Thursday, January 28, 2010

Noboy Writes Love Letters Anymore

I suppose if you’re an English teacher you eventually get around to romance. Heathcliff on the moor. Darcy out in the Pemberley rain. Tristan laying wounded under a tree. Literature is thick with these hapless saps, and the poets… “Hail to thee, skylark…” are you kidding me? A dude in an unlaced bodice penned that?
But nothing is worse that love letters. Once in college, a buddy was agonizing over this girl, sitting and weeping beneath piles of crumpled up failed attempts to communicate his feelings to her. I took pity. “Okay dude, read what you got.”
He cleared his throat, his eyes red and sore like the lit ends of cigarettes, voice shaky and trembling, “I called to the stars… have you seen her?” He broke out into tears.
Now, I must admit, I’m a pretty good friend, or I might have passed that letter around to every guy on the floor, or maybe I did, so what? She was a ruthless, ice princess that toyed with his emotions like a cat with string. Who needs that? I was saving him heart ache. Nobody knows what women want. They don’t even know. Half their body is made of water. They are consistently screwy as the moon and tides. So be it. Invest in a home entertainment system. Cable guys never let you down.
Now letter writing is different. That’s an art.
Not too many people practice Art for Art’s Sake anymore, but letter writers, those people are keepers. If one can go to college and study Art History, and have it be reputable, then a Person of Letters should have their own library wing.
Seriously, when was the last time you actually took the time to write a letter? And I’m not talking to Aunt Jenny who knitted you the sweater and who slips a sawbuck in your pocket when she sees you at family picnics. You know, the one you scribbled, “Sweater still keeping me toasty” inside a Christmas card that sings “Grandma got run over by a Reindeer” when you open it. No, I’m talking about an actual letter.
First, you get stationary. This can be anything, but paper is key. Now me, I’ll write long diatribes on diner napkins, overtures on movie ticket stubs, sonatas on popped balloons, as well as the nice parchment paper with watermarks or autumn leaves pressed into them. But that’s just me. I’m thoughtful. Then, after you have that, you have to write the body of your letter. It could be a funny moment you experienced that day, like the red faced man screaming into his cell phone that trips over the poodle and falls into an ice cream cart, or the goofy guy at work you prank by hiding his cell phone around the room, or something just achingly beautiful, like folding a perfect paper airplane and climbing to the top of your building, the highest in the whole city, and just letting it fly and describing what it would feel like if you were Stuart Little and able to be that small and Spartan. Anything really. But it has to be real and it has to be honest and it has to lay your feelings bare. You can’t short change a letter. You open up your soul to another. You take no prisoners that way and you have no regrets.
After this, of course, you must choose a nice envelope. You got to do something tricky with the name too: Jeremy “Bubbalicious” Hendrickson. You know, something to make the post man giggle. Those guys have tough gigs. But I tell you, it's a great feeling of satisfaction when you have written someone so many letters that you actually have their address memorized. Like, you can just recall it out of thin air. This is especially true if they have moved two or three times and you can still remember one from years back. That may not be, sitting and holding their hand through cancer treatments, but it is certainly a key to someone's heart. If they are open to the possibility that collective memory is what makes someone sacred to you.
Anyway, then you get stamps. America has cool stamps. You can have anything: Sponge Bob, Jackie Robinson, you can even put your own face on a stamp. How cool is that? And you don’t even have to lick them anymore, but they kind of taste good too, like, the world is full of yummy tasty stuff you can put in your mouth and everybody has their favorites, like butterscotch or peanut brittle, but a stamp, well, you might as well stick your tongue on it, cleans the palate.
Then, as you wash that taste out of your mouth, you’ve got to get to the post office.
Now for me, living here in Taiwan, that means walking. The nearest post office is a mile from my school. Down Wenshin Road, past the pot bellied pig store next to the SAAB Dealership, left at the big intersection through the market, past the fish hatchery, past the clothing boutique, up the little embankment by the huge O-REN Elementary School, and there it is. Then you’ve got to stand in line. There is always a thirty minute wait in line as the Taiwanese businesses send their advertisement fliers, which are individually metered at local branches. These office workers pull out a thousand letters at a time, bundled with rubber bands. It’s insane. You stand behind that guy for an eternity while he just keeps dropping kilo after kilo of letters to be stamped and you have just three international Air-Mail envelopes in your hand, and you will begin to question Art for Art’s Sake, believe me. It makes you want to take up knitting with Aunt Jenny, seriously.
Finally though it is your turn at the counter, and then there is the adventure of explaining what is inside the envelope.
“Uhhh… it’s a box of Japanese condoms I saw at 7-11. I’m sending them because they have a Samurai on the box and my friend will think that’s hilarious…” OR “It’s a bunch of Four Leaf clovers in a Ziploc bag. It took me two months to collect them all. I’m sending them to my friend because… this is going to sound weird but… we both like sitting in the grass. It’s kind of our thing.”
Yeah, you get some strange looks, but that’s okay. Mission accomplished. You leave feeling good. You’ve done something thoughtful for another person. A person you love is going to receive something real in their hands that you created especially for them. The world is full of these things to touch and feel. Yet most of the time, so much of our daily existence is impersonal. We tweet. We text. Big Deal. We go through our lives with remote controls in our hand. We stop when it’s no fun anymore. We play at other’s expense. We fast forward away from people who become boring or trite or laborsome. We “unfriend.” We are transitory and what does it matter, the feelings one person has? They’ll get over it. That’s life right? Pick yourself up. Suck it up. Nobody likes a bellyacher. Move on. Toss your hardships away like junk mail. Nothing stays forever. Nothing is permanent. Those that believe in cultivating long term loving relationships through the little acts of thoughtfulness, and especially in writing the little intricacies of life in letters full of funny stickers and chewed up crayons and locks of hair.
All of ‘em.
Get with the times, you old fossil.

1 comment:

  1. Is this a *hint hint* about me always commenting that you have an email and to check your inbox? Which you should do, by the way, because there is one. :D