Monday, 8 September 2014

Finding Miss Write

What makes a good pen pal? I think every one of us, at some time or another, searches for that perfect pal. One whose letters we anticipate, and with whom we find an easy rapport.

Writing to new people is quite easy really; it’s what comes after that initial letter that can pose a problem. I remember my very first pen pal. My neighbour’s cousin had come to visit over the summer holidays and when she left we’d agreed to write to one another—we were seven years old. I thought it would be so easy to write to Rhonda, but we already knew each other so the benefit of the opening letter wasn’t necessary in this case. When I sat down to write her, I couldn’t think of a single thing to say. My mother, who’d had pen pals when she was younger, encouraged me to write about our daily life so I dutifully wrote about my father having to replace one of the wind shield wipers on our car. It was a short-lived correspondence with Rhonda to say the least.

A few years later, when I was a little older and hopefully a little wiser, I sent my name in to a TV program called The Big Blue Marble in order to be matched up with an overseas pen pal. I was eleven and wanted to know first-hand about far away places. I soon got a letter from Claudia in Italy. It was very exciting for me and things did progress past the first letter this time only to stall around the third letter when Claudia informed me she couldn’t understand my handwriting. To say I was mortified was a gross understatement. For me, the subject of my handwriting had always been a sensitive one. When I was nearly eight, we moved from the city to the country and upon entering school, I found that cursive writing was taught in the previous year and so I would need to learn at home in order to be brought up to the same level as my classmates. I was sent home with a note and a packet with templates and under my mother’s tutelage I practised writing cursive. I was not very good at it and having won penmanship awards for my printing at my former school, it was quite a blow really, so when Claudia said she couldn’t understand my writing I was devastated. I wanted to have a pen pal though, so I began practising my writing again and after that our correspondence flourished.

As the years went on, Claudia and I grew apart and as our interests developed and changed I heard from her less and less until she stopped writing altogether. Again, I found myself looking for a pen pal. But how do you find the right one? I sent my name in to a magazine requesting letter friends. I remember the day the letters started to arrive. I was thrilled and began happily answering my new pen pals. The letters continued to arrive, however, and then I started to worry. I wondered if they would ever stop. I got replies from as far away as Hong Kong and Brazil. Never in a million years would I have guessed that I would receive more than 200 replies to my ad. It was a very arduous task answering so many pals. Some of my friends expressed an interest in writing so I passed some of the letters on to them though I wrote to the majority of people answering my ad. It proved to be too much in the end and most stopped writing to me because I took so long to write back. I was spending all my pocket money on stamps and stationery and still I didn’t have enough. I found that I was basically writing the same letter to all of my pals anyway and that isn’t really what I thought having pen pals would be like.

I realized then, that in order to have a good pen pal, I had to first be one. I became more conscious of the few remaining pals I had and endeavoured to be a pal whose letters they anticipated, and the rapport followed. It was a nice realization, finding that every pal was unique and that I connected on a different level with each of them. That in turn added depth to the whole experience of writing, and that is what I had always believed writing should be like.

 Today, I still write the few pals that endured. They were patient with me as I found my pen pal voice and slowly metamorphosed into Miss Write.


  1. I just lost my second comments! Has anyone else mentioned having this problem?

    1. I'm not sure where they've gone, I've published everything I have received from you. It's probably a glitch on my end, I have been having so many difficulties with my computer and the internet.

  2. Such a moving post. I think our ideas of what makes a perfect penpal are similar to the characteristics we seek in friendships. What do you think? Of all the people I correspond with, only two feel like friends I want to meet. I am super shy so that surprised

  3. I think you are right about the same ideals for pen pals and face-to-face friends. I'm not great in a crowd either but writing seems to come much easier for some reason. Probably because I can take the time to think before I reply without the conversation becoming strained. A letter gives you time to mull over your response. A friend of K's who is an author said she believed writing is a higher form of communitcation and I agree wholeheartedly!