Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How do I Start Penpalling?

How do I get started with penpalling? Where do I find penpals? Many people are overwhelmed by beautiful mail on Instagram, or have no idea how to find people to write to, or think that their letters aren't good enough to share with the world.

It's okay; you're good enough. I promise.

Remember how you used to pass notes in class? (Some of us used to, anyway.) What did you use to do that? Likely it wasn't anything substantial:  a piece of notebook paper and a ballpoint pen (and some fancy folding that you spent hours practicing). You also needed something to say, someone to say it to, and enough sneakiness that you could have it reach its destination without any problem.

If you have the skills of a 12 year old note-passer, you're in luck: you can be a penpal, a letter writer, a correspondent.

Supplies needed:

  • A pen
  • Envelopes
  • Writing paper (notebook, printer paper, magazine pages... anything will do)
  • Domestic and international postage (if you are in the US, some Forever stamps and some Forever international stamps will do just fine)
  • Time to write
  • People to write to, and their addresses
  • Optional:
    • Postcards
    • Postcard stamps
    • Stickers
    • A cup of tea (or, um, sangria)

Once you've gathered your physical supplies, you just need people to write to. You can try writing to friends you already have, maybe someone you love who has moved to a different city or country or neighborhood. Perhaps someone who lives down the street. Get on your social media to see who would be interested in corresponding with you. The caveat in writing to people who don't normally write letters is that you might never hear back from them. You might be surprised enough to receive a response, but likely they will tell you they are too busy to write letters, or don't have any stamps, or [insert excuse here].

Fear not. There are lots of letter writers out there. It's not a dying art, like some harbingers of doom have posited. You just need to Find Your People. Here are some ways to do it!

Sendsomething is a database of member profiles. It's free to sign up. You can indicate your interests, what kind of penpal or mail enthusiast you are, and what you're looking for in a penpal (a long term correspondent? a postcard pal? a person to share book reviews / troll dolls / poetry with?). I've struck up postcard friendships with older Canadian men who love old postage, a guy who sends me postcards from his world travels (they usually involve cursing or vice of some variety), People Who Live in California, People Who Live on Long Island...

LETTER WRITERS ALLIANCE - $5 USD, one-time membership fee
The Letter Writers Alliance "is a member based organization dedicated to keeping the art of letter writing alive." They have a penpal matching service where you send in a form indicating your interest, and then someone's address is sent to you, and your address is sent to someone. This gets you two new penpals, and you can do this as many times as you desire. There are members-only printables and a really neat blog that covers philately goings-on.

A very active community targeted towards self-identified geeks. Fandoms and nerdiness galore! IGGPPC also has a penpal matching service that runs monthly, forums where members organize swaps, and other fun community-oriented online spaces.

and of course, since you're reading this blog, I would be remiss to not mention...

THE LEAGUE OF EXTRAORDINARY PENPALS - $6 USD/mo or $36/yr; other options available
Joining LEP gets you access to over 600 letter-writing enthusiasts. Looking for someone who is also interested in crocheting Disney amigurumi? A fellow Ravenclaw? Someone who loves typewriters and fountain pens? Chances are you'll find a kindred spirit or ten through LEP. The most active space within LEP is the Facebook group, but you don't have to be on Facebook to be a member. There is a monthly newsletter with swaps, articles, and interviews.

Once you have your people, write! Not sure what to write about? Uncustomary has a great list of 50 things to tell your penpal. Send along bits from your day: ticket stubs, sketches, post-it notes, leaves.

Then, a very important thing: address the envelope, place the proper postage on it, and drop it in a mailbox.

The main thing to remember about letter writing is To Get a Letter, Send a Letter. Don't expect anything if you're not willing to put effort into writing to someone else first. Better yet, free yourself from expectation and just send random acts of kindness to brighten up someone's day. Soon you'll have more letters to reply to than you know what to do with.

Have fun with your newfound friends!

Special thanks to Christine D. for inspiring this post.
Yes, you can follow me on Instagram to tag along on my mail / cocker spaniel / carousel adventures.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Dear Fancypants: Stand Clear of the Closing Doors, Please

Welcome to Dear Fancypants, a monthly advice column on penpals and other philatelic things that runs the first week of the month. To submit a question, contact

Dear Fancypants,

Let's face facts: LEPeeps are just more awesome than most people. I'm sure part of it is to do with having "found my tribe", but I don't think that's all. I keep wondering why intimacy seems to spring up so much more easily in my penfriendships than in my other friendships. Is it because 'real' subjects are so much easier to discuss in writing? Is it because I am meeting people within the context of a community, rather than in isolation like elsewhere in life? Do I look for different kinds of 'proof' of meaningful relationships in person? Am I missing stuff in one or the other kinds of relationships, or both?

What I do know is, I wish my day-to-day looked more like LEPland, and I know I'm not the only one. And, of course I wish that people around me were kinder, more truthful, more generous, more dependable, and more thoughtful to me, but I can't change them. However, I can change myself, and I'm just as interested in bringing the spirit of LEP out into the world. So - how can I learn to treat my friends like my penfriends? And how can I find that LEP-style connection in person?

Yours, with postage paid,
Worst Pun Girl x

Dear Worst Pun Girl,

“Friendship,” while a great word and often a great experience, doesn’t quite capture the nuances and emotional attachments and spectrum that non-sexual relationships (or even sexual relationships) take. It’s a word that is used to describe both accord between nations and the bond I have with my long-distance sweetheart whose private bits I sometimes (consensually) touch when we are together. There’s no one true way to be a good friend, but you can be a good person. You’re thinking about the quality of the relationships you surround yourself with, so you’re on the right path.

If you want the people around you to be kinder, more truthful, more generous, more dependable, and more thoughtful to you, be that to them. Set that standard. And then, the important next step: determine your boundaries. If the people you have chosen to be your intimates don’t hold a mutually agreeable standard in return, be okay with letting go and creating space for new friendships to blossom, or letting the nature and expectation of those friendships change. Not everyone is in your world to be An Amazing Dependable Friend Under Any And All Circumstances. Sometimes a friendship will be fleeting, and that’s okay. Sometimes you’ll play the long game, with varying degrees of contact and spurts of BFF-ness, and that’s okay too.

Now to get to the heart of your question, which was “How can I learn to treat my friends like my penfriends? And how can I find that LEP-style connection in person?” You are gaining a higher level of intimacy in your pen friendships because you are more intimate with your pen friends than your non-pen friends. Maybe you are less embarrassed; the delay created by writing / mailing / traveling / delivery gives you space and courage to be vulnerable because there isn’t an immediate reaction to your presentation of self. Thus, your pen friends receive the details of your daily life, of moments not shared of social media, of the inner workings of your brain. You’re in the mood to communicate when you write a letter, as opposed to being beholden to a birthday party or a pub lunch on a day where you really just want to hide in bed. It’s exhausting just to get dressed and get out of the house, and when you’re already tired, you don’t have as much energy and receptiveness to build relationships.

Examine why building relationships via writing letters works for you, and apply those lessons to your non-letter friends. Is it the can-do-anywhere / pick up where you left off aspect of letter writing? Perhaps you can jot down a list of friends that would be up for last-minute no pressure hangouts when the mood strikes you. Surely they’ll be flattered to even be asked, even if they decline. Is letter writing what you prioritize when you have a free spot in your schedule? Set aside some time in your letter reply pile to write a notecard to a friend, even if you saw them last week or haven’t seen them in years. Be the same sort of intimate to your non-letter friends as you are with the pen friends you haven’t met in person yet. Practice being vulnerable to the people you know in person. Open those doors; tear down those walls. What's the worst that could happen? Is it really that bad?

Also consider that your ‘pen friends’ *are* your friends, even if you have yet to meet. It doesn’t make the relationship any less meaningful or valid simply because an in-person meeting hasn’t occurred. Pen friends are probably less of strangers to you than some of the friends you don’t exchange letters with.

And as always, be brave and be honest.

Captain Fancypants

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