Once upon a time… in the time before E-mail, before blogging, before texting and the wide distribution of cellular phones… I wrote letters.
Actual pen-to-paper-stick-in-an-envelope-and-pay-for-a-stamp LETTERS.
The first one of note that I wrote was a response to a “Pen Pal Ad” in this publication called “The 21st century” (even though it was the early 90s). It was a paper that went around to a bunch of high schools in New England (only, I think), and one section was something that resembled “personal ads” in a regular newspaper, only it was limited to requests for Pen Pals. Not having a lot to occupy my time in those days, nor a lot of people to talk to… I took a chance and answered a few, hoping they would find me interesting enough to write back.
The first was a girl about my age in Massachusetts. She was on the Girl’s Basketball Team, and her father was a Sports Coach, and she had a dream to get accepted and to attend Harvard. She wasn’t sure if she was good enough or if she would be able to afford it. Her first letter back to me was one piece of ruled paper, hand-written on both sides. The cursive was small, not only on the letter itself, but also on the envelope and return address… and she put a “y” instead of an “i” at the end of my name. :)
It proudly became the first of my collection… all lined up by date received in a shoebox that I’ve had since. Twice I’ve upgraded to bigger shoe boxes. (Good thing I was getting bigger shoes)
Our correspondence didn’t last that long… I received a total of four letters from her… each one longer than the last. I tried my best to write back swiftly, and she did the same. But Senior Year is a busy one for all. We even exchanged pictures, and I really enjoyed those letters, but they stopped. A few years later, when I went away to college, and just started to learn about e-mail and UNIX and all that early Internet stuff… I actually got to see a list of e-mails of students at Harvard University, and her name was among them. I wrote to the address, giving the details she had written to me, and asked if she was the same person. Sadly, it wasn’t… just someone with the same name. Oh well… it was worth a shot. I would’ve liked to congratulate her for making it to Harvard like she wished. Though I don’t know if the real one ever did… but I hope her dreams got bigger, and she is still able to pursue them.
I did get a few other Pen Pals. I was quickly addicted. Learning and meeting new people… with none of the immediate judgment and blunders that can mark an introduction. A letter from a Pen Pal is simultaneously revealing and mysterious… it really makes you want to write back quickly, so you’ll get their next letter that much quicker.
The second, I thought was my most memorable. She actually lived in the next town. It definitely didn’t take long for our letters to reach each other, that’s for sure. She too had placed in ad in that 21st Century paper, and from what she told me, she got about 75 responses. She wrote back to the ones that interested her, and kept eliminating the ones she didn’t like. After 3 months… I was the only one that she still wrote to. (Even if it was an exaggeration, it’s a nice compliment) We even exchanged phone numbers, and started chatting on the phone. We would literally chat for hours on end… often times talking about absolutely nothing. That was where I learned talking about nothing could be so much fun.
I know my parents were a bit *ahem*… “concerned”. They believed her to be from a “bad part of town”, and the one time I did introduce them to her, they didn’t like her air of “non-normalcy”, I’ll just say. For one: It was New Hampshire, not freaking Beirut! If I couldn’t be expected to handle myself in a “bad section” of NH, I obviously haven’t been raised to be competent in ANYTHING. As for the “non-normalcy”… I remember my Mom actually telling me a few days after they met her, that “she didn’t want me to see her again” and she thought that “She was a bad influence on me.” Gee, Thanks. Its always nice when your parents consider you to be an easily-swayed Sheep. Sheesh… the whole thing was starting to sound like “Romeo & Juliet”… except that neither of us had even considered actually dating. I was just happy to have a friend. Was she considered “weird”? Sure… but it was apparently forgotten that *I was too*! As for her being a “bad influence on me”?... Apparently the concept of me being a “good” influence on her wasn't an option. (Which wasn't even needed, as she was good peeps) The aspect of “non-normalcy” would turn out to be a similar characteristic throughout several friends I would come to know throughout my life. We weirdoes tend to seek each other out. I learned that when I finally went away to college. And even today, I *rarely* introduce my friends/dates/anyone to my Parents… pretty much because of all that fallout.
As far as my Parents knew… I obeyed their lame wishes and never had any contact with her again. In reality, we stayed in touch for a good few years after that. Eventually, the letters and calls did stop… but I would relish an opportunity to re-institute contact again. (I’ve looked… can’t find her anywhere. *shrug*)
The only other person I think I would have considered as a steady “Pen Pal”… was my cousin. When she went away to college, I was starting classes at a local Community College… and we started writing to each other. I had particular fun writing to her, because I recruited help. I would get friends, or fellow cast members of shows I was in, to write to her as well. I’d hand them the paper and say, “Here! Write to my Cousin!” More of an order, granted… but everyone would at least write something without objection. Sometimes I’d have to use an extra stamp, because the letter got to be 7 pages long. (Hey, I like to give something substantial to read.) I actually consider our correspondence to be an interesting point in my life… because even though we’re family, and our extended family was always close… I think we really started to know each other more that way. I mean really got to know each other. Whenever we had “known” each other previously… was always in the presence of other family members. And even though we were the same age… she was always considered more on par with my one-year-older brother… because they were both “middle children”. Then one day, over the summer at a family function, we were chatting, and at one point, there happened to be no one else around. She then remarked to me at how surprised she was at me. I asked why… and she said that through our letters, and these times of honestly, truly talking to each other… she’s realized that I was a completely different person than I was when I was around my brothers. I was being witty, intelligent, dare I say, even cool… and showing all these pleasant qualities that for some reason weren’t able to come out when in the presence of my brothers or even my parents. To this day, I still don’t have a fully satisfactory answer as to why that phenomenon occurs.
That was the first time I actually felt truly understood. And I was seeing how my letter-writing was helping me to find Me.
I continued to write letters. I would gain “e-mail pals” at school, using that funky cool new thing called e-mail, but as the summers approached, and everyone had to return home… where e-mail didn’t exist… we all exchanged addresses, and wrote. I’d write to people across the country who I technically had never met… and to the friends I couldn’t wait to see again at college. At the end of the summers, I’d exchange addresses with old co-workers who didn’t have e-mail, and try to keep in touch while I was away at school. I was really good at writing to people. Usually, I’d get at least one response. Sometimes more. Occasionally, I didn’t get any.
I look through that shoe-box of letters, and I see names that I hadn’t thought of in so many years. And several names I don’t remember at all! A couple were Crushes. Some weren’t exactly letters… but odd newspaper clippings from one of the “eccentric” ones of our group. :) Several people eventually started having some fun with the return addresses and envelopes. There would be brand-new nicknames lying between my first and last name… such as “Dishboy” (a reference to an old job, and obviously from one of those co-workers). One of my favorites was from a friend who, instead of putting his own name on the return address, wrote “The One You Model Your Life After”. (The funny thing is… I still remember who that is.)
Then, I got, what I considered at the time, to be the best set of letters I had ever received. In college, from a girl I was completely head over heels for. We weren’t dating yet… but I was REALLY hoping that we would. The first letter was a Christmas Card (with a very long message inside). Over the few weeks that we were separated due to the Xmas break in college, I got four letters from her before I was able to see her in person again. The next time I got a letter from her was after we left for the summer… and *that* was the first letter I ever received from an official girlfriend. And that was very easily… the first love-letter I ever got. Young love never felt so good.
I look at the dates on those envelopes… 11 years ago. Wow. Seem like more than a lifetime. I actually do occasionally hear from her. I’ve got her AND her husband as friends on MySpace. The husband is ANOTHER friend of mine from college… and I actually introduced them. Granted, when they re-met years later and started dating, they probably didn’t even remember that initial introduction… so I technically had nothing to do with it… but I’m taking the credit anyway. *ppppbbbbbttttthhhhttttt!!!” :P You know, it’s a really neat feeling to know that two people that you find to be very Cool… turn out to be very Cool for each other. :) Rock on, Chaka Khan!
Too bad I never got love letters after that. It’s not that I dated horrible people… I was just never separated from them to give the letters a chance to be written. Though, in retrospect… I should have just written them anyway. Even if I was only minutes away from seeing them. Even if I didn’t get them… THEY should have. Having it in a person’s unique handwriting is special beyond words. The act itself, regardless of any clumsy rendered sentiments within… is permanent. A time-capsule of sorts. Perfectly preserving a feeling in time (even if it’s not eloquently conveyed). I believe it really is “the thought that counts” in something like that. I should have done it more myself. (I wish I philosophized over it earlier than now.) But that’s why I always kept any hand-written little note that I was given. I have them all. Yeah, I never got that many of them… but I kept them all. May not be a full love letter… but it's sure something.
I really think it’s a Lost Art. The whole idea of writing letters. You can go to a library or bookstore and find whole books that are literally the correspondence between two people. Two friends, or two lovers… colleagues… political letters, anything. You can actually read the correspondence of Franz Kafka and the woman he loved. The letters of H.P. Lovecraft and his friend Robert Howard. Even the Griffin & Sabine trilogy… a fictional story told through letters and postcards, where you actually OPEN the envelopes and find the letter inside.
Are we REALLY going to see… in this day and age… a published book of two people’s e-mails? Or “The Collected Text Messages of Paris Hilton 2004-2007 Vol. 1” Filled with ROTFL, TTYL, ASL, BFF, CYA, G2G, HOAS, IMHO, OTOH, KWIM, LMAO, TTFN, WTG and other such inane patter all over? Sweet Jeebus, I don’t even know what half that crap means!
E-mail and Text messages… even though it’s all crap I do MYSELF… does make the world a little colder, I think. Yeah, they’re easy and convenient… simple ways to keep in touch with more people… and that can be a good thing… but we have to be more careful of exactly what we say so that we’re not misinterpreted. Things like emotions, mood, sarcasm, humor… are harder to convey electronically. But in a handwritten letter… If you’re angry or frustrated… even if you don’t use any words to say so, it will still show, as the letters and sentences are darker and bolder… from the pen being forcefully pressed into the paper, almost coming out the other side. It’s harder to hide something like that.
Yes, I’m aware of a certain sense of irony here… as this blog is being TYPED. To its defense, typing does still allow options like italics, bold, underlining, font changes and stuff like that… which can help convey those meanings that sometimes seem to be lost to us. Acting in a manner more like handwriting. Which is a step in the right direction… providing the tools are used. But cursive handwriting will always have the upper hand to me.
Hell, one time I got a letter from my Aunt… an actual mailed letter. It was when I was living in California, and it was typed. Had no underlines, italics or boldface in it. But within that letter… was something I wasn’t used to seeing. It wasn’t much… just a little hint. You see, it had been a particularly rough year (for everyone I knew it seemed like), and she talked a little bit about it, before going to the normal family stuff. Yet, throughout all the family functions I had been to, from talking in big or small groups… I had never seen what I was now seeing. A small hint… of vulnerability.
Sure, it may seem obvious… everyone has that aspect to them. But in my family, when we get together, it’s a good time. So many people talking at once, whether it’s one big conversation or several small ones at the same time. It’s big, loud, a bit boisterous and most always good natured. And here… I was seeing a side of my Aunt… nay, a side of my FAMILY, that I had never really seen before. Yeah, everyone knows its there… but you never actually see it.
All in a letter. That would never come out in an e-mail. Never would come out at holidays. But there it is. An emotion preserved. That’s a rare, powerful and beautiful thing.
So, I need to get back in my old habit of letter writing. Because I’ll never get letters if I don’t send them. And I’ve got some letters to catch up on. I received one last year, that I never responded to… it’s time I did. Even if I never get a response… like I said earlier, the OTHER person deserves to see that beauty for themselves. Even if it does come from a little ol fool like me. :)