A Case for the Return of the Pen Pal

When was the last time you licked an envelope closed? Peeled a stamp off the roll to affix to an envelope? Even wrote the word “dear”?

In pen that is, email formalities don’t count.

showing a postcard against a blue sky, postcards are just one type of pen pal mail you can send and receive.
Finding a letter or postcard tucked between bills can instantly make a trip to the mailbox more exciting.

Perhaps reading those questions the answers quickly come to you. Maybe you fly through stamps like others fly through their Netflix queue. Perhaps placing letters in the post box is a part of your weekly routine. If that is the case, you probably read the title of this post then surmised the biggest eye roll you could manage. I get it — saying letter writing is rare is such a Gen Z thing to claim.

“Back in my day we had no cellphones or video chats! We talked in person or sent snail mail!” you scream at your screen while shaking a fist, outraged by my preposterous assertion. But please, just hear me out.

On the other side of things, maybe you read this title and thought it was an outrageous claim not because technology has rotted our brains, but because technology exists. You’re not shaking your fist at my claim no one sends letter, you’re confused as to why we would. So I ask the same thing of you, please hear me out.

According to Pew Research Centre, the volume of packages USPS delivers annually has doubled. This is undoubtedly thanks to the surge in online retailers and the consumer convenience of getting products delivered to your door. The same study found that since 2000, the postal service has seen a 31.4% decline in the amount of mail it processes. This figure includes letters, postcards and packages. So, the higher online shopping rates aren’t even offsetting the decline in paper mail we used to send and receive.

Postcard with note to show sample text.
Jot down some thoughts and grab a stamp, nothing beats a hand-written note.

In a sense, that can be a good thing. Certainly more people choose to get their bills and documents sent electronically, which saves a lot of paper from ending up in the bin. But, the switch to digital communications for personal matters means the joy of receiving a handwritten letter or a scrawled on postcard is being diminished.

Instead of sending a postcard to our closest friends about our travels, we can post a photo on Instagram. This way, all of our friends get to know what we’re up to. And our acquaintances. And exes. And strangers. Instead of sending letters to keep in touch with friends, we can shoot them a text–ensuring they constantly stay updated about what is going on in our lives.

The instantaneous communication revolution is miraculous, it is easier than ever to maintain social relationships over long distances. Given that social relationships are a key component of our happiness, I would never wish for that ease to go away. I am simply recommending complementing the texting, posting and video chatting with the odd handwritten note.

We are constantly bombarded with digital messages. They come from friends and family, and also commercial entities we really don’t care too much about (looking at you retail email lists). Even in our paper mail we get commercial communications (looking at you Subway coupons that show up every month). So, receiving a letter from a dear friend or family member can be such a pleasant surprise.

Two envelopes ripped open and a postcard.
I like to keep all the fun mail I get, it’s a nice reminder that my people care about me.

The price of postage is worth it for the happiness a good note will bring a loved one. The act of writing the letter can be good for you too. Writing is therapeutic, and although you may not want to treat that distanced friend as a therapist, writing down some thoughts and feelings is a good way to process events going on in your life. But, what if the friend you’re writing already knows everything going on thanks to that instantaneous communication we were discussing earlier? That’s okay! Talk about a nice memory, tell them a song you’ve been listening to, suggest future plans. When you put pen to paper you’ll be amazed at what comes out.

A postcard collection can grown from many pen pals.
Another benefit of a pen pal: your postcard collection can grow! It’s like receiving a note and a piece of art.

If it’s motivational to you, start romanticizing letter writing. Be intentional about how and when you do it. Conjure in your mind the image of yourself cozied up with a cup of tea in one hand and pen in the other. Make establishing a pen pal a type of self care. It is a moment to connect with yourself in a way that also allows you to connect to others.

Keep letter writing low pressure, do it because you want to bring a smile to a friends face, or because you want to express yourself. Please, just try it for yourself and see how giddy you get when a letter arrives in return. Ripping open the envelope to devour the words written in your pal’s handwriting is a special feeling. It’s a feeling that can’t be easily replaced by emails or texts.

6 Cities I Can’t Wait to Revisit

We are so deep into 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic that being able to travel feels like something from an alternate reality. Some borders may be open, but I could never in good conscience catch a flight given the current state of the world. My Pinterest boards are growing with ideas, and my desire to explore more of this beautiful world is growing exponentially each day. For now, I have to try to satisfy my travel craving by reminiscing on past trips. I find myself trying to relive my 2019 trip to Europe by scrolling through my photos, watching old Instagram stories, and digging through my bag of souvenirs.

While I have a list a mile long of places I want to visit for the first time, there are some cities I find myself longing to return to. So, without further ado, here are the six cities I just can’t get off my mind.

1. Florence, Italy

When I close my eyes, I can still see the sun set over the city of Florence. Memories of this glorious city are etched into my mind: eating gelato by the Duomo after dark, feeling the warm sun on my skin as I navigate busy streets, my first bite of truly exceptional pasta — each of these moments are little pieces that help create this profound longing to return. But, perhaps no memory do I hold more dear than seeing the sun set from Piazzalle Michelangelo. After wandering the city, visiting the galleries and gardens, there is no better way to end the day than with a bottle of wine and a million dollar view.

2. Dubrovnik, Croatia

Oh Dubrovnik, how I look forward to the day I’ll be back among the salty air, climbing hundreds of stairs, and finding dozens of beautiful buildings tucked away in every corner. No place has ever made me feel so far away from the rest of the world. After passing through the gates to this 16th century, walled city I was immediately taken with its charm and inviting character. The warm glow of lights illuminate the old streets at night, creating a romantic, contented atmosphere. With the sunrise comes the Mediterranean heat, and that easy-going tropical feeling, aided by the salty air emanating from the Adriatic Sea.

3. Bucharest, Romania

Despite knowing very little about the city, Bucharest was on my travel bucket list for quite some time. I have no clue when this fascination with the Romanian capital started or what caused it, all I knew was that I had to go. When my plane landed, I exited with no expectations and no real plan. What greeted me was a vibrant, eclectic city. I didn’t know what I would find endearing about Bucharest, but I soon realized that list would be longer than expected. The trendy coffee shops, artsy communities, and neoclassical architecture are just a few reasons why my time in Bucharest was so enjoyable.

4. Stockholm, Sweden

Before arriving in Sweden’s largest city, I heard that there were nicer places to go in the country. I was told Stockholm is nice, but Gothenburg was really nice. Since my trip to Scandinavia was already booked and carefully organized, I couldn’t exactly squeeze another city into the itinerary. If my sources can be trusted, and based off of how thoroughly I enjoyed Stockholm, Gothenburg must be amazing. Stockholm was the perfect mix of new and old, Gamla Stan had all the charm of historic Europe, while the newer city centre had the excitement of a modern, progressive metropolis. This city oozes arts and culture. While sipping coffee in a sweet cafe, I could envision myself founding a design firm and making Stockholm my trendy home base. I can’t wait to return to explore more of the islands that make up Stockholm, and to visit their galleries and independent shops.

5. Utrecht, the Netherlands

To say I miss being in Utrecht is an understatement. I long to return to the days of cycling the streets, shopping beside the canal, and lounging in the parks. Utrecht is often described as a less-busy, smaller Amsterdam, and while both cities have winding canals and charming facades, Utrecht deserves recognition in its own right. The city is alive with friendly people, exciting nightlife and lovely markets. Utrecht feels like a real city, one that is thoroughly lived in, and willing to welcome you warmly.

6. Tallinn, Estonia

  • Tallinn church and tree in afternoon light

Tallinn was another fun surprise. I often read everything I can about a city I’m visiting, I love to be prepared. This time, however, I only did some light research before catching the ferry in Helsinki, and travelling across the Gulf of Finland. Having scrolled some photos of the old town, I expected it to be beautiful. What I didn’t expect, was the immediate ease and comfort I felt wandering the cobblestone streets. I can really envision myself spending my days walking the town, popping in to new restaurants, climbing up to see viewpoints and relaxing in public squares. As much as I loved the long days of sunshine I experienced when I visited in June, I think my next trip will have to be during the Christmas season. This city is the storybook-perfect location for Christmas markets, and I can only imagine it looks even more magical covered in snow.

Cities and Their Soundtracks: 13 Songs to Fuel Your Wanderlust

Music carries with it a special kind of power. For most of us, we already have music rituals that we have cultivated throughout our lives. You know the songs to throw on after a long day at work, the tunes that will bring life back to a lazy hang with friends, and even the songs that will help the tears flow after a breakup. It’s safe to say that music is ingrained in our emotional habits. And speaking of emotions: 2020– amirite? While this year has been a total whirlwind (to put it very lightly), it’s important to still appreciate the comforts we can find in the ordinary.

While I’m sure many of us would love to catch flights and start exploring this big, beautiful world of ours again, it’s definitely not something I can do in good conscience. The feeling of having your passport and boarding pass in one hand while your other drags your carryon through airport corridors can’t be replaced. Nor, can the wonder of seeing a city for the first time be matched. Snapping pictures of landmarks, sampling local eats and chatting with locals as you wander aimlessly through winding streets are all experiences that can’t really be duplicated.

So, I make no delusions to believe the following songs will replace any of those real-life feelings that come with actually exploring these cities. But, at the very least, they make a good distraction from the same four walls I look at everyday. Perhaps you can find a bit of joy in putting these on, closing your eyes and seeing if it takes you anywhere. Enjoy.

Midnight in Paris – Roman Lewis

Get Transported to: Paris, France

Listen to feel: Carefree, young, and in love in the most romantic city in the world.

Notable Lyric:

It’s Midnight in Paris
Drinking wine on the terrace
Without a care it seems
And all of the stars they gleam
A little bit brighter

Montreal – Port Cities

Get Transported to: Montreal, Quebec, Canada

Listen to feel: Like the coolest guest at a hip, Montreal house party. You can practically feel the warm glow of laughter filling a small rental apartment.

Notable Lyric:

You were dancing on the white lines of St. Catherine street
The silhouette sun burning colours in your eyes that I’ve never seen

Adelaide – Ben Folds

Get Transported to: Adelaide, Australia

Listen to feel: The eyes-wide fascination of an expat eagerly exploring the new place they call home.

Notable Lyric:

I can see their eyes around 
They’re pointed down 
They scan the spanning sidewalks 
Learning that there is no hurry 
Fuss or worry 

Vienna – Billy Joel

Get Transported to: Vienna, Austria

Listen to feel: Your worries begin to melt away. A good reminder to take it one day at a time, beautiful Vienna will be waiting for you.

Notable Lyric:

You’ve got your passion, you’ve got your pride
But don’t you know that only fools are satisfied?
Dream on, but don’t imagine they’ll all come true
When will you realize, Vienna waits for you?

London Boy – Taylor Swift

Get Transported to: London, UK

Listen to feel: That beautiful blend of comfort and excitement. That feeling when somewhere you’ve never been feels immediately like home.

Notable Lyric:

They say home is where the heart is
But God, I love the English You know I love a London boy
I enjoy nights in Brixton, Shoreditch in the afternoon

Lost in Amsterdam – Möwe, Jonasu, Eskeemo

Get Transported to: Amsterdam, The Netherlands

Listen to feel: The wide-eyed, wholesome joy found by walking in circles around a city you don’t know. The excitement that propels you forward, before you can even think of checking a map.

Notable Lyric:

Let’s get lost, lost in Amsterdam
Where it’s you and me together
Making trouble, making friends
Let’s get lost, lost in Amsterdam
We’ll be strolling ’round the canals and dance
Lost in Amsterdam

Oslo – Anna of the North

Get Transported to: Oslo, Norway

Listen to feel: A fire’s glow burning in your soul, light and airy while still being fully alive. Like a hug from your favourite person.

Notable Lyric:

From the start, Oslo
Light in my heart, red glow
Drink in bars, dance on the roofs of cars
In the burning streets of Oslo

Barcelona – Ed Sheeran

Get Transported to: Barcelona, Spain

Listen to feel: All the feels that come along with a night out with your most exciting friend. You know, the one that makes you sing karaoke and stay out way past your bedtime. Bonus: it’s a song even your mom will like.

Notable Lyric:

Come on and dance with me in Barcelona
Drinking Sangría
I just want to be in Barcelona

Place de la Republique – Cœur de Pirate

Get Transported to: Paris, France

Listen to feel: The piano keys and romantic French language overwhelm you with serenity and bliss.

Notable Lyric:

And our hearts, our hearts stayed in this sea

Et nos cœurs, nos cœurs sont restés dans cette mer

I ran along the Seine 

J’ai couru en longeant la Seine 

Hoping to find you, serene soul 

En espérant te retrouver, l’âme sereine 

On Yonge Street – Gordon Lightfoot

Get Transported to: Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Listen to feel: The comfortability of a familiar scent or a warm cup of coffee on cold finger tips. Close your eyes to hear a Canadian icon take you to a rose-tinted version of Canada’s biggest city.

Notable Lyric:

Everywhere you go in a city by the lake
You’ll be sure and find it’s a case of give and take
Everyone you pass seems to wanna say hello
Even late at night when the streets are all aglow

Chicago – Frank Sinatra

Get Transported to: Chicago, Illinois, USA

Listen to feel: Like you’ve been transported to the past, but one where it’s all jazz and none of the bad bits. A feeling of invincibility as the tune distracts you from the horrors of the world.

Notable Lyric:

Bet your bottom dollar you lose the blues in Chicago, Chicago
The town that Billy Sunday could not shut down

New York City – They Might Be Giants

Get Transported to: New York City, New York, USA

Listen to feel: Like you are in a movie montage, flashing through all of New York’s most known attractions. Analogous to skipping down the sidewalk with your best friend.

Notable Lyric:

Statue of Liberty, Staten Island Ferry, Co-op City, Katz’s and Tiffany’s
Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, The Empire State where Dylan lived
Coney Island and Times Square, Rockefeller Center
Wish I was there

Our Last Summer – ABBA

Get Transported to: Paris, France

Listen to feel: Nostalgic for memories you haven’t made yet.

Notable Lyric:

The feeling right, the Paris night
Did it’s best to please us
And strolling down the Elysee
We had a drink in each cafe

There’s nothing quite like a well-curated playlist to act as a companion through tough times. In this list I tried to mix the classics with some new finds, with the intention of transporting you to a new city, even if just for a moment. I chose songs that inspire me, and allow me to look hopefully towards the future. It’s a future full of excitement, adventures, and throwing myself into each moment wholeheartedly. Here’s to making future playlists for the memories that are yet to come.

If you want to hear more songs that will take you on an auditory trip, check out this playlist. It includes the songs on this list, and more are being continuously added.

Introduction: Or, the Who, What and Why.

Future employers, you may choose to skip to the last paragraph.

You know those kind of goals you have that just seem huge and looming? The type that are weighing so heavily on your mind because you so badly want to achieve them? But the weight of them also makes starting seem like an impossible task? Well, I am happy to report, that after almost three years of wanting to create my website I have finally taken that first step. Ever since I started my journalism degree I was told how important it was to have a place to show your work. Professors and mentors reiterated again and again that a sphere to write and share was an important aspect of venturing into the professional world of writing and media.

Although I believed my mentors, and understood that their emphasis on the importance of a blogging space was valid, I still resisted. From time to time I would look up domain names and just hope that amandamarsh.ca wouldn’t be taken by the time I got around to registering it. Thankfully, no other Amanda Marsh snapped up the name. Nor, did anyone get amandmarsh.ca, the name I accidentally purchased the first time around. Although I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t catch a misspelling in my own, given birth name at least no one can steal my brand. That’s sarcasm… my personal brand is but a little seedling.

Beyond the value of a website for professional or portfolio reasons, I also wanted to create a space that I was comfortable being myself in. I have for the past five years created content for a specific purpose. Either for school projects or internships, my writing was always tied to professional goals, not the personal ones I so desired to achieve. Although much of my past work I have enjoyed creating, doing things for myself feels good – plain and simple. I’m a new grad, so I need some way to achieve serotonin in this job market.

The direction of this website isn’t set in stone. I know my interests lie greatly in photography, travel and sustainable living, but that doesn’t mean I won’t have the desire to throw in the occasional topic that doesn’t fit perfectly into an established category. That’s another perk of my own online space – there’s no boss or professor telling me I can’t do something. Amandamarsh.ca has my – and only my – name on it. So, as someone who craves structure, I’ll be expanding my horizons to listen to what I want to do. Not what I feel I must do.

I hope this first introductory post starts to set the tone for the site. I’m not trying to be unprofessional, as this url is on my resume, but I won’t be producing content directed exclusively to the professional world. Simply put, I want it to be a space for creativity. Whether that be realized by experimenting in the kind of content I create, or inserting my own humour into pieces, is yet to be determined. Going forward, expect posts with a casual tone juxtaposed with more serious journalistic pieces. I won’t be establishing a rule book for my creativity, so anything goes!

However, if any future employers are reading this, I would like to take a moment to say: Hi, thanks for stopping in. I can’t wait to bring professionalism and an adherence to rules to whichever company/organization you represent, and I can’t wait to start my position in communications/copywriting/journalism. I’m sure you will find my qualifications and skillset will make me a beneficial addition to your company/organization. I look forward to hearing from you regarding this position that provides a six-figure salary, catered lunches and ample vacation time. (Maybe? No? Alright, still happy to join the team.)