I've been a little down for the last week or so. Somewhere out there in the meandering channels of United States Postal Service, or in the mail rooms of dozens of literary journal, are my nicely typed submissions which have gone unanswered for six months or longer. If you write I am sure you can sympathize. Envelopes in the hands of strangers. Time drags on. You hope for the best.
To cheer myself up tonight I went down to the basement office I share with spiders, and pulled an old shoe box off a shelf crammed with boxed-up nativity figurines and old stereos. It's a box I've kept stowed away since I was in high school. I had the no-response blues, so I thought I would go slumming through memory lane, and remember a time when every letter I wrote received a heartfelt response. The shoe box holds the remnants of all my juvenile romances.
I was a letter writer up until the late nineties when I got my first hotmail address. I have love letters from girls I met at the beach on summer vacations, notes from girls I met at track meets, and Valentine Day cards from girls I can't place at all after so many years. Email ended this. With a check and a click I erased every significant relationship I had after the age of eighteen. When I bring out the box, I am reminded of the tragedy of convenience.
If I had had email when I was younger I wouldn't have been able to notice the following:
When young and writing love letters, it is important to use a lot of exclamation points.
If you have a step-daughter it is important to develop a strong bond with her. Otherwise she will refer to you only by your first name, and write long diatribes against you to boys she hardly knows.
The girls who wrote to me spent almost have their time writing about their sisters, brothers, cousins and friends. This make sense since for the most part we hardly knew one another although we were in the grips of storied and tragic love affairs.
Nearly every letter ends with a plea to write back soon. The absence of email led to anticipation which made the whole affair more exciting. I imagine the girls who wrote me walked to the mailbox everyday, as I did, full of hope that there would be a letter waiting for them. This was good training for a writer.
We talked about everyday things: music, movies, TV shows. When I read the letters I feel old.
It is possible to express your feelings with homemade gifts. The box contained among other things a romantic cassette tape with songs by Bryan Adams and REO Speedwagon taped from the radio, and a lock of hair taped to a birthday card.
In the end, I'm glad that email didn't exist when I was younger. Thanks to my shoe box I spent the night remembering a girl with amazing handwriting who dated me and three other boys at the same time, a girl whose dad had threatened to send her to Charter Ridge (a mental hospital) if she got out of hand, and a girl who was thrilled that she just made third chair in band. I was also able to read letters from people I promised to love forever who I can't place now but whose sentiments still make me feel cared for.
Save your old love letters. Throw away your rejections. Wait for the mail, and keep faith that someone you haven't spoken to in years is cloistered in a basement remembering you fondly.