Dead Letter Writing
I am an ex-banker from Cotonou - Benin Republic seeking your co-operation to assist Mrs. Olivia Joseph Soglo; the wife of former Minister and my big customer when I was in the bank to invest the Sum of (Thirty Five Million U.S. Dollars) in your Country. Please get back to me for details, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
We have forgotten how great it feels to get a letter. A real tangible paper thing. They come hand-delivered to you, for less than the cost of a paper-cup at a lemonade stand. A letter once stood for something far larger than the net cost of a stamp and paper. Then again Lemonade used to be cheap and good, now my neighbors kid extorts money from me, and offers no change for a $5. Still Lemonade is Cheap, but not as cheap as a letter. In fact the act of paying someone to carry a small folded page door to door, across the country for less than a candy-bar is a modern miracle which never ceases to impress. It's painful by comparison, that we ascribe esteem at the mechanics of ordering crap from GrubHub, and Amazon with similar reverence, as if that were a new miracle. I think it will wear off, and people will want to shop someday, but then... I'm a romantic.
Write a letter today, and see what it brings. You needn't even get a reply to receive the benefits. The catharsis of putting pen to paper and mailing it off someplace, with the mystery of someone never reading it, someone chuckling at it, or someone collapsing in shock from it's news, has a bold power all its own. Recently I've selected people and strangers at random to write letters to, and sent them without any interest in a reply.
I think it's the selfishness of the expected reply that shows us how vulnerable and weak we are. Who gives a shit about the reply? This is not social media -- It's social engagement. Clearly "Donald Johnson" does not care about my reply... He just wants me to click the email link and invite a trojan virus into my comfortable world. He doesn't give a shit if I have choice words for him... He doesn't really exist.
So I've taken to write letters to a few unsuspecting people. They are not chosen at random. I saw a house once which was run-down, and the people were yelling, through screens which hung twisted from the window, as if someone had been using them to enter, and the windows were partly covered with bed-sheets, and a tiger-print towel. They were squabbling about something which I'm certain could have been resolved by nothing more than a good meal. I write them now and again, having retrieved their name from a discarded sweepstakes, which fell from their porch.
I could have said I was from a West African National Bank, or that I was locked up in a far-flung penitentiary, but instead I didn't give them any background. I Just started with something like, "Dear Ms. Kennet, I am so grateful for the lovely weather we have been having, with cool breezes, and sunny afternoons, it doesn't seem quite as tough to find the courage to make the most of my day. My week was a struggle, with work, and so many demands on my time, that I almost lost the chance to have a walk in the park, or to enjoy a splash at the beach. I know that if I can take a few minutes each day to go outside and enjoy the beautiful lake breeze, I'll enjoy my day. With the rustling swish of green leaves, and chattering birds building safe homes for their chicks; I can get through this afternoon, before I have to make dinner and clean up the place. I always feel better and more whole when everything is finally put away, and I can sit silently in the evening and just breathe. I leave the TV off for at least 20 minutes, and I Sometimes count my breaths timing them to coincide with what I imagine the ocean waves would sound like. I know it sounds strange, what other people would call meditation, but somehow, just glancing back at the clean countertop, and the floor all swept up and smelling fresh, puts me in a better place to sleep restfully. Tomorrow will be tough, but the weekend is coming soon, and I have to fix a few things which the landlord won't. It's fine because I've asked a neighbor to help, and to my surprise they are really quite handy and considerate. I always thought they couldn't be bothered, but it turns out that we both have something which we can do for each other. My skill is cooking, and cleaning, and theirs is fixing stuff. Would you know it, I'm actually looking forward to my chores this weekend. along with a solid half hour to read my book on a blanket in the park nearby. Then it's back to work."
I don't kid myself that this is inspirational. Nor that the entire context isn't misaligned with the unwitting recipient. I only wanted to imagine myself as a stranger writing a letter to someone who probably doesn't get any mail which is not a bill or collections letter.
Frankly I don't have much to say each time, sometimes I lament about the raccoons in my trash, or my flooded basement, but I always manage to put a positive spin on it. Perhaps it's cathartic, and perhaps it's invasive, but the intent seems good to me. Just the desire to share what I could imagine would be a marginally better outlook from a similar perspective.
The other unwitting recipient of my recent pen to paper, was directed at one of my own relatives, who seems smitten with the magic of the mail, and how reliably that works. As if by magic... I scribble out something offhand, and not very witty, and they respond with a drawing, folded like a card, with a few platitudes. This is a strong, if fleeting bond, but it is sustained all the better with only sporadic deliveries, I write to him, and he writes me back, and then we get busy again, and there are long gaps, until it gets restarted again. It's a bit like a kid who sends away for a contest, and gets a surprise many months after-- forgetting completely about the thing they sent away for.
I recall once getting something in the mail nine months after I'd given up on ever seeing what I'd sent away for, and being astonished. It was a 'heap-of-ship' inflatable boat with an electric motor, that I may have got for selling Grit Magazine door to door, and i'm certain it was punctured, but I was happy to merely have received it, when I'd long forgotten about it and expected nothing at all.
I got a letter once from a girl who said she may have my child, but she wasn't quite sure. I read it in that hurried way one reads the comments on an exam essay, Red ink, but with a "C-" Grade far lower than you'd deserved, causing your ears to heat up, and your shoulders to tighten. You are not really sure what you are reading as you fill in spaces with made up words, and outcomes. You make giant thoughtless, splashes from the calm pool which was your former state of mind. You surface for air, and then struggle toward shore again. Uncomfortable... But your heads back in the game. You'd have sworn that the essay would have got you into an Ivy League school if it were not true that your teacher simply lacked vision. Anyway I wish I had saved both the essay and the "Ask" letter, because It's always nice to re-read what formerly shook your world, and now amounts to paltry anecdote. This letter bore the shaky fast penmanship, tear-drop wrinkles, and torn fray of a note-pad along the top edge that assigned a certain desperation. The letter came to me from someone in crisis. Only, the crisis didn't seem to be genuine, maybe that of an addict. The ask was for money to "fix" the situation -- A bind, which I wasn't sure about. Anyway, I had no money at the time, and any donation to the cause would surely NOT be dispensed for child-care so to speak.
This person needed to get High, and the clever cost of a letter repeated to every liaison may bear fruit from one in ten... I was not "That One".
In the internet, every webpage now solicits your email in exchange for a discount, a bonus, or a secret code... In the past, sweepstakes were the same thing... Companies would ask for a SASE, so you could do all the legwork for them to reach back out to you, as you sent them a letter enclosed with a Self addressed Stamped Envelope. They would then send you back details in your own envelope. It never failed that when you'd receive the envelope you regarded it stranger than fiction that someone with exactly the same hand-writing sent you a letter. It may seem super strange by today's standard, except in the RSVP of a Wedding invite. You see your writing on an envelope that you again forgot about, and now you have to close the gap in your head, stitching back together the reason someone with the same hand as your's would want to write to you. Ahhh yes!!!... You steady yourself, and remember that you sent away for this, and that's actually your handwriting, not your evil clone. Nothing to see here... like stumbling in a high school hallway, and hoping nobody'd noticed.
Today I know one thing for certain; Because there is simply no cost involved, I get Bull-shit mail, robo-calls, and Endless Email scams and the system is so out of hand that nobody answers their phone or even makes calls anymore. In the past, "Long Distance" was a chasm, which only money could close. Should you be able to afford, a Plane Ticket, a Large Phone Bill, or a Postage Stamp, you could become closer to someone. For as little as a Quarter, or as much as a coach fare we could regroup.
Today stores have to deliver everything, because Millenials and Generation Beige don't like to talk to nobody.
Sure, today, we can dialog instantly, cheaply via Text, Chat, or Live 'on-screen'. None seem as visceral, tangible, or substantive as walking off the plane, a hug, or the soft paper folded carefully, and mailed.
It may be that value and substance are ascribed only when one actually has to pay something for it.
Cheap conversation is exactly that. It's not surprising then, that the value of communication comes to bear when we are hospitalized, or we lose our faculties -- but not until then. What one takes for granted, is almost too cheap to sustain value. Where are your digital idols when you are laid up in a hospital or nursing home? Look around the restaurant; Everyone is on their phones. Nobody talking about anything relevant, or important to each-other... Nobody is even present at the restaurant. They chew, and raise the next bite to their mouth, with one hand on their phone. Everyone immersed in the fictional version of themselves. No One lives in the present, so it won't be surprising when they die and are remembered only by Fake Book. Send a letter, while you are able, and you may reap what you sew.
Dead Letter Office (courtesy of Wikipedia)
The U.S. Post Office, as it was known then, started a dead letter office in 1825 to deal with undeliverable mail. By 1893, it handled about 20,000 items every day. In 2006 approximately 90 million undeliverable-as-addressed (UAA) items ended up in the dead-letter office of the U.S. Postal Service; when the rightful owners cannot be identified, the correspondence is destroyed to protect customer privacy, and enclosed items of value are removed. Items of value that cannot be returned are sold at auction, except for pornography and firearms. The auctions also occasionally include items seized by postal inspectors and property being retired from postal service
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Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.