Clarksville, TN – Despite the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic – and perhaps to spite it – Austin Peay State University student Victoria Bolkcom this year has embraced her love of letter writing to sate “a starving for connection with those somewhere else.”
Bolkcom has been writing letters for about six years since she started exchanging correspondence with a friend in Ohio, but she really expanded her writing in March after the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic gripped the nation.
“Before COVID, I only wrote Gabby, and then COVID hit, and I thought, ‘I can’t see everyone in Clarksville, so I’m going to write them letters,” Bolkcom said.
The letter writing project quickly expanded beyond her circle of Tennessee friends, though. Bolkcom corresponds with about 30 people throughout the world, including pen pals in Austria, Iceland and New Zealand.
“I found pen pals in my close friends, Instagram followers, potential lovers and tattoo Facebook group members,” she wrote in a recent class writing assignment. “I found a sense of intimacy through letter writing.”
Because of Bolkcom’s letter writing success during a pandemic, Austin Peay State University’s Wesley Foundation awarded her a $100.00 grant to keep writing letters. She uses the money for stamps, stationery and pens.
The intimacy of letter writing
You can feel the intimacy in the handwriting on the page, evidence that the letter writer “sat somewhere and took the time out of their day to write you to give you a little update,” Bolkcom said.
“I think the beauty of letter writing is that you know you’re not sitting across from Gabby or Petra in Iceland, and you still connect in some way,” she added. “And it’s a way to connect without having to use the internet.
Taking the time to make these connections – in your own hand – creates a special space for the letter writers, she said.
“The act of writing down one’s thoughts and innermost desires onto a page only to send them off creates a space for candor and openness to thrive,” Bolkcom shared in her writing assignment about letter writing. “Writing letters gives a sense of purpose to the conversation a text message simply lacks.”
To Bolkcom, the conversation in letters ventures beyond “How are you?” and answers another question: “What brings you joy?”
That intimacy captivates.
Breaking from pandemic screens
Letter writing is “a good way to feel connected without having to be on my phone because I’m tired of looking at my phone,” Bolkcom, who is studying broadcast media and event planning, said. “I’m tired of looking at a computer. I’m just tired of looking at a screen.”
And in breaking from the screen, she has fostered relationships with old friends and new friends alike.
“I can confidently say that I’ve gotten closer to a lot more people than I would have thought,” Bolkcom said. “And I’ve met people that are completely different from me.”
Some of those friends have struggled during the pandemic, sharing personal, sometimes tragic, stories.
“That’s frightening, and I mean there’s nothing I can do but offer support and an ear to listen,” she said.
These connections, though, whether made in joy or in sorrow have helped Bolkcom navigate the pandemic as well.
“Letter writing helped me realize the importance of the gifts of written words and quality time,” she wrote in her class assignment. “My favorite letters read like the other person talks.
“I hear their voices when reading their words.”