Friday, May 08, 2009

All Mail Revue

It's been all about the mail this week, hasn't it?

Today I opened the mailbox to find the confirmation materials for the photography course I'm treating myself to at the beginning of June. I'm super excited about it, while still harboring my normal buyer's remorse for spending so much money "selfishly". It was the only thing other than junk and bills in that little metal cage but, hey, one other thing is better than no others and way better than nothing at all.

I used to write a lot of letters. Even as other people were working up to daily e-mails and whatnot I was hunched over a lap desk covering fancy paper in my chicken scratch writing and standing in long post office lines to buy pretty stamps. I really enjoyed it. My Grammy Fern would have been either elated or pissed. Either way she'd have pretended to be just slightly pleased, she was a life long New Englander after all. She provided me with stationery, she wrote to me constantly, she urged me to write, she praised me when I did and yet, the kid version of me never got the hang of writing letters. I still don't reliably write thank you notes. After Grammy Fern died I was standing in the bedroom doorway when my mom went through the filing cabinet looking for some papers. In the bottom drawer were 3 folders, one for each of the grandchildren, and they held all the letters we had ever written her. My folder was heartbreakingly thin. I think there was one lone piece of paper in there. I didn't keep it.

After feeling guilty for a bit I ran out of steam. At that point there was no way to pay her back so I figured the only thing to do was to pay it forward. I already liked to write letters so that wasn't really the payment in question. Instead, when someone doesn't write me back I just think, "Eh, it's OK, maybe someday they'll pay it forward."

With e-mail and instant messaging and texting my letter writing has tapered off. (Tapered right off a fucking cliff if you must know.) Then this year a friend of mine went somewhere without the internet (HORRORS!) or even cell phones (HOW CAN IT BE?). Since I couldn't visit this terrifying place I decided I would write letters. I've gotten some replies but not many and that's really OK. When I do get replies it's like freaking Christmas in my mailbox, very exciting stuff. I've been enjoying writing real letters again. There are muscles that get weak. Can you imagine writing to someone and not being able to access their most recent reply or yours? How can you keep your stories straight or keep from telling the same anecdote twice? You can't, but you do your best and you work it out and your letters are appreciated. Trust me when I say this, no matter what, your letters are appreciated.

Since my Aunt Rena doesn't have e-mail I've been writing to her, too. When she moved in with mom recently they started to share the letters. (I wonder, when Rena was home alone in ME did she have to wait until someone came over to read the letters to her?) A couple of weeks ago on the phone mom said to me, "We got your letter. Thank you! In the middle of reading it something occurred to me. We could write back!"

And she did.


  1. I went to summer camp as a kid and spent my winters writing letters to my camp friends. I could have told you exactly how many days it would take between when I sent Jody a letter and when I would get one back. I often think about how amazing it would have been to be able to email my camp friends, but then I think about how much today's campers are missing out on because they can.

    Regardless, I am currently in the process of scouring etsy for stationary for my favorite graduating seniors. It started out as a joke gift the year we ordered personalized student council stationary against the wishes of some members, but now it's my tradition.

  2. congrats on the photography course! Does it include darkroom experience, or is it digital?

    I hope it goes well. I think such a class would be awesome. You'd probably meet great people, too.

    I used to be very much into writing letters by hand. I felt it was a very intimate way to communicate. But then I thought it was a little indulgent, meaning you could voice all your thoughts without having to deal with the other person's thoughts.

    It is a nice gesture, though. You definitely dedicate precious time into it.

  3. It is funny - we may communicate more with distant people now than people did in the past, but our communication is instant and leaves no trace. There are no letters to save, no handwriting. I recently found some letters between my parents and my father's mother from back in 1950 - such vivid voices came alive on the page. There aren't such documented memories recorded about my adult relationship with my parents.

  4. Oooo, Etsy stationery. I'm envious.

    It's a one day class at ICP and it's about Getting to Know Your Digital Camera so, as far as I know, no dark room experience. I have to re-find my instruction book before the class!

    I keep a lot of e-mails but I do feel a little regret about not having the pretty packets of letters tied up with string, you know?

  5. I watched Cranford last night (delightful, by the way) and was struck again by how important letters and the mail really were.