[Not the post I’d planned for tonight, but sometimes ya just gotta roll with things, ya know?]
I thought about my last post quite a bit over the weekend. Mostly because I stepped over or around the box all weekend long. I somehow managed to simultaneously try to spur myself into action and dealing with it by leaving it in the middle of the room, and completely avoid actually doing so.
Sometime over the weekend I remembered that I’d actually written about the box before. (I wasn’t the only one; SkyBlueStateOfMind remembered as well, and I tip my Tilly hat to her memory skills.) So I looked up the old post, which was mostly about the old letters in the box. The memory snapped into place: I took the old cards off the shelf, put them in the box on top of the old letters, and proceeded to tape up the box and put it in storage. I was centralizing and organizing my procrastination, and I’m not sure whether to puff out my chest in victory or hang my head in shame about that.
The other thing that kept the box’s contents on my mind was the book I happened to be reading, which made me start thinking about the difference between form and content.
Or, to put it more bluntly, I need to stop being such a damn romantic.
During my weekends on this (apparently never-ending) job search, I’ve been trying to get back into reading, having fallen a bit off the wagon throughout the winter (which, I swear to heavens above, I’m going to start calling the “lost winter” for reasons). This weekend I picked up a hefty tome: the copy of Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” that I picked up while visiting his home in Connecticut on the road trip.
This edition is one that I’d wanted for a long time, put out by the ever-brilliant UC Press. This extremely complete edition of the book, with supplements, maps, references, and 200 pages of explanatory notes keyed to the text, also includes photographs of discarded manuscript pages, handwritten by Twain. (The original handwritten manuscript is lost, likely disposed of by the publisher once the text was typeset.)
I realized, looking at Twain’s neat cursive handwriting sweeping across the page, what it was about the correspondence in my box that appeals to me. Opening a card, flipping over a postcard, unfolding a letter; each one of them had been physically touched by the author. There’s the tactile feel of the paper in hand, the indentation where the pen pressed down on the page, the differences in each person’s handwriting. Little details stick out, like an old high school friend, long gone, who turned the word “soon” into a happy smiling face by adding pupils to the o’s, eyebrows, and a smile underneath.
Sure, you can add a🙂 to an email, but that’s not a personal touch like her tiny caricature.
There’s a romance in that, a tactile quality. It appeals to me.
I won’t posit here on the benefits and detractions of our inexorable move from written correspondence to email, FaceBook, twitter, and the like. There are other, better writers who’ve covered the subject already. I do rather wonder what Twain’s comment on the whole thing might be…
My most recent personal experience with handwritten communication, though, happened during my travels. One of the most enjoyable things I did while I was traveling was to send postcards to family and friends. To be sure, it was a colossal pain in the ass: I’m dreadfully slow at handwriting, and had to keep a list of the dozen or so names and addresses to be copied to each card (next time, bloody hell, I’ll just print labels), but it was the best kind of pain in the ass. FaceBook, to be sure, is easier: one post, one picture, and the message is sent to everyone. Time saver? Definitely. Personal? Not as much. There’s something to be said about hand-writing an individual message to one particular individual, particularly in the limited space a postcard affords.
Which isn’t to say that digital communication can’t be personal. Certainly I’ve gotten emails that have both stung and brought joy. Yet, they’re transient. Fleeting. Impermanent: they vanish once the screen is turned off. Tears shed over a breakup email read on a tablet leave no stains.
Thinking about all this made my box-of-procrastination a little easier to deal with, actually. Hallmark cards, store-bought stuff, things of that nature are the easiest to dispose of. Maybe I’ll take a photograph or two, such as the ones from my Grandmother, and file that away digitally. Store-bought cards, though, carry little weight in memory.
The letters I’ll likely hold on to for a bit longer, but I may ultimately get rid of them as well. Am I really holding onto them because of what they say, or just because I like the way they feel in my hands? Like I said, romantic. On the one hand, yes, they do mark a time and place in my life, and serve as a reminder of that memory. At the same time, I can’t help but wonder if they also act as too much of an anchor? (Although I suppose that really depends on how often I look at them, which is evidently not very much. Apparently only when I’m cleaning crusade, in fact.)
But if I’m moving forward (or trying to) with my life, my goals, and with my relationships (particularly with one person who is, at the moment, far, far away), I wonder how wise it is to hold onto these physical links that look backwards at all.