During high school, when Maureen McDole passed notes to her friend Ülrika Moats, she loved being creative with her messages, often writing her sentences in a spiral pattern that made discrete classroom reading a challenge. Then after graduation, each moved apart, and the note passing became letter writing. Moats tells me she's saved her letters into adulthood, seeing them as “something you get to collect, and still look back on years later, and think, ‘Oh, this is the conversation I was having then.’ They’re tangible, physical, which is something you don't get when you write to someone on your phone or computer.”
Tangibility was important to Moats when she started the Paper and Pen Pal Club at Brazos Bookstore last August, a letter writing program that pairs readers looking to correspond about literature. And Moats looked to her friend McDole to collaborate with the club. After all, people needed others to write to, and McDole is now director of Keep St. Pete Lit, a literary organization out of St. Petersburg, Florida, that offers low-cost writing classes, hosts monthly open mics, and promotes local author readings. As a strong advocate for local literary arts, they were a natural partner.
My own experience with the Paper and Pen Club came post-Harvey. Almost two months after the hurricane, life had started to return to its normal routine, but I was still trying to shake the funk I was in. I had trouble sleeping, wasn’t socializing, and I just felt melancholic. I decided to start looking for ways to reconnect with others that was also at a gentle pace, and seeing the club announcement on my Facebook feed, well, it seemed to fit what I was looking for.
When I arrived at the store for the event, I noticed the overhead lights were dimmed. Two long white folding tables were set up, with table lamps placed on them, and it gave the space a more intimate feel. On the tables were a variety of cards, stationery, and pens of all sorts. Scented markers, gel ink pens, and even fountains pens were available to use.
It was soothing to sit and think about what to write. And it was fun to try out different pens, and test the different textures of the stationery, to find the ones that felt just right. People came and went, solo or in small groups. Conversation was pleasant, but minimal, and the evening provided the right amount of interaction I needed at that time.
McDole, who replied to one of my letters, mentioned that her all-time favorite book is A Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindberg. A good friend of mine recently passed away, and that happened to be her favorite book. The last time I saw her, she recommended it to me to read. Seeing the same book mentioned by a new friend felt like my old friend was waving to me, or at least, reminding me to finally read that book.
I’m looking forward to the next club meeting, to letting McDole know about this connection. I’ve read over her letter several times, and thought about my response to her much more often than I do emails I send or updates I tweet. It’s shown me that letter writing is a task of delayed gratification, and in an age of immediate results, those few things that must be waited upon become more precious.
The next Paper and Pen Pal Club takes place Monday, Jan. 15 at 6:30 p.m. Brazos Bookstore, 2421 Bissonnet St. 713-523-0701. More info at brazosbookstore.com.