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Dear Correspondent

January 25, 2012

Late last year I got it into my head to send out holiday cards to everyone on my dad’s side of the family. I had never done this before and indeed it’s been a running gag that we have not been able to get everyone’s addresses into one address book document. I wasn’t even sure how many people were in the family. So I looked into it. I scoured emails, dug up an old family tree my grandfather had compiled, put together a spreadsheet and started a new email thread and with everyone’s help we had it completed by Christmas. I sent everyone a card and felt good about myself for a week or two. The New Year came and went and I was still riding the high of having just communicated with everyone, so I made it my resolution to write one letter every month in 2012.

Back in the days before email I was a letter writer. The surprise and the anticipation of receiving a letter by post has always appealed to me, because a letter is intimate. It arrives at your home and waits for you to read it in the comfort of your favorite chair. It is patient. Communication in letters is not immediate, it was sent some time ago and should you wish to reply then your letter will arrive some days hence. That sense of time adds value to your shared experience as if both of you are participating in something together.

Thank You cards are nice, so are little notes that say Thinking of You–they serve a purpose, they make a statement, they are one-way streets. A letter is a story, a narrative with an invitation to reciprocate.

Today I wrote my first letter of the year. All month I’ve been telling myself to get on it, but one thing or another had yet to be decided: who do I write to first? What do I say? How weird is it going to be if someone suddenly gets a letter from me out of the blue? And shouldn’t a letter be different somehow than an email? “Hey dude, how you doing? We should totally email sometime. Later!” What’s the point of that? So clearly I had some wrinkles to iron out.

There were about a dozen candidates for the first recipient. I ruled out the idea of writing to all of them, because I figured that would subvert my goal by threatening to make each letter too similar to the one before it. So I decided to let Math solve the problem for me. I used a handy-dandy random number generator to pick a number between 1 and n-1, and then I found the corresponding entry in my address book, and voila!

I opened the letter admitting that I wanted to revive the ancient art of letter writing before the U.S. Post Office went out of business, and then I jumped right in. This first letter was short, one side of a rather small page. Short and sweet. It was over too soon, so I wrote four thank-you notes and sent those out today as well. I’m looking forward to writing my next letter and I’m even considering writing a letter a day in February.

Check your mail box. You might be on my list.

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