In pursuit of a Better Letter Record

Dear Everyone ~


I have just discovered that I am not the only letter- and
postcard-writer who struggles to keep track of outgoing correspondence.
I occasionally think that there must be a better form of record-keeping
than my ongoing list, which looks like this.

I tend to assemble mail in batches,
and then I like to take a “group photo” so I have
a visual reminder of the ensemble.


Well, my postal muse, Alyson, belongs to the San Francisco
Correspondence Co-op, and fellow member Margarete recently wrote to the group,
“I mailed a bunch of postcards yesterday and I realized
a few I don’t remember who I mailed to.
How do you keep track of outgoing and incoming mail?
Do you write it in a journal or a calendar?
I need a system and haven’t found one.”
Alyson quips, “Quandary loves company!”
and proceeds to read me the replies.

Five co-operative correspondents wrote right back:
Ryan, Laura, Shelley, Pamela, and Sally.
Overall, the thread was fairly funny—and familiar.
It seems the “pile system” is quite popular. So are phone photos.
Here are a couple of my favorite back-and-forths
(shared here with permission):

Sally says,”Ha! The nightmare of organizing!
I used to keep a ledger…” and she shows a photo.
Her notations are all handwritten, as are the index tabs
affixed to multiple pages. Pamela promptly points out that she doesn’t
see a tab with her name on it! Sally soothes,
“Oh it’s there all right. You can see I don’t even alphabetize.”

Laura acknowledges, “I’d often forget to write in a journal
and started just laying out my outgoing mail on the seat
of my car when I was in the post office parking lot
and snapping a photo so I could log it once I got home,
but then eventually just stuck with the photos.”
She adds, “I’m really visual so seeing the card
or envelope is enough to remind me what was sent.”

Wow: Shelley shares that she keeps a traditional log with columns:
date incoming, date outgoing, source/recipient, type
(postcard, note, letter) and group identifier (friend, penpal, etc).
She leaves a blank column in which she inserts the date
when she replies or receives a reply.
She is happy with her system … and I can see why!

* * * * *

This may seem like a little thing …
but for those of us who send a lot of mail, it is Such a Thing.
And, apparently, it is not a new thing.

Lewis Carroll had so much to say on the subject
that he wrote a little booklet (3 x 4 in.) about it.
“Eight Or Nine W I S E W O R D S about Letter-Writing”
was published and sold with a tiny Alice in Wonderland case for postage stamps.


The booklet is delightful and improbable, as Carroll’s example of an
epistolary exchange involving pink elephants seems beyond the looking glass.

Carroll goes into great detail about the wisdom of addressing the envelope
and affixing the stamp before beginning to write your note or letter:
“And I’ll tell you what will happen if you don’t.
You will go on writing till the last moment, and,
just in the middle of the last sentence,
you will become aware that ‘time’s up!’ Then comes the hurried windup—
the wildly scrawled signature—the hastily fastened envelope,
which comes open in the post—the address a mere hieroglyphic—
the horrible discovery that you’ve forgotten to replenish your Stamp-Case—
the frantic appeal, to everyone in the house, to lend you a Stamp—
the headlong rush to the Post Office, arriving
—hot and gasping, just after the box has closed….”

Carroll's scheme of record-keeping is elaborate in the extreme.
I can only dream of such a system!


Introduction to Boxmaking is this Saturday, July 20
& there is one seat open!

Very Epistolarily, Bari