While going through the hall closet not long ago, I found several twenty-year-old letters from strangers. They reminded me that I once had a great time writing pen pals through a letter forwarding service aptly named The Letter Exchange. Consequently, riddled with nostalgia, I had to see if they were still around.
If you’re too technologically evolved to remember what letters are, this is for you:
Letters are pretty (or plain) pieces of paper with words jotted down on them in ink. In the days before email and chatrooms, you placed them in these things called envelopes and sent them out via the postal service to other human beings. Horribly old-fashioned for some of you, I know—but also a mutual adventure that shut-ins and get-outs, introverts and extroverts, and pretty much anyone capable of reading in this day and age can enjoy.
I’m happy to say The Letter Exchange (LEX), which has been around since 1982, is still alive and kicking. Their Home page will tell you the following:
We connect snail mail pen pals through listings in The Letter Exchange magazine and a confidential letter-forwarding service.
If you look in the About Us section on the website, you will discover LEX was run by a Californian gentleman named Steve for 18 years. After his retirement and a two-year hiatus, it was (and is) run by two LEXers named Gary and Lonna who have an academic background in literature and history.
For those of you intrigued by this long-standing tradition, here’s how it works:
The modest cost of $23 American (US), $24 Canadian and $26.50 International gets you an annual subscription which entitles you to a (postal) mailing several times a year with LEXer listings that cover everything from Ghost Letters (my favorite) to Geneology, Religion & Politics, Travel, Postcards, etc. to their PotLuck category. You can also submit up to 20 words for free—50¢ extra per additional word—as a listing for yourself.
All listings reflect a first name (fictional character name if it’s a ghost letter) and the person’s uniquely assigned Lex #. That’s it—no address other than the address of the exchange service is disclosed. Aside from the obvious one (postage), there is no cost to respond.
You mail stamped correspondence, with your chosen pen pals Lex # listed in the bottom left-hand corner of your envelope, in a second envelope to the LEX service address. The service forwards your letters and postcards, and vice versa, using assigned Lex #’s pretty much forever—unless you become comfortable revealing your address on an envelope to any of your existing pen pals, in which case … you can do that.
If you still can’t imagine why anyone would participate, here’s my personal Ghost Letter listing:
“Dear Mr./Ms. Renfield,
I am sorry for your father’s demise at the hands of the nightwalker. Dr. Seward discovered the Renfield puzzle box—the one etched with runic symbols—yesterday and has gone quite mad. Please help me.
-Genevieve (Lex #here)”
I’m a writer. For me, Ghost Letter correspondence is a wonderful creative lottery. It’s a story that requires two strangers, who have invested the effort and time to write one another, to tell it, and it’s a grand adventure in the making. I sincerely hope Genevieve’s letter will receive multiple responses from Renfield’s offspring, and I can’t wait for the story to unfold, one letter at a time, between them.
What about you? Have you ever participated in a Letter Exchange? Ever had a snail mail pen pal? What thoughts and experiences do you have to share?