A Conversation with Our Letter Writing Challenge Partner in Crime, Rhea Abramson of Mail More Love
Over the past year, we have had the sincerest pleasure of getting to know Rhea Abramson, the visionary behind Mail More Love, a monthly subscription box of cards and gifts delivered directly to your mailbox. Rhea found us through Instagram when we were starting our #366daysofletterwriting challenge. She reached out via snail mail with a note, a /366 stamp, and the promise to keep us accountable; the rest is history.
In this interview we ask her about her letter writing journey, how she is able to be such a prolific letter writer, what her favorite letter writing tools are, and so much more. Thank you Rhea for sharing!
We connected on Instagram in early 2016 when I (Kate here :) was starting the Letter a Day challenge. Can you share with our readers what inspired you to take on the challenge as well?
Aren’t I glad I saw that post on Instagram? Basically, it was all you Kate! I was an Of Note retail customer at the time and LOVED everything you guys made. I saw the post about your 2016 challenge when I was on vacation so I had more time to give it some thought than a typical day at work. I was already posting every day and I thought to myself if I make this 366 day pledge it will probably bring me a lot of joy. I also thought it would be cool to really DO something every day for a whole year and have a record of it. Once I decide to do something I’m pretty unstoppable – some might say obsessive ; ) - so within a day I had the idea to make the stamp for both of us and get the show on the road.
Over the past year, we've corresponded back and forth via letters so we've been privy to some of this already, but can you tell our readers more about your letter writing journey? When did you discover the beauty of corresponding via the handwritten word and what keeps you going?
My Auntie Karen and Grandmother Dorothy were my first pen pals. They sent me cards for EVERY holiday and letters for no reason. Seeing their gorgeous script on an envelope made me want to have gorgeous penmanship and made me want to write them back. My mother was also very persistent about making sure my sister and I wrote thank you notes. A gorgeous practice I continue to this day and that has served me so well in my life. Having relatives that lived far away from me definitely initiated my practice and growing up on a small island in the Caribbean, trips to the Post Office were exciting when you actually received a letter or had one to mail.
I’ve always been drawn to stationery and writing. As a little girl, my favorite things on my Grandmother's desk were her letter opener and this little plastic box that rolled stamps went in. I couldn’t wait until dinner was cleaned up so I could sit at her desk like a grown up and write my own letters, sometimes just to my stuffed animals. Now as an adult, I have friends and family living all over the country and the world. But really, writing letters is a selfish pursuit for me. I love to sit at my desk and hold the person I am writing to close in my mind and heart and tell them about things in my life. And more often than not, I work out things that are troubling me in letters. Just writing how I feel guides me to the answers I need.
"I love to sit at my desk and hold the person I am writing to close in my mind and heart and tell them about things in my life. And more often than not, I work out things that are troubling me in letters. Just writing how I feel guides me to the answers I need."
Back to last year's challenge, How did your 366 letters in a year go? What did you learn? What was hard? What did you love?
When I think about it, I’m so proud of my #yearofsnailmail. As my Instagram handle describes, I am devoted. I did a quiz in Oprah Magazine years ago that had me ask 7 friends to list 7 adjectives that describe me and they all separately came back with the word devoted. They also all had the word committed. So the devotion and the commitment to the project were easy for me because they are innately me. The planning and organization of writing, photographing each one and, numbering for the first 6 months was great. Towards the end it got a little tedious. Logging each letter in my Letter Ledger was also hard for me. I wanted and needed a record of what was in each letter so as not to repeat myself in a future letter but it got to be too arduous because of the volume of letters I was writing.
It was hard to say no to strangers who asked me to write to them. What did I love? I guess the challenge itself of the coordination it took to pull it off. The deadlines of having cards ready for holidays and birthdays. The constant card shopping – which I do for Mail More Love anyway. But mainly the card whispering. My favorite activity in the world is to sit at my desk and look through my stash of stationery. I keep it separated into sections – thank you, birthday, baby, love; but the biggest section is general. I love to sit and leaf through all the cards and pull ones out that I know need to be sent. This challenge allowed me to truly indulge that passion.
How many letters did you actually end up writing?
891 that I logged in my Letter Ledger!!!! But I wrote lots of casual notes too that I didn’t log. I write a note to all the members of the NYC Letter Writers Society after each meeting so that helped drive up that number.
When I got to November and saw how far I was, I really wanted to hit 1,000 letters but life, my job, Mail More Love got in the way. Not forcing myself to get to 1,000 for me was a good thing : )
You wanted to take on a smaller challenge this year so you opted for a love letter a week. Tell us about this challenge and how/why you've snuck in a few other challenges.
I did say that 2017 was supposed to be a smaller challenge and yet I have posted a letter every day (eye roll) - I’m addicted to letter writing!!! This just goes to show that the 366 days really made a letter a day a part of me. So the end of last year was a little challenging for me personally, which you and Isabel know from our time together after the Renegade Craft Fair in November. I had to look really hard at what I wanted to create in my life and the answer was more love. So I gave myself permission not to post every day and to make sure that I wrote really meaningful love letters. I’m all about love letters being to anyone you love, not just your romantic love.
And yes I have snuck in a few other challenges. I guess I love a challenge! I did 14 days of Valentines and of course will be doing 30 days of letters for Write-On. I guess I must have some weird numbering OCD or something. The 14 days of Valentines came from the simple fact that I bought so many Valentines and I loved them all so much that I wanted to share them all. A few years ago I did a reading challenge on GoodReads.com – the first year I did 50 books and the second I did 100. You and I have corresponded about this before. I have some really delicious memories of the books I read during those challenges but mainly what feels good when I look back is the time and space that I carved out of my life to make room for reading. Reading gives me as much pleasure as letter writing – it’s time spent alone, recharging my tank while traveling with characters I love.
Kate's biggest struggle with the challenges last year, and let's be honest this year too, is getting behind. How do you stay on top of your game? Any tips you can share about carving out that time to write and making it a habit?
Time management is one of my hobbies. I used to read books about time management for fun because if there were 4 more hours in each day I would use them to the fullest. 7 years ago I was very unhappy that I wasn’t getting to do all the things I wanted to do in my daily life and I read a book called 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. It was a game changer for me. It showed me visually where all my time was going and I began to make different choices about how I spent it. So I’m pretty hyper aware of how I spend my time and I try hard to make time for the things that bring me joy.
My best tip for someone who is uber busy and wants to write more is to create a little letter writing kit. Buy 5-10 cards and a book of stamps and put your favorite pen in a pouch and take it with you everywhere. If you are waiting for your kids, or in an airport, or at Starbucks, write someone a note. For people who like to write at home, I suggest picking a winding down time at night – 30 minutes before you should be in bed and grab two cards and write them. You’d be amazed how little time it takes to write a note. For seasoned letter writers who want to write longer letters, I say head to your favorite café, order your favorite drink and write away. Postcards are another great medium for sending a note without spending a ton of time. I loved the Of Note postcard that was in the March Mail More Love box. I do all of the above.
What are your favorite tools for letter writing?
Vintage stamps from EdelWeiss Post.
The Caran D’ache Swiss Wood Pencil from CW Pencil Enterprise – I have at least 20 at varying lengths rolling around my apartment and letter writing kit.
Class Room Friendly Supplies Sharpener from CW Pencil Enterprise.
My bejeweled rolling date stamper from Urbanic Paper Boutique.
My IPhone to tell me the weather which I log on every letter.
Memento Ink Pad in Espresso Truffle.
Any washi tape by MT.
What doesn't exist in the paper world that you wish someone would create?
Gosh I have no idea. I continue to find more treasures than I can ever hope to use.
In our correspondence you've mentioned that you'll write to people, for example to stationers, out of the blue. Do you have any tips for finding their addresses / what to say in that first letter?
I am a problem solver in my day job. My mind will just keep focusing on the problem at hand and at building associations until I figure out how to solve it. I can find pretty much anyone with Google and I’m not afraid to DM people and ask for their address. This is a practice that has served me very well and I’ve made amazing friends through taking that chance to write a letter.
I guess you could say it is in me as well because it is something I have done since I was a little girl. When I was 7 years old – without the Internet – I figured out how to get a letter to Princess Diana of Wales asking for her autograph and I got a letter back. So I guess you could say I am part Private Investigator and have dogged persistence. I’ll be telling that story on my blog sometime soon.
What to say in that first letter to a stranger…..explain who you are and why you are writing. For me, it’s usually to say how much I admire or appreciate something about them or something have done. As you know from our correspondence and this interview, I never have a shortage of things to say. But mainly I would say, write from your heart. That is your best chance for establishing a true connection. People connect to authenticity, not a contrived version of yourself. Curiosity is also a great foundation for letters. I recently met a subscriber of Mail More Love at the LA Pen Pal Club and was curious about something in her life so I asked her about it and she wrote me a four page letter back. It was amazing!
Is there anyone with whom you dream of corresponding?
My pen pal Patrick of EdelWeiss Post makes all my correspondence dreams come true. We have an old fashioned correspondence similar to the ones I have always been fascinated by for decades like Jefferson and Adams or O’Keefe and Stieglitz. We don’t speak by phone or email, strictly letters. Donovan Beeson co-founder of the Letter Writers Alliance is another person who I love corresponding with. But I will still hold out hope for correspondence with some of my idols – Oprah Winfrey, Sarah Jessica Parker or maybe Carrie, Byron Katie, Sally Field, Diane Keaton, and Gabriel Macht.
What has been the most surprising element about corresponding with individuals all over the country/in different places?
Probably learning how creative people are and how hungry they are to create beautiful mail art. And that you can fall head over heels in love with people you have never even met.