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.
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