From journalist Keith Sharon:
This is my column that appears in today's OC Register. It's behind a paywall, so I'm sending it in full to you. Please post on Typosphere, if you feel so inclined:
Last November, I bought an old typewriter on eBay with the intent to save the world one, old-timey letter at a time.
We text too much instead of talk. We tweet when we don’t have anything to say. We blurt instead of compose.
Much of this is fueled by the quickness and anonymity of the web.
I set out to start a resurrection of real communication with my Smith-Corona 88 Secretarial (circa 1950s). I called my typing efforts “Project 88,” taken from the number of different characters the old, gray 88 produces.
Then, right out of the gate, I blew it. I wrote letters to celebrities.
I’m still waiting for my first celebrity response.
When I first wrote about my experiences, on March 17, I proclaimed the death of letters. “If you want to be ignored by people you admire … type them a letter.”
Turns out I was admiring the wrong people.
I received my 500th old-fashioned, snail mailed letter on Aug. 16. Thank you Rob Bowker of Wallingford, England, for your nice letter in which you described the “Local fields, normally so tranquil and lying under birdsong, are growling to the thunder of combine harvesters …”
For those not opposed to a little math, that’s exactly 100 letters per month. In the newspaper business, where old-fashioned letters are dwindling faster than cassette tapes did, that’s an explosion.
When I started Project 88, I could have never guessed where it was going. First, it was an abject failure. Then it was a local success with letters pouring in from around Orange County; schools, senior centers, offices, jails, kitchen tables. Letters were written on dusty typewriters pulled from garages. They were written with fountain pens; No. 2 pencils.
Then it became a bigger success. I started writing a weekly column (it appears Tuesdays in the local section) called “Mail Bonding.” Get it? I’ve heard from a total of 15 states – so far. Many letters came from the “Typosphere,” an online community of really cool and eccentric letter writers. I got a letter from England. Then two from Australia. Now I’ve got about 70 pen pals around the world.
Then I had lunch with Laura and Catherine Stevens of Newport Beach.
That’s when I learned a new lesson about success.
Laura Stevens, who is Catherine’s mom, was one of my first pen pals. She sent me a letter about her long-ago love affair with Hans, a late 1970s-era member of the Swedish rowing team. She shared the letter with her daughter, who had never known about her mother’s romantic past.
Catherine, 12, wrote to me with a No. 2 pencil, thanking me for helping to open a chapter of her mom’s life and asking if I could recommend a good typewriter. I wrote in a column that Catherine didn’t need to get a typewriter. She was doing just fine with her pencil.
Enter Robert O’Brien of Huntington Beach. He typed me a letter:
“In your column of June 4, you indicated that Ms. Catherine Stevens would like to acquire a typewriter. I think she will most likely get more use and enjoyment out of this machine than I will, so with your assistance I would like to give it to her.”
He said those typed words were his “final spin” on his Royal Safari portable typewriter.
So I passed his contact information over to the Stevens family.
Toting his big blue-boxed Royal, Robert met Laura, Catherine and her friend Olivia at Polly’s Pies in Huntington Beach. He brought the owner’s manual.
“I’ve seen typewriters before, but now I think they’re cool,” said Catherine, pink tints in her blonde hair.
Robert showed them how to use the old contraption. He said they had to use “substantially more effort” to push the keys than they were used to.
As her mom and Robert talked, Catherine started typing. When they looked at the page, it said:
“Can we get pie?”
It was Catherine’s first-ever typed sentence.
Catherine ordered chocolate cream.
When they got the typewriter home, Catherine proudly showed it to her 15-year-old sister, Lauren.
“She thinks I’m a loser,” Catherine said.
Laura doesn’t remember precisely when the idea came to her. Early this summer she suggested that her daughter type letters to people. Catherine thought it was a great idea. But who?
Laura quickly thought of Crown Cove, a senior living center in Corona del Mar. Laura’s great aunt, Margaret Byard, had been a resident at Crown Cove until she died in 2011. Laura remembers visiting there, and how many of the residents didn’t have much contact with the outside world.
The Crown Cove Pen Pal Project was born.
Laura contacted Jessilyn Gaujardo, the Crown Cove activities director, who oversees 75 residents. She was thrilled. And so were some of the residents.
“A lot of people don’t take time for people who are slower than a quick text,” Jessilyn said. “The residents didn’t believe that anyone wanted to communicate with them at first. It’s kind of sad.”
But Catherine and a couple of friends wrote letters introducing themselves and asking the elderly residents to write back. Jessilyn read the letters aloud to the 12 people who showed interested.
On a recent Wednesday, Catherine got her first four letters from Crown Cove residents.
Wynn Griffith wrote: “We at Crown Cove really enjoyed hearing your letter from July thirteen. It was written very well and I enjoyed hearing from a twelve year old young lady!”
Catherine said the best part of receiving letters from the residents was when they talked about their own childhoods.
“This will give them a sense there is someone to talk to,” Catherine said.
Catherine plans to meet with an expanding group of friends to compose letters.
And the residents plan to make cards to send to Catherine and her friends.
“We’ll keep it going back and forth,” Jessilyn said.
Laura thinks the good feelings go both ways.
“Not only am I super proud of her, the most rewarding thing is that she’s having fun,” Laura said.
“You never know what is going to happen when you connect with people.”
MAIL ME A LETTER:
Project 88 began when I bought a 1950s era Smith-Corona 88 typewriter on eBay. Eighty-eight is the number of characters it produces. If you are so inspired, write to me. If you use a typewriter, great. If not, use a computer, a pen, a quill or a chisel and slate. The point is to communicate. Try to avoid angry topics (maintaining civility is the only way this will work), and I’ll try to write back.
My mailing address:
Orange County Register
625 N. Grand Ave.
Santa Ana, CA 92701