Some people have one pen pal they exchange letters with on a regular basis.
Megan Warantz, a 60-year-old television and movie producer from Oceanside, has 18.
Melissa Bedell, a 44-year-old director of a nursery school from Seaford, has 46.
And Gosia Olszewski, 33, who works for a liquor company and lives in Port Jefferson, has 10.
The old-fashioned art of writing a letter has become a hobby for some Long Islanders, modernized by the fact that they found each other on Facebook or Instagram. The vast majority are women; Warantz launched a snail-mail pen pal Facebook group for women older than 50 that now has more than 800 members.
Some letter writers, such as Olszewski, say they discovered or developed their passion during the pandemic. "We couldn’t see family or friends. But the post office was still open, and I had stamps and stuff. Now I have a whole little office dedicated to my snail mail," she says.
Echoes Maxine Karmily-Etessami, 35, of Great Neck: "It helped so much. It gave me something to do, it gave me something to focus on and look forward to just by checking the mail."
HOW IT WORKS
People find a group devoted to snail mail letter writing online and introduce themselves in a post, talking a little bit about their interests and their families. Then others will comment that they would like to match up. They move to corresponding through a private message and will then exchange snail mail addresses and decide who will write first.
Some people aim for a pen pal in every state. Others go the international route, although gratification can take longer because it takes more time for those letters to go back and forth, writers say. "I just got a new pen pal from Singapore," Bedell says.
One Sunday a month, Warantz spends six hours writing to people she calls her pen friends, personalizing the missives with hand-drawn pictures and decorating colorful envelopes with mandala designs. Her letters are typically eight to 10 pages, she says, but letters don’t have to be so long.
MUSIC AND A CUP OF TEA
Several writers interviewed say the hobby is like journaling, like therapy.
"It’s calming. I sit with music and a cup of tea. I’m sure it has some mental health benefits for sure," Olszewski says.
Warantz agrees. "You have someone to confide in that is separated from your life," she says. "You write about what’s been going on in your life and your feelings. It has enriched my life. It has made me close to people I never would have met."
Letter writing brought together Karmily-Etessami and Robin Tauber, 44, of San Francisco, who works part time at a synagogue. Tauber says writing to Karmily-Etessami and other of her pen pals allows the women to connect on their own time frame. "If I call, they have to pick it up in the moment. If I send a letter, they can pick it up whenever they have time to pick it up. We connect on a lot of day-to-day stuff, as if we were just pals meeting up for coffee. It would be the same type of conversation."
A CREATIVE OUTLET
The hobby is also an outlet for creativity and even for social justice, letter writers say.
Small businesses have sprung up on Etsy where people will sell decorative stamps and homemade stationery. Wax seals have become popular, Olszewski says. Olszewski and her girlfriend, who is a graphic designer, developed a rainbow-colored stamp for LGBT Pride month that they sold online to raise awareness.
Olszewski has met one of her pen pals who lives in Manhattan; together they’ve shopped for stamping tools, and Olszewski plans to attend the friend’s upcoming wedding. Other women says they’ve met up with multiple pen pals at the same time; some of them are pen pals with each other as well. "When the time comes and I travel to Europe, I have a list of snail mail friends I will be visiting," Olszewski says.
Bedell says she was supposed to meet one of her pen friends from England this past May when the family was planning to visit the country for Bedell’s daughter’s Sweet 16, but the pandemic canceled those plans. "We became almost best friends," Bedell says of her British pen pal. "I wish she lived next door."
For now, the post will have to suffice.
"It’s heartwarming when you go to get your mail," says Marnie Feffer, 35, of Hewlett, a technology auditor at a global bank. "Everything is black and white business letters; then there will be a yellow envelope decorated with stickers."