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A TEDx Talker to Write Home About
“If I had more time,” Ben Franklin wrote to a friend, “I would have written a shorter letter.”
Julie Merrick takes time to hand write short letters. And long letters. Most of all, she writes letters frequently.
It’s a surprise her right hand isn’t in a permanent claw from writer’s cramp.
To give you an idea, April is “National Card and Letter Writing Month” and last year Julie took on its stated challenge to write one letter daily for all 30 days. She nearly doubled the goal with 56 letters.
She is about half as prolific almost every month.
“Some ladies buy Coach purses – I buy stationary,” Julie laughs, and then rattles off a string of her favorite stationary stores near and far. Among her favorite recent purchases are cards featuring a drawing of a smartphone with the text: “Not Sent From My Phone.”
Julie believes the pen is mightier than the keyboard.
“A letter means so much more than an email because the receiver knows you went to the trouble of buying a card or stationary, writing the letter by hand, addressing it, putting a stamp on it and mailing it,” Julie explains.
“A handwritten letter conveys that spark of you, your personality, that doesn’t come across when you text or type an email.”
Handwritten letters are time machines, Julie believes, explaining: “Letters preserve lives for future generations. They can be read and re-read and treasured.”
To call Julie an expert on handwritten letters and cards is not hyperbole. This past January, she gave a TEDx Talk on the subject titled “The Gift That Can Last Forever.” (Filmed in the Camarillo Library, it can be viewed at www.tedxcamarillo.com along with eight other local speakers.)
Like a well-written short letter by Benjamin Franklin, Julie’s 12-minute address was long in the making. Her preparation included a four-hour TEDx coaching session.
Next, to assist in memorizing her polished script, Julie taped 49 color-coded index cards on a large mirror in her Camarillo home.
Then she practiced ad nauseam. She practiced to her husband, Bob, a dozen times. She practiced countless times to herself while driving.
“I even practiced in front of my dogs,” she says.
The rehearsals paid dividends. Julie’s delivery on camera was flawless and charismatic; her message filled with passion and inspiration.
“Handwritten letters have the power to change lives,” Julie told her live audience and then shared a few letters that changed hers, including one from two decades past.
In 1987, Julie and Westmont College track team traveled to a meet in Richmond, Va., where their coach grew up. While the rest of the team was outside, Julie ventured inside the house to visit her coach’s grandfather.
“Ten years later on a Thursday afternoon,” Julie indelibly remembers, she received a handwritten letter from her coach thanking her for spending that one-on-one time with his grandfather.
“That really made me realized that the simple gesture of a handwritten letter can actually change lives,” Julie says.
In truth, she had been a letter-writer long before that day.
“Letter-writing has always been a part of me,” Julie notes. “It was instilled in me by my mother when I was young.”
Julie was further inspired by an aunt living in Minnesota.
“She wrote me when she traveled,” Julie recalls. “I don’t have kids, so now I send cards to my friends’ kids when I travel.”
Indeed, Julie walks her TEDx Talk. She sends cards and letters to family, friends, acquaintances and even strangers. For example, she read a newspaper story about the record holder for blood donations. She tracked down his address on the East Coast and mailed a congratulatory card.
Since her TEDx Talk, which has been viewed nearly 1,500 times on YouTube, Julie has received an avalanche of handwritten letters. Also, ironically, numerous emails and texts, too, from people saying they have been inspired to write more handwritten letters.
“The response has been humbling and surprising,” Julie says.
One thing that is not surprising: Julie wrote thank-you notes to everyone who had a hand in her talk.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
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