Hey, I'm Hugh, a TED talks daily storyteller and writer, Hannah Brownshirt grew up in our screen dominated, paperless world, so when she was 22, she did something radical.
She wrote dozens and dozens of handwritten letters to strangers and left them across New York in bushes and benches.
In today's archive, talk from a Ted Selon in 2012, she recounts this effort of hers and the moving impact it made on others.
If you're at all like me, you might find it'll inspire you to return to letter writing.
I was one of the only kids in college who had a reason to go to the P.O. Box at the end of the day, and that was mainly because my mother has never believed in email and Facebook and texting or cell phones in general. And so while other kids were becoming their parents, I was literally waiting by the mailbox to get a letter from home to see how the weekend had gone, which was a little frustrating when Grandma was in the hospital.
But I was just looking for some sort of scribble, some unkempt cursive from my mother.
And so when I moved to New York City after college and got completely sucker punched in the face by depression, I did the only thing I could think of at the time. I wrote those same kinds of letters that my mother had written me for strangers and tucked them all throughout the city, dozens and dozens of them. I left them everywhere in cafes and in libraries at the UN everywhere. I blogged about those letters in the days when they were necessary, and I posed a kind of crazy promise to the Internet that if you asked me for a handwritten letter, I would write you one.
No questions asked. Overnight, my inbox morphed into this harbor of heartbreak. A single mother in Sacramento, a girl being bullied in rural Kansas, all asking me, a 22 year old girl who barely even knew her own coffee, order to write them a love letter and give them a reason to wait by the mailbox. Well, today, I fuel a global organization that is fueled by those trips to the mailbox, fueled by the ways in which we can harness social media like never before to write and mail strangers letters when they need the most.
But most of all, fueled by crates of mail filled with the scripting of ordinary people, strangers writing letters to other strangers, not because they're ever going to meet and laugh over a cup of coffee, but because they have found one another by way of letter writing. But you know, the thing that always gets me about these letters is that most of them have been written by people that have never known themselves loved on a piece of paper. They could not tell you about the ink of their own love letters.
They're the ones from my generation, the ones of us that have grown up into a world where everything is paperless and where some of our best conversations have happened upon a screen. We have learned to diary our pain onto Facebook and we speak swiftly in 140 characters or less. But what if it's not about efficiency this time? You know, I was on the subway yesterday with this mail crate, which is a conversation starter, let me tell you. And Amanda stared at me and he was like, well, why don't you use the Internet?
And I thought, well, sir, I am not a strategist, nor am I a specialist. I'm merely a storyteller. And so I could tell you about a woman whose husband has just come home from Afghanistan and she is having a hard time unearthing this thing called conversation. And so she tucks a love letters throughout the house as a way to say, come back to me, find me when you can, or a girl who decides that she is going to leave love letters around her campus in Dubuque, Iowa, only to find her efforts.
Ripple affected the next day when she walks out onto the quad and finds love letters hanging from the trees, tucked in the bushes and the benches, or the man who decides that he is going to take his life uses Facebook as a way to say goodbye to friends and family. Well, tonight, he sleeps safely with a stack of letters tucked beneath his pillow, scripted by strangers who were there for him. When, you know, these are the kinds of stories that convinced me that letter writing will never again need to flip back her hair and talk about efficiency because she is an art form.
Now, all the parts of her designing, the scripting, the mailing, the doodles in the margins, the mere fact that somebody would even just sit down, pull out a piece of paper and think about someone the whole way through with an intention that is so much harder to unearth when the browser is up and the iPhone is pinging and we've got six conversations rolling in at once, that is an art form that does not fall down to the Goliath of get faster.
No matter how many social networks we might join. We still clutched close these letters to our chest to the words that speak louder than loud when we turn pages into palettes to say the things that we have needed to say, the words that we have needed to write to sisters and brothers and even to strangers for far too long.
Thank you, PUREX.