*Photograph by Studio 1527.
Earlier this month, stationery company Crane featured me in their “From the Desk Of” series. I couldn’t believe when the brand reached out to me, as my very first set of stationery was Crane, and I have always associated it with the desirable decorousness of adulthood. My inaugural set was given to me by my mother when I was perhaps seven or eight, along with a stern beseechment: “Always write your thank you notes immediately.” To this day, I cannot stand the mounting sense of guilt that accompanies each day that passes between the receipt of a gift and the day I have put a thank you note in the mail. And so I often follow my mother’s suit, putting pen to paper the very day I’ve received something.
It was in college that I started to write letters in earnest, and fervently. I sustained an intense epistolarity with my best friend from high school, who had matriculated from Visitation to Villanova, and though we also wrote elaborate, painstakingly-detailed missives via email, it was not uncommon for letters postmarked from Charlottesville to pile up in her dorm mailbox. At one point, she assembled several months’ worth of emails, cards, and letters into a binder that she decorated and labeled THE VORTEX, a reference to our jejune philosophy of life at that time, which posited that living was akin to navigating a series of strange, often subterranean connections, and that we must remain alert to pathways and patterns in the seeming randomness. (Ah.) During my first year of college, I also received many letters and cards from other friends (Elizabeth included — she was a thoughtful pen pal who often sent collages of Abercrombie models and funny quotes clipped out of magazine articles with my name in bubbly letters in the middle) and even would-be suitors, which now feels archaic to the point of ancient. I had forgotten much of this until I came across a box of photos and letters from my college years during the move to our new home in Bethesda. I read through a three page letter from a once-dear-friend who attended Boston College and had apparently burned me a CD (now lost), and a small stack from a boy up in Vermont to whom a mutual friend had introduced me at a row house party in Georgetown. He begins these letters: “Beautiful baby –” (!) Shockingly intimate for someone I barely knew.
But then, there is never a substitute for the intimacy of a hand-written note. And perhaps I realized that in college and leaned into letter-writing for that reason. When you are young, your friends are everything, and the sensation of closeness to others during that formative period is paramount. Letters were one way to feel singularly connected to people, as though establishing a private and uninterruptible channel not likely prone to surveillance by peers. I loved the opportunity to observe in the slant of a character or the scratch-out of a word or even the smudge of ink on the back of the card some hidden insight into its author.
When Crane reached out to me and then generously sent me a set of their beautiful new stationery, I made a small commitment to myself to clip back into my former, prolific epistolarity. I was further motivated to make good on this pledge when I unearthed bundles of letters I wrote to my parents during my time studying abroad in Lyon during college that are movingly marked with marginalia in my father’s blocky all-caps hand-writing: “ELAINE — PLS RETURN.” I imagine my father reading my melodramatic, schmaltzy letters with a kind of knowing smile (“ah, Jennifer”) and then placing them on my mother’s desk before filing them away in his evidently expansive vault of memorabilia from his five children. Truly these letters are vapid affairs, but their detail and volume speak only of my unwavering dedication to my parents.
It is good, in other words, to let your feelings dry on paper and to enclose them in an envelope addressed to a loved one. I am always moved by the time someone has afforded me by sitting down to write something by hand. You cannot simply “try again” as you might using a Word processor or iMessage. You must really focus, and that focus is a form of love.
+More on the notion of female friendship and epistolarity.
+What would you study if you were going back to college tomorrow?
Shopping Break: At My Desk.
+My beloved desk chair. So chic for the price, and very functional/comfortable!
+For stowing meaningful letters: Bigso boxes. Bonus is that they look pretty on a shelf.
+For drafts and notes: Leuchtterm gridded notebooks. I adopted the European way of writing on squared or dotted paper while studying abroad and have never abandoned it, no matter how affected it seems. I love the way gridded/squared paper works with my minuscule handwriting.
+Tara Andris desk calendar. I am constantly checking the date.
+Accessory trays for corraling things like paper clips, stamps, etc. in my desk drawer.
+A few other fantastic finds for an office/desk:
QUIRKY LITTLE BUSINESS CARD HOLDER (LOVE)
LAZY SUSAN — IMAGINE WITH A RAINBOW OF ALL YOUR FAVORITE PENS, HIGHLIGHTERS, SHARPIES, ETC!
+More recent desktop finds here.
+Children’s stationery here.