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My new favourite thing to do


I was not completely pleased with my handwriting, but I found the mere exercise of writing a letter to someone cathartic.

My new favourite thing. File Image. Picture: Pixabay

Just the other day I did something that I haven’t done in ages. I sat down, laid a few sheets of plain white paper in front of me, picked up my fountain pen (yes, I still own one of those) and, for an hour or more, hand wrote a letter.

My handwriting, because of neglect, was shaky and untidy. It took time – and a few cramps – before I started forming the loops and swirls that had characterised my penmanship so many years ago. I was not completely pleased with my handwriting, but I found the mere exercise of writing a letter to someone cathartic. I could express how I was feeling and actually feel the emotions moving out of me, through my pen and onto the paper.

I haven’t felt this feeling in years!

Then, while I was writing, and the lines of shaky, untidy, ill-formed script started filling the page, an old familiar and subtle aroma teased me – it was the soft smell of the ink. Just for a moment I felt that thrill that goes through me when the first drops of rain fall on the dry sand – apparently the word that describes that smell is “petrichor”.

The word is constructed from Greek “petra”, meaning stone, and “ìchìr”, which is said to be the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

I picked up the paper and filled my lungs with that chartichor smell.

Relax I just made up the word “chartichor”. It comes from the Greek “charti”, meaning paper, and by now you obviously know what “ìchìr” means.

Sending a text message is easy, and it’s quick. An e-mail is similarly convenient and much more reliable. You can hit “send” on your e-mail and immediately pick up your phone to ask the intended recipient whether they got your message.

Not so with a letter.

After writing the letter I had lunch, then I took a shower and headed off to work. The next day it struck me that I needed to post the letter, so I drove to the post office and mailed it. It was such a schlep.

But do you remember the thrill of finding a letter – with your name and address in your friend’s handwriting – in your letterbox?

Oh, before we over-romanticise letters, I would like to remind the more discerning reader that sometimes those letters were break-up letters, where that special “he” or “she” had decided to move on. In such a case it would slowly dawn on you that the letter had been written a week or two ago, and during all that time you had been madly in love.

Anyway, moving on; after posting the letter I was excited, I was energised, I was motivated. I ran up to the mall to get myself some writing paper apparently it no longer sells, so they don’t stock it any more. These days they sell airtime and data. I remember being able to pick the colour and texture of one’s writing paper. These days that experience has been filed under “redundant and inefficient”.

I spoke to the assistant at the stationery store, and told her how special it is to receive a letter. “Write one to a friend and ask your friend about the experience of receiving a letter in the post,” I suggested.

“Hoooo, no Meneer,” she protested. “My friends will hate me. They will think I am taking them back to the Stone Age,” she added with a chuckle, shaking her head at the silly Neanderthal in front of her.

The Neanderthal, for his part, was thinking of telling the young lady that writing something down engages both the left and right side of the brain and stimulates the hippocampus, which is associated mainly with memory – in particular long-term memory – and writing something is equivalent to reading it seven times.

And on the other hand, someone once said that letter writing can be seen as a gift because someone has taken his/her time to write and think and express themselves.

It’s so unlike today when we impersonally pass on those cute, clever, colourful picture messages – that some unknown stranger designed – via social media.

Where’s the chartichor in that?