Thursday, April 7, 2011

let me know when you get it.

been writing blog posts the whole south/southwest/west tour, just not posting them...
it's time to bring them from my notebook to the screen:


letters are an intriguing phenomenon that modern culture has lost the delight in (and fear of) sending. because there is both. a letter is a very specific form of communication that has little relation to the email, especially if it is handwritten. emails, by their very nature, expect a very quick response. typing an email out while sitting at a computer is, in most cases, a quick process, and it arrives in the recipient's inbox immediately after it's been sent. this implies a conversation can happen, back and forth quick enough to get questions answered. the old school counterpart was the telegram. quick, to the point, reply asap.
but a letter is a much longer, slower process on all fronts. to write someone a letter takes sitting down with pen and paper (preferably away from a computer screen) and putting all your ideas and feelings down for the other to read in a way that can't really expect an immediate response or any sort of timely give and take that a conversation (verbal or internet-able) can have. i feel that, as a letter writer, you must start with the premise that the recipient wants to read what you have to say because they care about you and they understand that whatever is in the letter is important enough for you to have found the time to sit down to write it to them. i also feel that it is the letter writer's duty to then write something worth reading. this requires the psychic space and purpose as well as the fullness and openness of heart to give something very real (and therefore precious) of yourself to another person, without any indication of how they are going to react to this part of you that you have chosen to share. of course that is the hardest part, but then there is the challenge of putting that little piece of your mind and heart down onto the page in a way that is conducive to the very distinct, personal, and time-consuming process that defines this form of communication. a letter is something that is written with intention, made by hand for traveling a distance to another person who is intended to peruse it at their leisure, digest its contents, come back to it, and at some point (hopefully) feel moved enough to write the sender a letter back. note the parenthetical above because there is something in the function of a letter that invites a response, but doesn't necessarily require it, like an email does. and that is the somewhat heart-wrenching part. because after you have put part of yourself onto a page for another person, you have to then let it go so it can physically travel thru time and space and (hopefully) arrive in their hands--a huge act of faith and logistics--before they can even lay eyes upon it. this physical entity that they receive has been touched by you, even wrought with your own hands, in fact, written in your own character, (such a great word to evoke the idea of someone's soul coming thru in their handwriting) it (if the sentiment in it is at all true) has pieces of your self inside it. it's almost absurd to believe anyone trusts the u.s. postal service with their personal letters. yet, time and space cannot be overcome in this case. cuz there is a significant amount of time passing while this letter, this piece of you, travels to its destination, its person, and while they take in however much of your heart you laid bare for them, and while they figure out if, and then how, they will respond to it.
and this is the part that makes writing letters a venture unsuited to the faint of heart. because life must go on during all of this time. and you have no guarantee that any stage in the above journey will be completed. the moment you send a letter in the mail you have no control over it anymore. you have no control as to whether or not the person even receives it, let alone opens it, reads it, and finds within it something that creates the desire it in them to respond to you. and all along, time is passing and life is going on and you must continue to live with all of these unknowns floating about. it's enough to kill a man.
so, in order to combat these woes, i believe it's important to treat the act of sending a letter as a release of control, of responsibility, of care, or at least the kind of care that can keep a person up at night. i think, for the writer of a letter to have succeeded in truly sending it off, they must not hold tight to the idea of a reply. and i feel, at least in my experience, that this understanding colors the kind of letter writing that is possible. letters (as i see them) tend to want to give something to the reader without asking for much in return. they can't function very well (and nor can the sender) if they are set up in the reverse. however, even if one succeeds in writing this way, and sending with true detachment, there is still no way to avoid the heartache over not hearing from someone to whom you have sent a letter. because of this i think the art of letter writing could be said to have evolved into figuring out how to write, no matter what is actually said, in a way that inspires the reader to respond, however briefly and in whatever format. now i find, as a writer and sender of both letters and postcards, that my preoccupation is not with whether i will get (read: have succeeded in eliciting) a reply, as much as it is whether the intended person actually received said missive. no one believes they are obligated, nor are they ever really inspired, to reply to a postcard, that is the nature of the beast. but sending one out, no matter what i do, creates in me the desire to hear of its receipt. this desire gets larger with a letter, and is in direct proportion to how much of my heart i have put into it. even ones that are sent with detachment, with release of control, and with no desire for a reply, even those, i want desperately to know if they at least arrived where i had intended. i like to know that a piece of my heart isn't just floating somewhere on the pacific ocean, or buried in the snow-capped rockies. i'm very free with scattering pieces of my heart all over, but i like to at least keep tabs on where they land--that they are safe in the hands of the people i have deemed worthy. maybe sometime in the future i will reach the level of zen in letter writing that it won't matter to me whether the person i write to ever receives the letter for the sending of it to have been a successful venture. i hope i can someday. but not today.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

it's been a while...

hi, blog. i haven't forgotten about you, i've just been working on this one story that has taken me over. but a couple days ago i was explaining to a friend that i pay attention to things, try them out, in order to be able to write about them better. she laughed when i said i was attempting to be a smoker, mostly so i could write about a smoker. and then yesterday i wrote this. just to see if i could:

I was sitting in the library writing in my journal, but really avoiding human contact, when I caught myself spacing out thru the window. As I regained focus and actually looked at the place my eyes fell, I noticed a girl sitting on the low wall just outside, smoking a cigarette. I looked closer and recognized Sally, all alone, seemingly unnoticed, enjoying her solitude and her solitary act. I meant to look away to maintain the privacy she believed was hers, but I found I couldn't. Why, you ask? Because she herself was so focused on smoking, it couldn't but draw my attention. I was entranced, as if I was watching an absorbing film. Because hers was not the focus of someone who was unsure of what they were doing, nor of an addict single-mindedly feeding their fix, but of a connoisseur reveling in a distinct pleasure. I had the feeling she only smoked in private. stolen moments with a lover couldn't be more enjoyable.
Let me illustrate: between drags she seemed to meditate on the trail of smoke that drifted lazily from the tip, seeing signs in the curls it made of its own accord on the windless day. She would then bring the filter to her lips with intention, slowly drawing breath, her cheeks sucked in, till she was full. Replete. She'd then pull the cigarette away from her mouth, allowing a little puff of smoke to escape, but only for a second. As she inhaled it back, her lips pantomimed a kiss [muah]. She'd hold her breath for a few seconds before relenting, her tongue flitting to her lips during the pause. then the long slow exhale, in which her shoulders settled, her chin tilted up, and her mouth formed a tiny 'o' allowing the narrowest stream of smoke to flow in a straight line toward the middle distance where her eyes had been trained throughout. This same ritual, over and over, never once lost its appeal for her. or me. I marveled at her fingers as they trembled slightly, holding the cigarette at an angle to keep the elongating ash in place. My eyes were held captive by the way the smoke would curl around her lips in a tight billow, wanting to stretch further, just as it got sucked back in and reformed with a purpose, then expelled to be traced into dissipated oblivion.
At that moment, watching her there, I fell. For the length of time it took her to smoke that cigarette, she had me, utterly and completely. I was her creature. More accurately, I was her cigarette. Or at least I was burning to be treated as dearly, in her possession, under her gaze. But then she crushed it out, tenderly, and threw it away. I stared after it, feeling its pain, wracking my brain for ways of avoiding such rejection, vowing to last longer in her affection, unsure if I would be regarded as fondly, willing to strive to give as much pleasure.
She walked away without a backward glance and as she passed out of my sight I shook my head, squinting, getting the smoke out of my eyes. I looked down at what I'd been writing five minutes before with incomprehension, disdain, a troubled frown marking my features. I flipped the page, and started writing. this flowed out.