12:00pm

Tue February 12, 2013
Arts & Culture

Having trouble expressing your love? Call in the Love Letter Squad!

If you think love letters are quaint and lack passion, Janet Gallin of the Love Letter Squad has news for you.

“It’s felt the touch of your hand,” she says of these testaments to our feelings. “You have probably, when you finished it, held it to your lips. You might have just caressed it.”

You may have held it to your heart. And Gallin concludes, “You have licked the rim of that envelope, closed it with your own sweet tongue – you are all over this thing!” And that’s just the outside.

Fewer people express their feelings on paper these days, as the dire condition of the U.S. Postal Service attests. Many people lack the proper “tools of the trade” any more: a good pen, proper stationery, even a comfortable desk.

That’s why Gallin offers workshops on love letter composition. Not that she has anything against 21st century technology. “I happen to love social media,” she says in her office just off San Francisco’s Union Square. “I’m hanging over the back fence of Facebook more often than I should.” But she declares that instant messaging and social media are “useless” when it comes to expressing our deep affection, because they don’t last. 

“We have letters that are 400 years old that look as good today as the day they were written,” she points out. Compare that with the inner thoughts you entrusted to a floppy disk that can no longer be accessed.

In addition to the in-person workshops, Gallin also has a column for the San Francisco Examiner online, and a radio program on KUSF in Exile, also online. Callers and participants, she says, are as varied as the many kinds of love.

“There’s parental love, and there’s filial love, and there is love for your pets," Gallin explains. "I knew one woman who wrote a beautiful love letter to her horse, who was really the only creature who would ever listen to her in her life. So, as many ways to feel love as there are, that’s how many kinds of love letters there are.” Gallin estimates that as few as 10% of the letters produced in the workshops could be considered romantic.

But isn’t this a tough task, if you’ve never done it before?

“Sure!” Gallin cheerily admits. “I mean, people who have just bought their first pair of running shoes, and they’re looking at three miles in front of them, that first step is just really hard. That’s why we have workshops!”

And don’t think you can simply find a card next week for Valentine’s Day and scribble, “You’re so special” inside. Your message needs to be specific. When you write a love letter to somebody, you’re essentially sending a contract: promises meant to be kept, feelings meant from the bottom of your heart.

Or as Gallin puts it, “The gift is: having paid attention.”

This story originally aired on February 8, 2012. 

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