The man took a seat, slid a blank postcard in front of him, plucked a pen from a jar and paused.
There. That’s the moment Rachel Weil lives for. The addressee chosen. The sentiment sorted out. The words swirling in the air like fallen leaves.
And then – ah! – pen to paper.
“People are so much more likely to be authentic in their communication when they write a letter,” Weil said, sitting at an adjacent table in Westlake Park, where she has parked a bright-red truck filled with hand-chosen paper sets, letterpress cards, pens and even sealing wax – everything anyone might need to correspond the old-fashioned way. (Prices range from $5 to $25.)
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She calls herself The Letter Farmer.
She sets up tables with pens and free postcards (she even covers the postage), throws open the doors to her mobile shop and encourages people to write to someone.
The man with the postcard stood up and tucked it into the mailbox on the door of Weil’s truck.
“I wrote to my fiancee,” he said. “I just told her I’m happy to see her when she gets home.”
A little help
Some people aren’t as inspired. So along with the pens and postcards, Weil keeps a ring of cards bearing prompts like “Write a letter remembering someone who passed away.”
The cards also carry words she’s come up with for those at a loss for them: “It’s been a while since we last spoke or saw one another. With all the time that has passed, I wanted to write, catch up and let you know I am thinking about you.”
After a month on the road, it seems to be working.
“I have been moved to tears more than once by people saying, ‘I love to write a letter,’ and they’re so happy to be doing it again.”
One man wrote a postcard to his former employers.
“I sincerely thank you for all the help you gave me,” he wrote before dropping it into the mailbox.
Another man who came to Seattle for a fishing job that never materialized – and who is now homeless – used one of Weil’s free postcards to write to his mother.
“I’m really OK,” he wrote, then told Weil: “Just to see my handwriting and know I’m OK will make her day.”
‘Form of storytelling’
But letters and cards don’t benefit just the recipient, Weil said.
“Letter writing is a form of storytelling,” she said. “The juicy peach you just picked up at Pike Place Market. The dinner that you just had at someone’s house and that you want to thank them for.”
There is a mindfulness, she said, that can’t be conveyed in a text or an e-mail. You see the time taken stretched over the page. You see a person’s handwriting, as individual as they are.
It’s no wonder people save letters for years.
“We never throw out certain letters,” Weil said. “To see someone’s handwriting that you haven’t seen in a long time … it becomes part of our history.”
She worries that connections between young people are limited to text and e-mail.
“Whereas, when they write something, it has more weight,” Weil said. “They’re more kind and authentic. And more likely they’ll talk in a voice that matches their being.
“Pen to paper is an extension of your heart.”
Genesis of idea
For 20 years, Weil made pen and paper her business as the owner of The Real Card Co., based in Seattle’s Madison Valley, where she custom-designed cards and stationery. (She still owns a design firm that specializes in events and branding.)
All the while, Weil searched for a new way to give letter writing an active role in people’s lives.
“How to attract people who have a phone in their hands all day, to put it down?” was how she put it. “It’s the fire in my belly.”
She found her answer during a trade-show trip to New York, where she happened upon a food-truck rodeo in Brooklyn.
“I thought, ‘Why does it have to be food in the truck?’ ” she recalled.
She decided then and there to fill a truck with paper and pens and to park where people gather. Coffee shops. Parks. Breweries.
“It was the perfect way to make letter writing accessible and convenient,” she said. “Experience is such an important part of it.”
Weil writes at least one letter a week.
“Some are deep and really intense, and some are just silly pictures I leave for my husband in his briefcase,” she said. “I know how fulfilling writing is.”
She has big plans for The Letter Farmer truck. Team-building events, for one. She’d like to take groups of young people to assisted-living facilities, where they can help residents write letters.
“Help those who can’t hold a pen anymore,” she said. “Be their scribes and, hopefully, have a connection.”
Just then, Drew Griffith, 20, stepped out of Weil’s truck to pay for a card she found.
“I love getting mail,” she said. “Whenever I get a letter, I’m like, ‘Did I actually get this?’ ”