Pandemic Hobbies: Slice of Life #sol21 23/31

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I tried them too. I signed up for poetry writing and embroidery and zine-making classes over Zoom, and I wrote some poetry and embroidered a word and made 100 zines for a #100dayproject. But then I was on to the next thing–or rather, back to my usual things. Reading, writing in my notebook, walking, cat care.

Some of my pandemic hobbies were purely aspirational. I collected recipes for sourdough starters and browsed puzzles. I thought idly about starting a vegetable garden. All from the comfort of the couch, safely mediated by a screen.

It took me until November to find my just right pandemic hobby, the one I know I’ll stick with even after the pandemic ends. (This is a parenthesis of pandemic panic as I just read a terrifying article about the B117 variant, which made the end of the pandemic seem far, far away, especially as so many school buildings that were safely closed all year push to re-open for the final two months of school, including my own).

Good old-fashioned letter writing.

At first, it was just another started-and-stopped pandemic hobby. I joined Rachel Syme’s Penpalooza penpal exchange and dutifully wrote to my two matches. We exchanged a couple of letters and then I got busy with moving and forgot to respond. I’d remember periodically and feel guilty but the guilt wasn’t enough to motivate me to write.

But by November, I was desperate for some kind of weekend activity to occupy myself that did not involve a screen. The conditions in my life were perfect for letting writing. The weather was getting colder, and I was trying to rehab a hip injury, which kept me inside and sedentary. After teaching all day on Zoom, my eyes were too tired to handle more screens on weekends. My son was binge watching a new TV show, and the blaring of the TV interfered with my ability to concentrate on a book. One Saturday while I was fussing to my husband about my inability to occupy myself without my phone while I sat all day and rested my hip in front of the TV, I suddenly remembered the letters I owed to my two penpals.

“Well, I could at least do that and stop feeling guilty, ” I grumbled.

And so I pulled some stationery out and wrote two letters. It went well. It felt good. Restorative even. Then I remembered a colleague who had promised to write to me after I moved and wrote another letter. Then I wrote to a couple of other colleagues I missed. Then I wrote to a friend from grad school. Then I asked all of the friends I owed emails to for their mailing addresses and responded with a handwritten letter instead of an email. Then I signed up for two more penpals. Then two more. Then two more. Then I reached out to a few online friends I wished I knew better and asked if they would be open to writing letters. Everyone said yes, and nearly everyone wrote back.

Somewhere in there I bought way too much new stationery. And stickers. And washi tape. And many sheets of stamps. New hobbies have a way of needing supplies.

And now my weekends have a new rhythm. On Friday afternoon, when my meetings are done, I gather the letters that have arrived during the week and settle onto the couch, usually with a cat in my lap, to respond to my mail. I try to write one or two letters on Friday, then three or four on Saturday and Sunday.

Even my weekdays have a new rhythm, as I now anticipate the mail, knowing it’s very likely I will receive a letter. I make my lunch and set my phone aside and read my mail before heading back upstairs to teach for another couple of hours on Zoom. Three of my regular correspondents type and print their letters to mail them. All of the rest handwrite. There is something deeply satisfying, I find, about handwriting–both writing by hand myself and reading someone else’s handwritten letter.

If you’d like to try letter writing as your new pandemic hobby, have a look at the #Penpalooza hashtag on Twitter, sign up for a penpal at Penpalooza.com, or reach out to with your mailing address because I am always happy to have another penpal to write to.

19 thoughts on “Pandemic Hobbies: Slice of Life #sol21 23/31

  1. I am so grateful you reached out to me. Getting a letter in the mail and reading is one of the most satisfying things. Something written by hand especially for you is a delicious gift. This and yoga will be my pandemic hobbies that stay with me!

    • It is really extraordinarily satisfying in a way that even a very good email isn’t. And even when I want to write the email, it feels like a task, whereas letter writing feels like a pastime, a hobby, something sustaining.

  2. I used to write regularly, every week to my aunt for two years. She passed away last October. Your post gave me an idea. I will message my relatives and friends to form a letter writing group. Thank you.

    • What a wonderful idea! Everyone loves receiving letters, I’ve found. Not everyone writes back, but that doesn’t bother me. I am certain that getting the letter was a pleasure, and although letter writing usually is transactional, it doesn’t have to be. Several friends I’d lost touch with throughout the years have been happy to rekindle a friendship through the mail, and it’s been so delightful!

  3. It was THE best to get mail from you…I am so glad that this is what you focused on… A letter has so much meaning, doesn’t it? As soon as this challenge is over, expect a long letter!

    • I can’t wait! And also, it is HARD to keep up with letter writing while also slicing! At the end of the day, when I’ve written a slice and also tried to comment on a bunch of them, I’m not sure I have anything left to say!

  4. I took a class at UNH to learn about digital story making. During the process, one of my fellow students incorporated letters from her grandmother and grandfather that they’d written during World War II. She observed how sad it was that in this digital age, there wouldn’t be any letters that attested to…life and relationships. I have thought about that a lot, and now today with this: truly a revival that bears reviving! Letters are my favorite thing to write, even if I don’t send them. There is something about a specific audience that makes all the difference.

    • There really is! I am so glad to see letters enjoying this revival. They provide a much-needed balance and a kind of permanence in what is otherwise digital and fleeting communication. I also love your point about letters that are written but not sent–there really is something about writing to a particular audience that makes a difference in what and how we write.

  5. Letter writing is such a lost art these days. This is a great way to get back into in. A handwritten note is so much more meaningful than something you just type out and then click send.

  6. I’m so impressed by how many people you correspond with! I’m sure it’s rewarding. Are you interested in exchanging poetry postcards? A poet once told me about this practice. I think it can be an original poem or or just one you love. I also like collecting fun postcards. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • I love the idea of a poetry postcard exchange! I’m in! Do you want to email me and we will set it up? elisabethelling at gmail. (I’m laughing at myself right now because I just had a momentary thought of hmmm, should I put my email on the Internet? Is that safe? When I give my home address to strangers on the Internet all the time!!)

  7. This is so wonderful. In some ways I’ve felt the same about my experience with Slice of Life…it’s replaced some doom scrolling and generic social media with a positive community of writers and a meaningful task.

    • Yes, Tim, I’m so glad you mentioned this connection, because I hadn’t realized before how letter writing also creates a positive community of writers and provides a meaningful task! I wonder, too, if I generally feel more satisfied and centered by the end of March because I spend far less time on social media this month. Hmm, something to ponder!

  8. I love this hobby! And I’m impressed by all your penpals – it makes me a little dizzy to imagine writing to 5 or 8 people a week – wow! Still, what fun it must be to look forward to the mail, to sit and write to people *by hand*. I might need to send you my address…

    • It’s surprisingly meditative to write letters! There really is something about handwriting… And I’d love to write to you post-slicing in April! I have my global stamps ready for all my Canadian mail! (Somehow or other I have four Toronto penpals. I am learning a lot about the city–which is actually quite close now that we’re in Detroit.)

  9. Elizabeth, I adore reading your slices. I don’t know how you possibly find time for everything that you do in your life. It sounds overwhelming to write to so many people but it’s so wonderful how you find joy in it. It reminds me of wealthy ladies of the early 1900 (not sure if my timing is right) who would sit are their little tables in their long flowing dresses and write with their feathered ink pens to correspond with relatives and future husbands! I was given a pen pal when I was thirteen in Hebrew school. Ironically we were born on the same day, but he was one year older. We still write on occasion after all these years. Steven visited me in the states and I visited him in Israel. I use to wait to get his letters and now it’s an email – which isn’t as much fun!

    • I had penpals in school as well, from French class I believe. I like that aspect of 2020 penpalling too–connecting me to something I did as a teen that I very much enjoyed. How incredible that you still keep in touch with your penpal! I have several penpals who use fountain pens and wax seals, which does feel very 19th century to me.

  10. Aspirational hobbies. Yep, I can relate to this. I think the pandemic brought many aspirational hobbies to my thoughts, but I am not sure that I thought about any that will stick. Like you, I find myself going back to the things I love.

    I can also relate to your need to leave the screen. Screen-time certainly feels different these days. I have always loved reading digitally, but I must admit that these days a good paper book feels great to the eyes.

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