On The Arcade Fire's wonderful recent release "The Suburbs" there is a poignant song called "We Used to Wait" that starts with these words, "I used to write, I used to write letters I used to sign my name" and then remembers a time when people used to write letters and then wait for responses. In a world where "our lives are changing fast" when is the last time you wrote or received a real handwritten letter? There are many lost "arts" that the children of today have no clue about. Penmanship seems to be one of those lost arts or disciplines.
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal published an article called "How Handwriting Trains the Brain" that implies that writing is indeed a key to learning, memory, and ideas. Using MRIs reasearchers have shown that:
...writing by hand is more than just a way to communicate. The practice helps with learning letters and shapes, can improve idea composition and expression, and may aid fine motor-skill development.
Here is a recap of this and other similar articles from "The Week" magazine: How Writing by Hand Makes Kids Smarter. In a world of computers, keyboards, and texting, it seems that there are many good reasons to keep up the practice of writing by hand as well as writing with good penmanship. It can get ideas out faster, increase neural activity, and make you seem smarter. It seems like it might be wise to keep a pencil as a good friend.
And just when is the last time you wrote or received a letter? Last month I found an unexpected letter in my mailbox and I realized it has been a long time since I last communicated by letter with anyone. The letter was a surprise from the daughter of my high school running coach (an inspiring coach, teacher, and mentor). Although, I don't recall ever meeting her, she had read some comments I had made in my running blog online about her father and wrote a nice handwritten letter in reply (something her dad used to do also as you can see in the post) and included some old pictures: a letter from the past.
Strangely enough, the first time I listened to "The Suburbs" was when I visited my parents and hometown on Cape Cod this summer. I went for a long 15 mile run from my parents house and ran along the beaches and running routes of my younger years. I also ran by the house I grew up in, which was very interesting as I listened on my iPod to this music that so often references growing up, hometowns, and the lost life of our past. I also ran by an address, that I recognize now as the place where my coaches daughter now lives. This is unusual because I went to high school on Long Island in New York. Maybe I will have a chance to visit and meet with her someday as she lives only a couple of miles from my parents. I got this all from a letter!
For an unusual personalized video of "We Used to Wait" go to "The Wilderness Downtown" on a powerful computer, hopefully one with the Chrome browser. You input the address of the home where you grew up and it creates an interactive film using google images (including a postcard to your past) that you can view. I like the running theme to the video, too! Unfortunately, Google street view doesn't have enough images of the home I grew up in, so it can't recreate a run similar to the one I had this summer.