Posts Tagged ‘correspondence’

What If Stories

1 March 2012

Dear J-


When I was growing up we used to get regular correspondence from a guy wh was either an old student (or an old tenant, possibly both) detailing his latest adventures in Alaska. Sometimes it would be accompanied by some exotic comestible like smoked wild-caught salmon or bear sausage (which I completely adored) but I thought it was remarkable that my parents got letters from everywhere and had stories for every one: those were the neighbors who moved back to Japan twenty years ago, here’s my classmate who’s now living in Vancouver, or Providence, or Lynchburg. They had a daunting task every Christmas, keeping their address book up to date (their little black book was overstuffed with scraps and bits cut out from envelopes and written on the back of receipts) and what’s more they would write a personal greeting inside each card. In the days before email they had a far-flung web of contacts stretching from coast to coast and all the way overseas too.

Me on the other hand, I can’t seem to keep up with people I used to work with a few months ago. The illusion of the Internet is the ease of staying in contact: I know there’s a ton of emails I should reply to but here I am choosing to comment — briefly — on someone’s facebook post or, if that seems too creepy, just hitting the like button and declaring victory. I sometimes think back to the closest relationship I had with a landlady; the year in Jamaica Plain; she had a daughter that would be in her twenties now and I wonder what memories she has of the tenant downstairs.

What about the yelling and the fights of the summer between college and vet school for theVet, that first summer we lived together? How about the long hours of neglect, the cold winter that I didn’t keep the furnace filled, the late nights coming back and the papers that would pile up in the corner before I worked up the courage to throw them out. I’m afraid that the legacy I leave behind is uniformly negative. Who gets the best part of me? What does my daughter think, now that I have a daughter not much younger than the landlady’s daughter was in 1998? If I had the contacts and ability to keep in touch demonstrated by my parents (the art of the written word, the value of paper artifacts) i ‘d be able to know more than the endless echoing inside my head asking me what-if, what-if, what-if.



Of Letters

19 November 2009

Dear J-

I suppose it’s the nature of work relationships to be transitive, especially in a place where the site population is so large:  there are those folks that I recognize by sight, but not name, even in my own building, and then there’s the voices on the phone (occasionally competing with the voices in my head) where I know the name but not the face.  Still, besides the folks in the office it’s the remainder of the vanpooligans that I know best, and watching them go is like having to switch schools between grades:  the setting is familiar, but the people are not.

Although the internet makes for easy connections with folks from your past (from the scary-good networks that Facebook pulls up to the overload of minor knowledge and trivial connections of Google) I’m not convinced that it’s more than a superficial link unless you work at it, like any relationship.  “Ya hey,” you say, “we’ve got pictures, we’ve got videos, what more do we need?”  We live in an era of drive-by information:  staccato pulses of words substituting for thoughts, conversations reduced to chats and texts.  It’s all very easy; now how do we make it meaningful?

Whenever you hear about authors’ estates bequeathing their papers to libraries and collections I always scan the article to see if those papers include a collection of letters and correspondence.  Inspirations and plotlines don’t just appear from a vacuum, and writers have lives of their own that informs and shapes their output.  And not so many years ago the correspondence in their lives was inherently archival and unique:  short of carbon copies, letters written in longhand are tangible and impossible to precisely duplicate.  Yet the electronic equivalents have the advantage of swifter delivery and reproducibility, which lessens the thought process required, at least for me.  I’m not saying that all electronic forms of correspondence are inherently bad; I’m just saying that the easier the media, the more thought should flow into it:  after all, if you can type fasterthan you can write and don’t have to spend time looking up physical addresses, then that’s more you can invest into a thoughtful letter.


Once again, the bellybutton

18 November 2006

Dear J-

I must have this deathly fear of being forgotten, since it seems like all I do lately is hide things around the house for people to find in the event of my demise (much like this correspondence, in fact). I put away a box of letters (daddy, what are letters? well, in the days before e-mail …) after flipping through and taking stock of where I sat in the grand scheme of things; by far, theVet has sent me the most, back when I had time to write, back when I had the ticket to write.

It pervades my life, this drive for quantity over quality. The shelves are groaning under the weight of obsolescent audio disc players (TDA1541 and CDM-2 seems to be the magic bullet for me). I’m throwing some game systems in the shed, having had no time to play anything but the latest and greatest, and even then only a few games. Man, this growing up and cleaning up is tough.

But of all the choices I’ve made — not keeping up with as many people as I’m willing to meet in this world has got to be the worst, most boneheaded one. Hi, how are you? Here I am. Let me write to you, talk to you, get to know you — and then disappear, ha ha! It’s mysterious, not knowing what happened, it means that anything could have taken place between now and then. It’s just another manifestation of Clark Kent-itis, isn’t it? As long as I can get people thinking about me, that means that I’m not nearly as invisible as I thought. And Clark, buddy, the glasses aren’t fooling anyone. How long do I think I can keep the charade moving along? Where do I see myself going with this, with life, with anything?

As I’ve said before, it’s an ordinary sort of goal in life, and yet I don’t want that forever, do I? Growing up, house in the city, couple of cars, some kids drawing on the walls, big screen TV, running water, vacuuming Saturday afternoons drinking with shoes off stereo hifi robe slippers dog by the fire vacations on Maui bikes on the beach sunsets sunrise spa pool trivia reality shows carpool asleep on the couch by nine …

There’s too many ways to numb ourselves to life, ways to pass the time. How much easier and uninteresting is it to spend the entire weekend indoors in a video-induced stupor without once bothering to shake your neighbor’s hand, visit family (why do we always wait for holidays as an excuse?), or call and reconnect? I’m not ready yet, I think. I keep trying to be a better man, and it’s not easy, never was.