There is a reason why people from all walks of life, ranging in age from teenagers to those who could easily be their grandparents gather at a bright and comfy bungalow in Tampa’s Soho district to write letters together. “People do not appreciate the power of the hand-written note,” says Tona Bell, proprietress of The Paper Seahorse, a haven for writers, crafters and paper lovers she calls a “paperie and makerie,” and the science supports her.
In a study published in the journal, Advances in Psychiatric Treatment, researchers found that expressive writing had long-term health benefits including improved immune system, improved mood, improved lung function, improved liver function, and a feeling of greater well-being.
At one of The Paper Seahorse’s regular “Snail Mail Meet-Ups” letter writers are filling a void in their lives that the billions of collective texts, tweets and posts we generate each year never could. We must be satisfying some real human needs by engaging with the endless information pouring out of countless and omnipresent screens, but most of us end up feeling exhausted and unsatisfied. While many believe multitasking is necessary to succeed in today’s world, others disagree. “With regard to Multitasking…cognitive, behavioral, and neurological sciences are moving toward a consensus that such a state does not actually exist in the human brain,” observed emerging technology designer Annette Liska in a Pew Research Center report on Hyper Connectivity. “We may make many quick ‘thoughts’ in succession, but human performance in any activity that is done without focus (often termed ‘multitasking’) is of significantly lower quality, including an absence of quality and consciousness.”
Bell believes that one of the reasons that younger people are buying typewriters is because they are "single task" machines. You cannot check email, you will not get calendar alerts, or text messages. When you write on a typewriter it is simply you and a beautiful machine designed specifically to help you take the conceptual thoughts and feelings in your mind and put them on a printed page in which they can be shared.
“Our purpose at the Paper Seahorse, is to create an environment for people to reconnect with each other and to reconnect with themselves through keeping in touch,” says Bell. “When people come in to our shop or participate in one of our classes or workshops they all comment on how relaxing it is. It is truly a mindfulness practice. People walk out centered, rejuvenated and happy.”
Again, studies support the benefits of hand writing notes and letters. In the article Love Promotes Health, published in the journal Neuroendocrinology Letters, researchers found that writing love notes may, “activate areas in the brain responsible for emotion, attention, motivation and memory…. and capable of stimulating health, wellbeing and productivity.”
While letter writing is “Old School,” there is nothing old fashioned about the Paper Seahorse. In fact, the whole shop and studio seem to be carefully curated to exude a fresh and inviting take on hipster chic. Shoppers and class participants can explore the array of hand made papers, letterpress cards, pencils, pens, vintage typewriters and Japanese journals while listening to music from Indie artists like Borns playing on a restored vintage receiver from the 70’s. There is not a screen in sight.
On a recent visit, a small group of young women sat around a sun-lit table, learning modern calligraphy, while a young man in his twenties laughs as he chooses just the right letterpress greeting card to say I love you to a special friend. “Our cards can be sweet or snarky like what is really on your mind,“ says Bell. “Everything we carry is either hand-made in or is an artisanal product made in small batches. When something is made by hand, when it is made with love and joy, that feeling is transmitted to the user. We hope that the products that we carry and the environment that we create help people find peace and joy through mindfully creating and connecting with others.”
The Paper Seahorse – A Paperie + Makerie is located at 211 South Howard Ave in Tampa’s SoHo entertainment district. The shop is open T-Sat 11a to 6p closed on Sundays and Mondays. Classes and workshops are held seven days a week and require pre-registration. A full schedule of class can be found on their web site: www.paperseahorse.com/classes.
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