the pen is mightier than the keyboard

here's an article i just wrote for helium under the title "the art form of pen pal writing"....

Has the Age of Internet “killed” Mr. Postman? Surely, we still see him delivering mail everyday, although it seems the bulk of what we receive are mainly “junk mail.” And that’s exactly the sad part: we only hear from friends and family during the holidays, when the Season of Giving compels people to send the obligatory Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa greetings by mail, sometimes with a family photo enclosed or a short narrative of how the year went for them. But during these fast-paced times, people hardly have time to sit down for breakfast, let alone spend even five minutes to write an actual birthday card to Aunt Annie. No, a quick email or a cute little e-card will do. Just enter the recipient’s email address, choose a pre-designed greeting and hit send. That’ll save you a trip to the post office. Not only is it more convenient and time-saving, it’s also the “green” thing to do.

This wasn’t the case back when computers weren’t considered fixtures inside the home. More than twenty years ago, I discovered the simple joys that came with having pen pals and being a pen pal. As an innocent teenager in the Philippines, happiness consisted of Friday nights devoted to the television at 7PM for the X-Men cartoons. I was such a fan that I also indulged in the comic book version. My favorite X-Men character was Gambit, the “Ragin’ Cajun.” I imagined myself as Rogue, his love interest, and so I doodled them a lot in my notebook while at school. Young as I was, I also fancied myself as “Mrs. Remy LeBeau.”

One particular issue of the comics inspired me to write to the Fan Section. I shared my humble opinion on the way the artist drew Gambit (something really trivial involving his facial hair), and even sent my own rendition of my favorite card-wielding mutant. I was ecstatic to find my letter published in a subsequent issue, with comments from the editor to the effect that my artwork was promising. At the time, they publish letter-writers’ postal address with the missive (unless you specified that you wish to withhold it). Not long after that issue came into circulation, I started receiving letters from strangers, letters from fellow X-Men readers who saw my letter in the Fan Section. They came from different parts of the world: U.S.A., Puerto Rico, Spain, South Africa, and a few ones from my own country. I was enthralled. I made friends from foreign lands who shared my interest.

I became familiar with our village’s mail carrier. He would arrive in his motorcycle and yell in his distinct voice, “SULAAAT!”(Filipino for “letter”), then he would stick the bundle of letters onto our gate. We didn’t have a mailbox, but the volume of letters I was receiving motivated me to create one out of an empty, rectangular can of vegetable oil (seriously!). I cleaned it, painted it white, carefully wrote our house number on the side and attached it to our gate with some wires. I was proud of my own craftiness.

Aside from sharing our passion for Professor Xavier’s gifted students, my pen friends and I exchanged notes about how life was like in our respective geographic locations. They would also send me little treats as well as their own artwork in the mail. My favorite pal was a girl from the United States who actually attended comic conventions and dressed up as Jubilee. She would send photos of herself clad in Jubilee’s costume and I envied her so much for being able to brush shoulders with X-Men comic book artists such as Jim Lee. My male friend from Michigan generously sent me special issues of X-Men comics and even action figures. One day, Gambit arrived in bendable plastic form. I thanked him profusely. It probably seemed like good karma for him to send such gifts to someone in South East Asia. In return, I would send them copies of my own drawings. As a pen pal to these various ethnicities, I felt like an ambassador of my own country, always introducing the Philippines to them as an “archipelago of 7, 107 islands and many dialects.”

I learned to appreciate philately as well, and collected the colorful stamps that adorned the letters I received. These multiple pen pal relationships lasted for a few years, then simply waned. Some of them didn’t write back as much, until they just stopped writing. I even wrote to an inmate in Texas well into my early college years and his final letter was one that announced he was finally done with his sentence.

I guess people who went through a “pen pal phase,” like myself--outgrow it--for many reasons such as going to college, finding work, or getting married. Many years later, I found myself wondering how my pen friends are. Has Jubilee’s clone spawned kids of her own who would dress up as their own favorite heroes on Halloween? I then longed for the thrill of getting personal mail in the mailbox: a handwritten account of one’s life in some part of the world. It’s the tangibility of the sentiment that makes it miles apart from a cold email. I also wished for such letters to come from my old friends in school. But for now, they are busy writing pleadings for court. I surely don’t want to interfere in their established routine. The internet is there 24/7 anyway to enable us to beam a quick hello to each other with a stroke of the keyboard.

But my old-fashioned self still prefers traditional “snail mail.” Even if I no longer have regular pen pals, I become one to old friends when someone’s birthday comes along, or when the holidays roll by. I have a remarkable stock of cards and stationery just waiting for the perfect occasion for them to be used, and a few stamps handy. For me, nothing is as special as a smile that is signed, sealed and delivered.

0 vandalized my wall:

Related Posts with Thumbnails