When Your Reply Pile is Weeded

In the service industry, we call it "getting weeded" or "being in the weeds." It's when you're serving, and your restaurant is dead, and all of a sudden-- out of magical thin air-- five tables with four people each come in all at the same time, and need their dinner NOW, because there's a concert starting in an hour and a half at the theater next door that they're all going to. That awful run-on sentence? That's what getting weeded feels like. You keep going and going and can't catch up. More people arrive. Everyone is needy. Table Six needs more water. You've asked table Twenty what they'd like to order approximately seven times, and they still aren't ready. The steak medium rare for table eleven comes out as steak medium well and they need another done. The chef is on a cigarette break. Your bartender is ignoring your drink ticket but chatting to the one person sitting at the end of the bar. Your head is going to explode.

This is the moment, everyone, where if you have been doing this long enough, you walk into the keg room, or the walk-in refrigerator, and you curse the world, and you cry.

Sometimes this is what it feels like when I look at the pile of letters I need to reply to. Some days, this reply pile procreates and makes little mini piles throughout my apartment. Often I'll pat myself on the back for mailing out three letters in one afternoon, and then come home to five in my mailbox.

This should make me happy, Dear Reader. Getting Real Life Letters in your mailbox should, for the most part, make one happy. Just like having a restaurant full of customers should make a server happy. If you don't have customers, you don't get tipped. If you don't get tipped, you don't take home much money. But sometimes-- even though they, your customers and your pen pals, are what keep you going-- you just want to yell at everyone to get the hell out. Of your restaurant. Of your reply pile. Just leave me the hell alone already.

And then, not more than a minute later, you emerge. From the icy heart of the keg room, you crack your knuckles, utter some expletives, and wipe the smeared mascara from your bottom eyelid.

Because what must be done must be done. You got this.


Strategies for making your reply pile less daunting:

  • Remember that this whole pen pal thing is supposed to be fun. If it's not fun, something needs to change.
  • Only take a few letters out of your house with you at a time so you're not overwhelmed by choosing from several to reply to.
  • If you need to catch up with lots of people with lots of news, type out said news in a printed form letter / newsletter and send a more personalized, but much shorter, handwritten reply along with it.
  • I am totally giving you permission to break chronological order and reply to whomever you want to, in whatever order.
  • In fact, you can even throw all your letters into a bag and pull one out to reply to at random.
  • 'Snowball' your replies. Start with the shortest letter you intend to write first. Then the next shortest. If you get a couple of shorter pieces done, you'll feel less behind, and your reply pile will look smaller.
  • In the same vein, send a postcard to pen pals that have been waiting a while for a reply. Let them know you are, in fact, not dead, and still very much interested in writing to them.
  • Bring a letter writing kit with you wherever you go so you can write when your flight is delayed or when waiting on a long line or while at a baseball game. (I've been told to watch out for foul balls and home runs, but I figure I can just shield myself with my clipboard.)
  • It's okay to stop writing to some of your pen pals if you feel way in over your head. Write them a letter explaining why you can no longer write to them. Thank them for their friendship. If you would like to keep in touch with them but simply can't write anymore, let them know they can follow you on [insert social media here]. Follow them back.

What tips do you have to reduce reply pile guilt?