R.E.M. – Letter Never Sent
This past weekend we were up visiting my mother so I took the opportunity to go up to her attic and have a look for some things I thought I might have left there. My mom was thrilled at the prospect of getting more junk out of the house. We hauled two big boxes down and four or five small boxes (old 8×10 B&W photographic paper boxes) that I knew were mine. One of the big boxes turned out to be my mother’s stuff so we sat on the screened porch and went through our old things together.
My boxes were full of old letters and postcards from college and my early 20s. I also found a dozen or more concert stubs that I’ve been wondering where I’d put them. My mother’s box also had old letters and pictures from her college years and early 20s. It was fun looking through them and we’d stop and show each other some of the pictures or read aloud funny parts of letters. I found a postcard from my DC days with a Victorian illustration of a Valentine’s Day card on it and on the back, written in red ink and all capital letters it said only, “THE CAPITOL CUPID HAS HIS EYES ON YOU. BE PREPARED.”
Her one box was dispensed with relatively quickly but I needed more time for all of mine. The next morning I woke up before everyone else, took some boxes out to the porch and started going through them again. Tons of old bank statements and pay stubs and college records that I have no idea why I kept but they all need to be shredded. I divided things into piles; trash, shred, keep.
The keep pile quickly took over the table. I got an empty plastic bin and started filling it up. On several occasions I opened some old letters to see what was inside and found myself taking a seat on the porch swing, reveling in these wonderful old letters. My friends and I used to write really great letters. Even the envelopes got in on the action. I have many that are hand made, true works of art, or that are covered in quotes from songs or books we were reading. Things like, “Sometimes, at a certain point in your life, you come across an artist—or anything; it could be a pastrami sandwich, I guess—and it takes on incredible significance.” – Hubert Selby. Or, “Keep away from hairdos altogether. A hairdo, by definition, always makes you look like someone else. Or think you do.” – Cynthia Heimel. I have no idea who those people are, not then nor now, but reading them today makes me smile and think of the friend that felt they were just the right finishing touch or last thought to include on a letter that had already been sealed.
And the letters themselves, filled with observations, feelings, doubts and fears, emotions and dreams, are a glorious tribute to a time when communication wasn’t instant. Several letters I re-read mentioned missing a phone call, or being unable to reach someone by phone and the resulting regret or worry it caused. No cell phones, no email, no text messages or status updates. We wrote long letters with little notes in the margins documenting time or place. One letter might cover several days, with thoughts being dropped in favor of recounting something that had just transpired then coming back to that thought a day or two later, maybe with some new perspective.
I love that they are also to and from all kinds of different addresses. There were many sent to me c/o a relative or friend I stayed with for short stints while job hunting. Return addresses from Ireland, Scotland, Germany, Montreal, Philadelphia, New Hampshire, Tennessee, North Carolina. We were young and moving around a lot but we stayed in touch the only way possible.
I miss the letter writing days. I miss the time we took, the time we had, to sit down and put pen to paper, to ponder things and write it down to share with someone far away. Whether they were really important life decisions or tales of the ordinary day-to-day, these letters are something that tell me more than just what we were up to twenty-odd years ago. There is a large measure of our personalities in them. There is trust and truth. I see what made us click.
I’ve decided to write letters again. I was once a really great correspondent, if I may be so bold, and I want to try to rediscover that pace of writing and that level of attention and observation. I may not get any in return or I may fizzle out and they’d all become letters never sent, but I think it’s worth a try.
Well, this is a bummer. There was this gorgeous live version from 1984 from the Music Vault but they changed the settings on their YouTube video to private so I’ve had to revert to the studio version. I’d seen that show on YouTube on some other channel before but the quality was crappy. The Music Vault show though, is beautiful. The quality is amazing. Do yourself a favor and check it out on their site.