed that the book that he read in school was Who Was Anne Frank? by Ann Abramson. This book is part of a popular series that he loves and is age appropriate.

The Not So Long Drive Home

There is no where else on this planet that I would rather be than at home, near my extended family and friends, near the Okefenokee Swamp, the muddy St. Marys River, and Fernandina Beach. I do not live that far away–2.5 hours easily. Yet, as much as I want to be there, I often make excuses not to get in the car and drive where I know I am loved, where I know my dogs are welcome, where I know I can just relax and be myself, and where I absolutely am certain that I will know half the people in Winn-Dixie.

I deny myself this occasional refuge, because four years ago, my mom fell asleep at the wheel of her car driving from where I live home to have Christmas with family and friends. She hit a tree head-on off Interstate 10, less than a mile from a sign for the Lake City “Rest Stop.” Oh the irony of that extremely large sign, which actually gives me a brief sense peace when I pass it. She is at rest.

The trauma of stopping at that location to lay a wreath four years ago, of claiming her demolished car with my son’s Match Box toys scattered everywhere, of arriving at the funeral home with the clothes I had purchased for her that morning… As much as I miss home, the trip over is almost unbearable, because of the anxiety I experience.

But that cannot happen anymore. I have an upcoming trip planned that is out of my norm and am very excited to head to Jacksonville. In this Year of Yes, I will choose to focus on the destination, rather than the road. I will fill my car with the joyful sounds of the praise music Mama loved, and I will pray, knowing full well that my Mama’s spirit is in a far better place, and that I am free to live fully in the meantime.

It’s time to move on.

“Saying yes . . . saying yes is courage. Saying yes is the sun. Saying yes is life.”
Shonda Rhimes, Year of Yes: How to Dance It Out, Stand In the Sun and Be Your Own Person

On a much lighter note, one of my favorite songs out right now is by Ed Sheeran. “Castle on a Hill” reminds me so much of my tribe– all the close friends of mine with whom I have grown up and old with. This will be playing on repeat as I pull into town.

Castle on a Hill.jpg