Before the invention of text messaging—which makes it super-easy to send a note to a friend—and before there were telephones in every home that could connect you instantly with a loved one, there were letters. Sure, you might need to wait a few days or weeks for the postman to deliver it, but the special feeling it contained made it worth the wait.
Although a letter offers no instant gratification, handwritten correspondence were always highly anticipated and savored. Their stationery, envelope, and stamp were saved as mementos to be read and re-read—and treasured.
In the face of worry over the coronavirus pandemic and all the stress it has placed on New Yorkers, a Brooklyn-based performance artist and English professor Brandon Woolf came up with the idea of reviving the letter-writing tradition as a means to reach out and comfort one another.
Knowing that people have lost loved ones, jobs and businesses, and given up simple pleasures like hugs from a friend, Woolf began to ponder how to help people make meaningful connections.
His answer was to take a page from history.
“When interpersonal connection is risky, what are other ways where we can be together?” Woolf pondered in an interview with The Park Slope Scribe. “What is a better experience than getting a piece of mail in your mailbox from somebody you didn’t expect to hear from?”
Using a vintage portable typewriter and seated on a folding chair alongside a mailbox, his sign says, “Free Letters for Friends Feeling Blue.” Woolf spent several hours, a few days a week for four weeks, typing letters for his Park Slope, Brooklyn neighbors.
The 37-year-old New York University teacher dubbed his “post-dramatic” street performance “The Console”—short for consolation.
“Let’s not mourn our mailboxes
As vessels of civic futility,” he wrote on Facebook in a poem, as a project manifesto.
“But make renewed use of them.
To sit together (at a distance)
And console one another. And those we love.
Posting letters from the edge
I’ll be at the mailbox all month—with paper and stamps and hand-sanitizer—ready to serve as you’re your medium, your console.
Together, if you’d like, we can take a moment to type a note of consolation, a blue-edged missive to a friend you think could use it.”
By the project’s end, Woolf had typed more than 50 missives. While some letters were dictated, his favorites were the collaborative efforts between himself and the letter-writer, tweaking the intentional prose while forming a unique emotional bond between sender and scribe.
That definitely gets our stamp of approval.