As a child I was a penpal collector. There’s something satisfying about the indulgence of telling someone about your life, leaving out the boring details and spinning a delicious web with your pen. Back then, everything was done by snail mail and adding a personal touch to your envelope or letter with drawings and glitter was part of the fun of the process. Whenever I went on holiday, even with my family, I seemed to collect a group of friends who I would correspond with over a year or so, telling them which horses I was in love with or writing about ‘lush’ boys in my class. The exotic joy of sending a letter to Beckinham, Swansea or even Europe was undeniable.
15 years later, my friends are all moving abroad and I’m re-discovering the art of the penpal. I recently lost one of my best friends to the bright lights of Los Angeles. Quaking with jealousy and sadness, I decided to start writing long letters to her, helping her through those first anxious weeks and she, in return helped me with my insecurities and uncertainties about the next few months of my life. Writing long letters helps to put your life in to perspective much more than instant message or even talking on the telephone. Sometimes I look back through my messages from years past and savour the feelings I was feeling at the time. At a point where fun seems to have dried up and the dark side of life is threatening to capsize HMS Rhiannon, these letters inject a little bit of happiness and bittersweet nostalgia.
Letters take time, thought and effort; most of which are in short supply in our busy lives, but once you pick up that pen or start that message it’s difficult to stop. The key is to find someone you are emotionally connected with, who understands your ramblings aren’t self indulgent or neurotic and who is prepared to give back the same amount as you. The truth is, I’m so proud of my friend in LA who has picked up her life and decided to give it a go on the other side of the world that the letters give me a small piece of sunshine as I imagine inhaling the American air or cycling down the promenade on a second hand bicycle.
Someone recently said to me, when thinking about the great unknown ‘it’s the difference between seeing a holiday in a brochure and actually travelling there’. Penpals help you taste the unknown, muse on your own situation or cement a decision that’s been playing on your mind for months. If I had no-one in this world, I would send letters to strangers to find out about their lives and re-assure myself that nobody really knows what this life is all about.
In the end, when we wonder what life is all about, it’s re-assuring to know there is someone out there in the great wide world sharing our insecurities.