A few months ago, well, ok, actually several months ago, around the beginning of this year, I told myself I wouldn't send a bit of correspondence by email to my father, but would instead sit down and write him a letter. A letter of memories, and condolence, and some expression of affection. I told myself I'd do the same for two cousins, both of whom I was very close to when young. I'd do it this weekend, sitting in a cafe, sipping coffee in between scrawling lines.
A couple of weeks ago, he sent me an email. It was the first email with family news for about a year or so. Normally he forwards on those chain emails that tell you of various homilies that veil condemnation of people of a different race or sexual orientation. It told me of a cleared health exam I'd heard already about from one of my sisters about the day before. I replied with my relief and, in passing, noted what I was hoping to write in the letter, and then tried to express those thoughts, fumbling through until I hit the 'send' button.
He hasn't replied to it, although there's been couple more forwards. (A joke about three blondes, another using Operation Wetback to tell us we Americans pay our taxes to support 12 to 20 million illegal aliens.)
I was trying to think of the last time I wrote a letter, apart from work/bills related or postcards. A real letter, one that expresses how I am now, or some thoughts, or contains a drawing, or a mixtape, or matchbook. The last letter I wrote was to a girl I fancied, who I am now married too, so that's going on far beyond a decade.
In late spring, an old flame emailed me, mainly to say she had a wadge of letters I'd written her, and she was offering to send them back to me. She was scanning letters she wanted to keep, contacting all she could to send them back. Back then, oh way back then, I wrote every day, filling up notebooks with monomaniacal screeds, and whipping off letters to people (for a time, dozens to my older brother, who never replied) who lived a city away, or just down the street, or next to me. Part of me in the now wanted those letters, to revisit that me of then, to see how I expressed my joy and wonder, and how I was showing off to her. And part of me in the now told me I'd wallow in the daydreams of what seemed eternal spring, and then get stuck in a cycle of regret and dismay. The other offer from the old flame was to burn them on midsummer's eve. I emailed back with a 'Burn them'.
Letters of Note is one of those weblogs that contain a specific subject, tempting viewers in to enjoy the treats it doles out weekly. Subtitled "Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience", it presents scans and transcripts of letters from across time, as well as commentary on the subject of the letter and the protagonists involved. Letters range from Akkadian cuneiform clay tablets of the 1300's, BC, to an animation fan's queries in 2009 to Brad Bird. All is confirmed as genuine by the blog's creator Shaun Usher, a freelance writer who started it in the Fall of 2009 after researching another project. He's quickly found a backlog of material, as one thing leads to another, and readers volunteer much more material. There are letters of advice, of love, and of suicide. There is extreme formality, pride, congeniality, frankness, and many obviously never meant to be seen by anyone other than the original recipient.
One, written by Franz Kafka, begins: "Dearest Father, You asked me recently why I maintain that I am afraid of you."
Another, written in reply to a letter sent to Wil Wheaton 21 years before, begins: "Dear 8 year-old Teresa, I wanted to apologize to you for making you wait so long..."
There is a wide selection to browse through, and many surprises. I am wondering when he will reproduce one of those letters written by the Apostle Paul, which at any point of time in the past few centuries is being read right now by someone.
Letters of Note is one of those weblogs I will consume now and then, forgetting for a bit, and then coming back to, until, as is inevitable for these successful weblogs, the author gets a book deal, and publishes, and slows down the output until it stops and becomes an archive resource.
We-- and I mean me and everyone I know-- don't send letters anymore. We text and tweet, update our social network page, flock our online journal to succour acceptance, and chat our silliness or troubles. We may send postcards, that can be read by the postman and visitors, or holiday cards, with round robin updates of health and success, but any letters we send outside of this will most likely hold some sort of bad news. The only real way to start getting letters is if you are in the public eye. And by sending them.
A dark blue suitcase sits under another suitcase under a box of cords to machines that were obsolete last decade and under a desk with a typewriter on it. The suitcase is dark blue, emblazoned with thick outlined made-up flowers in a 70's style, that I nicked from my parent's storage space long after my sister upgraded to a sturdier one. It was a gift to her from a grandmother, who wrote to me every few months for a while, with chatty friendliness in a looping wide cursive script about her day.
In a pocket in the suitcase are letters wrapped around postcards that had been sent over a long-distance courtship. One is a cream A3 sheet and, written in a flowing script with accents like cuneiform, begins: "Heya, This is the diary I told you about, with maps of real places, imaginary and in dreams."
It ends: "I should finish this or I'll never post this. Love,"