Missives In My Mail Aren't From Mick Jagger

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I am guilty of making faraway friends feel guilty.

I do this by writing them letters in longhand, my thought processes free-flowing.

I pursue this guilt with some pleasure, because it makes me feel good to stand out as part of this shrinking minority.

I am not a stationery junkie.

Being a scrapbook-paper addict depletes my wallet plenty. I could wallpaper a room with my collection of 12-by-12-inch scrapbook papers.

My friends will vouch that lined paper is my preference for missives; it makes my penmanship easier to read. When there are no lines on which to hang my words, my sentences will eventually fall down the page.

I've been known to engage in a stilted version of calligraphy, then my thought changes and my writing merely looks decent.

People who watch me scribble as I interview have compared my penmanship to that of physicians.

Students often ask me how I can read my own handwriting.

Adults look across the table at my stunted, and to them, upside-down, cattywompas letters, and ask if I took shorthand.

My mind flashes to Mrs. Ong, the business teacher at Westwood High School in Mesa. She gave me books so I could teach myself shorthand, but I shelved them.

I had pretty handwriting when Jerry Thebado hired me as a part-time reporter three years ago.

All 26 shapes of the alphabet got worse in direct proportion to the Roundup's deadlines.

Ns and Ms blur. Is are forlorn of dots. The faster I write, the flatter the word.

Fortunately, deadlines are finite.

I think the feel of a pen in my hand answers a basic kinetic need.

The barely-audible rolling "scritch" a pen makes against paper is a pure white noise.

Color is important.

I enjoy brief dalliances with metallic gel pens on black before returning to ordinary blue on college-ruled.

Writing for a living has taught me that with a keyboard under my fingertips, I can edit, change my font, up the pica, edit yet again, and the piece still might not fit my vision of perfection.

In fact, I am probably editing myself as you read this. If I am not doing that, odds are one in 9 if it is daytime, I'm scribbling -- or marking out items on my to-do list with a thick black Sharpie.

Friends love us, despite ‘imperfektion's such as ink on fingertips and shared guilt.

When I somehow forgot to send the last page of a long letter to an old friend, my phone rang with earnest questions.

When I jump thought processes with bare-to-no introductory sentences, longtime friends follow me.

My excuse for breaking the rules of proper English?

I tend to write letters in the double-digit hours of night.

At least I use paragraphs. I have one friend who writes, as novelist Henry Miller often did, in one long stream of consciousness.

Valentine's Day, a time for exchanging messages of love, is nigh on a week away.

What better time to write a letter to a friend.

If you e-mail that person so often they know all about your life, give them something to cherish.

Tell them how you will always remember the time when .....

I know Handwritten Letter Guilt works both ways:

A few times a year I open my mailbox and smile to find a handwritten letter from Keith or Kelly or Anna or Rodney or Joanne, tucked between catalogs, bills and ads from local realtors, certain they can sell my house.

In those instances, I slit open the envelope with my mailbox key and, all other cares forgotten, read the letter, standing beside the box.

A posted letter from a friend is a pleasure you just can't get from e-mail.

Speaking of which, when AOL first came out, there was a sound-file one could add to e-mail programs. It was Mick Jagger (or an impersonator) saying, "You've got a letter."

If anyone knows where I might find this, please e-mail clavalley@payson.com.

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