Today, as we plow our way through this new millennium, we are also entering a time when the emphasis isn’t so much on creativity as it is on speed and efficiency; a time when the old-fashioned art of letter- writing has become as passe as my manual typewriter.
Taking pen and ink to paper is considered an outdated mode of communication now that text messaging and cell phones are handy. At least, that’s what the new high tech world would have us believe. They say these new techniques of communication save valuable time, energy, stationary and postage. And so the personal touch becomes another casualty in our quest for faster and more modern conveniences.
It is my opinion that the email writer and the cell phone messenger are missing out on the best part of communicating; they will never know the joys our generation felt in those bundles of handwritten romantic letters, bound in tattered stacks and tied with blue ribbons, preserved through the years as a narrative of lasting love.
Like most of my generation, I still feel a sense of happy anticipation upon hearing the sound of mail dropping into my mail box; even though I know on most days all I’ll find are bills and unwanted circulars. There’s also the possibility, however, that a letter from a loved one may arrive among that daily hodgepodge of paper. And, it pleases me to know that someone cared enough to take the time to write me a personal message.
The late lecturer and author, Dr. Leo Buscaglia, was a firm believer in the art of letter writing and he employed this form of communication generously during his lifetime. I was fortunate enough to have been a recipient of Leo Buscaglia’s warm and inspiring notes and letters. These letters remain one of my most treasured possessions, and like a good book, I read them again and again, to discover something new each time.
I received my first letter from Leo at a time when I needed it most. It arrived the day I had firmly decided to give up my fledgling career as a writer. Like many housewives, I was caught between my desire for creativity and the age-old need to be a diligent homemaker, a devoted wife and a dutiful daughter. I was finding it nearly impossible to juggle all of these demands on my time and energy.
Between my daily bouts with the laundry, household responsibilities, unmade beds, dirty dishes and a part-time job, I was trying to finish a short story. I was feeling especially frustrated that morning, and overwhelmed by my mounting housework. I decided something would have to go-and it would be my writing career. I chucked my old manual typewriter into the darkest corner of my closet, wadded up my manuscript into a tight little ball and tossed it into the wastebasket. I’d leave the writing to the writers of the world. The end.
That day, while sorting out my mail, I came across a small, inconspicuous envelope. The return address read, “Dr. Leo Buscaglia, Glennbrook NV.” I recognized the name immediately. I had written the famous author several months before, complimenting him on his remarkable career and his recent book, Bus 9 to Paradise. I’d also mentioned that I enjoyed writing and enclosed one of my unpublished works. I never dreamed that the renowned author of 15 bestsellers would take the time to write me a personal letter. I read and reread his words, especially the encouraging last few lines: “You have a great deal to give, and you have found the perfect way in which to give it. You write very well, in an easy free-flowing style that fills the reader’s mind with rich images of the past.”
Leo’s words sparked a new belief in myself, and a renewed interest in my writing. I retrieved my battered typewriter, unfolded my crinkled manuscript and set myself some new goals-no matter how many unmade beds and dirty dishes stood in my way. My husband, who has the talent and capabilities to sink a birdie putt at 30 feet, but can’t manage to open a can of soup or pick up a wet towel for himself, finally agreed to help out with the household chores, leaving me more time for my writing.
Because of Leo’s letters and encouragement, I didn’t give up my passion for writing. I finished that old manuscript and many more like it. I wrote of the things I knew, my extended Italian family, my memories, friends and community. My collection of these stories filled my file cabinets. One day, I put my letter-writing skills to good use and wrote a letter to the editor of my local newspaper. In it, I recalled memories of my community and neighborhood. The editor liked what I had to say, and printed my letter as an article in the newspaper. The article was so well received that the editor asked me to write a column for the paper. I went on to write a “Remember When”column for more than 15 years . and in more recent years became a prolific free lance writer.
That old manuscript? Well, it was published along with several of my other stories in a series of books by Morrow. More of my works were used in 12 of the Chicken Soup for the Soul book series.
Thanks to Leo’s inspiring letters, I never gave up trying. Like Leo, I believe the greatest failure is the failure to try. Many of us have probably given up just when with a bit more persistence and patience we could have made it. A letter received at just the right moment can give someone those few needed words of encouragement.
It’s not necessary that we all be great wits or scholars when we communicate something in a letter. Fear of poor grammar and bad spelling have prevented many a good letter from ever being written. Our friends and family will be grateful just to know someone was thinking enough of them to sit down and write a personal message-a message that can impart encouragement, inspire goals, or bring perfection to an otherwise imperfect day.
Felice Leonardo “Leo” Buscaglia PhD (March 31, 1924 – June 12, 1998), also known as “Dr. Love,” was an American author and motivational speaker, and a professor in the Department of Special Education at the University of Southern California.