'Are you mad at me?': The Toastmasters art of handwritten letters

'Are you mad at me?': The Toastmasters art of handwritten letters
Shamontiel has completed Levels 1, 2 and 3 of Pathways. (Photo credit: Krista Lebrun)

* As a member and the Vice President of Education of Unity Toastmasters (a community club in Toastmasters International), I am currently in the process of completing Pathways "Presentations Mastery." I will be writing a blog series of eight posts in one month to complete Level 4.* 


"Are you mad at me?"

I remember being asked this twice—and the first time surprised me as much as the next.

This question was first asked in the form of a handwritten letter. The second time it was asked in person.

"Humble" is one of my favorite songs from my top five emcees, Kendrick Lamar. Stay humble no matter how gifted you are.

Stay humble no matter how gifted you are. (Photo credit: Create Her Stock)

Behind the 'madness'

My grandmother was a professional nanny, and I ended up befriending a couple of the girls she babysat.  Two of these girls (not related) were ones I was pretty friendly with. I attended the birthday party of one girl, who was around my age. Another girl was a few years younger than me but was so beyond her years that it was no surprise that she would grow up to be a Harvard graduate.

Although my grandmother passed away on Dr. Martin Luther King's birthday in 1995, I still stayed in touch with the family of the Harvard grad up until my late 20s.

So when I got a letter in the mail saying "Are you mad at me?" I was perplexed. I had no reason to be mad at the girl's mother. But her reason for asking made sense. I had not sent her a Christmas card, something I'd loyally done for more than a decade.

Does a handwritten note or card beat a Valentine's Day text? Of course. (Photo: Create Her Stock)

Does a handwritten note or card beat a Valentine's Day text? Of course. (Photo: Create Her Stock)

Then the same question was asked by my godmother, when I didn't send her a birthday card. This was yet another thing I'd been doing for pretty much my entire life.

But in my 20s came the age of technology. I joined Twitter in October 2008, a month before former President Barack Obama won his first term. A Chicago Defender reader suggested that this was the "next big thing after MySpace and Facebook." I wasn't convinced, but as a Web Editor, I thought it would help boost younger readers for the Defender. So I joined.

Before social media, I had a massive amount of stationery catered to all of my 50 pen pals, family and friends. Then came Pinterest, Instagram, LinkedIn and Google+. Instead of sending handwritten letters and cards, my stationery was abandoned in a file cabinet and ink pens could last months around me.

When milestones become ignored memories

But after both of these women asked "Are you mad at me?" then I realized I wasn't the only person who enjoyed reaching out to send these handwritten messages. My parents were surprised when I didn't send Valentine's Day cards first, or at all.

Even when someone knows you love them, it hurts no one to say it aloud or in print. (Photo: Create Her Stock)

Even when someone knows you love them, it hurts no one to say it aloud or in print. (Photo: Create Her Stock)

I think I remembered my older brother's wedding anniversary quicker than he did. He got married the same year I went to prom, so I had a stunning ice blue prom dress and maroon junior bridesmaid dress. One of his groomsmen ended up being my prom date. Yet, the wedding anniversary cards stopped.

But even though I ditched cards and letters, I didn't realize I'd developed a reputation for always being the one to remember milestones, big or small. I just did it because I enjoyed it, not to get credit for remembering.

Give credit where credit is due

I thought about that moment again this past week when I was writing a post for an Upwork client. The assignment was to write about the "Best Fountain Pens Under $200." Super interesting, right?

The funny thing is I had a blast completing this copywriting project because it made me revisit how much I used to annihilate pen ink, how obsessed I was with handwriting as a child and why I loved getting mail more than Charlie Brown.

I've slowly but surely taken that part of my reputation back. During my Unity Toastmasters meeting on Jan. 26, I presented several members with ribbons and Icebreakers mints to celebrate them completing their "Icebreakers" speech and various levels of Pathways. (I was surprised to see six visitors attend, even during the biting cold.)

For members who couldn't make it to accept their ribbons and congratulatory messages, I briefly considered just waiting for them to show up to the next meeting on Saturday, Feb. 9.

But then that question "Are you mad at me?" popped into my head. And I realized this was a new group of people who I could introduce to a part of my reputation they're unaware of. I was the kid who loved to send handwritten messages on stationery with fancy pens, just to let them know I appreciate them.

So I pulled out my stationery, my pens, my stamps and my blank greeting cards.

Now who could possibly be mad at that?


Additional posts from Shamontiel's eight-part Toastmasters blog series:

That time I made (almost) everybody cry at a Toastmasters meeting

School expulsion, failing grade: Why I chose the Harlem Renaissance for my Toastmasters speech

What's so funny? The 'Engaging Humor' Path launches in Toastmasters Pathways

Hey Chicago, comedian Barry Brewer's home -- with Toastmasters tips for humor public speaking

Toastmasters introductions: Don't let memorizing odd names kick your butt

Toastmasters: Make Drake-level eye contact without being creepy

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