Wednesday, October 12, 2011

a history in letters

Letter writing has been a subject at the fore of my mind recently.  Last night I started Marieke Hardy's new book "You'll be sorry when I'm dead" (she had me at the title... and with that darling cover illustration of her with a flower in her hair - she is a woman after my own heart!).  She writes about her love of letter writing, and even has samples of some of her work.  It made me realise my affinity with it too.

When I was around eight, my favourite cousins in all the world (actually, probably my favourite little people of all time) moved away - their parents had separated and it was all very dramatic and sudden.  I recall writing many letters, drawing pictures and using more stickers than appropriate.  I missed my cousins terribly, and even though they would have been too young to appreciate the letters, I felt this was a way to stay connected.  Back then, it disappointed me that it would take so long to get to them - even before the age of SMS and email, I had been an impatient young Aries.  I wanted them to know I missed them, I wanted them to feel the love on the page, I wanted them to remember me. Consequently, now we have facebook - I barely hear from the young women.  That's modern technology for you.  No doubting that someone who writes you a letter thinks very highly of you. Where have these days gone?

When I was twelve, I was staying at my good friend Tilly's place, for the weekend.  She had a mega crush on the class hottie (I had worked through my crush for that fella long beforehand, so it was ok) and we decided it would be a great idea to write him a secret love letter.  From recollection, we composed our letter, typing it up on pretty paper, sealing it inside a pretty envelope and planted lipstick kisses on the outside.  We walked the many blocks to the young mans house and daringly dropped it in his letter box!  Oh, the scandal it caused at school on Monday!  People had their suspicions, but I held true to my friend - we denied all involvement - I may have even provided her with an alibi!  Eventually Tilly cracked and owned up, I don't think she ever got the guy - but she did earn some cred for being ballsy enough for the letter act.

I would've been about fifteen when "The Body" - that is, Elle Macpherson came to my home town as part of a huge tourism campaign.  There was a lot of hype about the whole thing, she was paid an ungodly amount of money - everyone went to see, just to catch a glimpse.  At the time, I was semi-disgusted with the fuss, so I wrote a letter/witty account of the day and sent it into the then cult-ish magazine 'Recovery'. It must've been published, because I received an Alanis Morissette album in the post shortly after. WOW!

As a teenager, writing letters in class was a given. Even in the presumed silence of a classroom, you could share a joke, plans, sadness and pain. Think about how thrilling it was - will I get caught... will the recipient giggle uncontrollably? If someone was having a rough day, a simple "are you ok?" on a scrap of paper could change it all.  I wish people would do that in the adult world - leave a subtle sticky note here and there from time to time - imagine finding an handwritten joke under your keyboard, an "I'm sorry", "hang in there", a simple smiley face, or God willing, an "are you ok?" If I get married, and have kids someday - I'll be sure to be the kind of wife and mum to sneak in a secret note from time to time. I don't think there is anything more exciting than receiving a handwritten note that you aren't expecting.

During my final years of high school, I stupidly took geography as a TEE subject.  The teacher we had was appalling on so many levels.  Creepy, sleazy, dim-witted and completely useless when it came to equipping us with any knowledge.  One day, something happened in class that drove me to absolute fury.  During the free period that followed I penned a multi page letter to this horrid teacher - laying out the realities I felt he needed to hear.  I didn't write it with the intention of giving it to him - it was an exercise to preserve sanity on my part - but when I showed it to my good friend to read, somehow this letter got passed around and around; people were applauding me, telling me I should be a lawyer (eeek!) one even took a photocopy to keep for herself because she was so impressed with its contents.  My friends convinced me to give the letter to the teacher - I did.  Nothing ever came of it. No reprimand for me, or the teacher.  It died a quiet death - I suspect because I was a top student and they could hardly punish me for pointing out facts they already knew, but declined to act upon. Phew - that pen sure was mighty - but it didn't shed the blood that I expected it would.

Shortly after finishing high school was around the time I proper dropped my bundle.  There wasn't a name for it - I kind of denied the problems, but it was pretty clear I was going through something.  Home life was really tense and emotional.  I would bite my parents heads off before dissolving into heavy tears; sometimes I could sink into myself for an entire weekend and barely utter a word that wasn't dragged out of me. My Mum isn't the most perceptive lady, she's not really geared to understand emotions or the complexities about how thoughts affect feelings.  It's not a dig on my Mother, she was just never told to think about herself or her internal environment, when I talk about issues like these with her, she goes blank because she simply doesn't get the connection.  Anyway - one day she'd gotten to her wits end with me, and said something like "I don't know what's wrong with you... I don't understand why you are this way".  It cut me deeply that I was affecting confusion on others, let alone myself.  In the clarity of bed time, I wrote my parents a letter - apologising, and tried to explain as best I could, that I just didn't know why I was this way.  I hid the letter in a place I knew my Mum would find it.  When she did, she came to me, she told me I wrote a very good letter. It saved me in that moment.

I would've been about 20 when a bombshell hit.  One of my best friends from high school, someone like me in so many ways - tried to commit suicide.  We had lost our closeness, she moved to the city for university, I stayed behind to sort my shit out - but it hit me like a tonne of bricks.  This news came about from a series of strange emails - a distressing one from her and one from a friend of hers I had never met, who had written to explain what had happened.  Evidently, it wasn't the first time she'd tried it - her life had fallen apart and I hadn't seen it and I couldn't stop it from happening.  I felt so helpless.  I remembered a time I was staying over her house when we were younger, we had made gingerbread men and had a crazy afternoon baking and decorating.  The only way I could think of reaching my friend who had seemingly departed to a place where I couldn't reach her, was to bake her a box of gingerbread men and post it off to her, with a very long letter. I didn't know what to say - but I tried to say 'stick around'. The letter and accompanying cookies were my metaphorical hands reaching out to hold hers. So many hopes went with that letter.

Obviously the most recent earth-shattering letter was 'The John Bomb'.  My express posted little envelope of heart and truth; the ramifications of which have been well documented here.

In my time, I have written letters to loved ones, friends, enemies, myself and even God. Each time they have been a release - a wish to affect change - change in attitude, change in heart, change in understanding - in both myself and others.

God how I wish more people would write what they feel. And I really wish they would write to me...

SB xx


Rianna said...

Did mine arrive yet??!!
Imma write you another one today :)

Rianna said...

PS - Another awesome, awesome post.