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Fingers Crossed

September 11, 2010

When I saw this post over at Try Harder (link here!), I really wanted that stripey envelope to be mine! Luckily, my covetousness was short-lived, and a few days later, there it was tucked in my postbox. Hooray  for real live mail!

About three years ago (happy anniversary, Miss C.!), we hatched a plan, called the Sanity Plan, intended as insurance you buy now against the February doldrums. We rationalised that if you waited till you felt shitty from all those long, chilly days and nights, by the time you felt dragged down, you’d lack the momentum required to insert variety and exciting social activities into your life. So, in September while things still smell and roughly look like summer, start doing some things you’ll be grateful for in the depths of winter.

The original Sanity Plan was quite ambitious, and over time, proved almost too ambitious to sustain. The letter-writing component is the last bit that remains, and it’s actually something we continue year-round. C.’s original suggestion was that we each write three letters per month: one to each other, one to someone we wish we did a better of job of keeping in touch with, and one “fan letter” expressing our admiration and dedication to…someone of whom we’re a fan. It could be a friend, relative, stranger, famous person, infamous person, or yourself. Though I confess C. is the only person I write to now, and my schedule has definitely slackened from monthly to perhaps six or seven times a year, the part I like best about the letters is how it reminds me of pre-email days.

My family moved house a lot when I was small, and friends and I kept in touch from city to city by writing daily letters, since email didn’t exist and long-distance calls were out of the question. Not to mention, the family phone hung on the kitchen wall, and I was hardly going to broadcast to my parents and brother details of the cute boy at school, the girl who made my cry at recess, or the method I intended to use when begging for new sneakers for back-to-school.

Last weekend, I cleaned house. I haven’t moved in a long time now, and that used to be the way I avoided amassing clutter. After five years in one place, my tiny apartment was rammed full of…well, not junk, per se, but something close to it. Junk’s kissing cousin. In this corner and that closet, falling out of cupboards and tipping out of the spot I carefully wedged it or the nook where I carelessly stashed it. I chucked books and CDs and space-hogging single-use kitchen gadgets. Quirky hand-knit mittens, kneesocks that make me look like I’m 12, pants I will never stuff my butt into again, and shirts too ugly to be pulled over my head one more time. So much stuff, and yet so much still remained, such that I started to feel a bit gross, like a reckless consumer and fool-harder buyer. Really, I don’t shop or buy useless things, at least I didn’t think that was me until I cleaned up. But holy crap! All the crap I put at the curb!

And, the letters. Boxes of letters I’ve lugged from place to place as if without the physical object to trigger them, my memories would disappear. I sat of the floor and spread them out, and read several, and cringed at a couple. Crumpled two. Laughed aloud at another. Admired a friend’s grade five penmanship, and picked a wad of chewing gum from between the pages of a three-pager B. sent me the year I lived in Vancouver. (1992). And then, I shoved those letters in a bag and shoved that bag in the trash bin out back. Friends joke that I’m their archive; that so long as I exist, so do their memories, like an external hard-drive they can consult if they want to know what we did together when we were 9, 14, or 33. I  figure, if my memory is that good over the long-term, then why force whoever pitches in during my next move to haul the physical archive down three flights and up another five?

I have a fetish for the object…I love books, mementos, little notes and lists and leftovers in pockets like movie tickets you find when you put the coat on again the next season. But, I also feel like my tendency to hoard empty wine bottles and full notebooks and printed photographs and now-amusing concert t-shirts is a form of Luddism. A refusal to relinquish a hold on material items in favour of upgrading to less bulky ways of remembering. Like insisting on only corresponding by post…like inviting M. to supper by sending him a piece of mail, rather than typing a  text message or placing a phone call. If I use crates of memorabilia to remember the first 37 years of my life, isn’t this a little bit like denying the relevance of the cellular phone?

For about six years now, I’ve worked at an office where we settle the estates of people who die without known next-of-kin and without leaving a will. We sift through boxes of personal effects, typically stinking of mildew and often with beetle husks raining from the creased pages of old address books and yellowed letters and freaky hand-written notes reminding the guy to pick up eggs in June 1965. This stuff is morbidly fascinating, and I’ve often joked about who an office full of civil servants would think I was if they cleared out my place and started assembling “me” based on what they found. Some of the stuff we go through is neat, some tragic, some incredibly gross. And, most frequently, the stuff reveals nothing at all about the person who owned it, which is a revelation in itself. We see photographs of the dead person’s apartment or house or rented room, and seldom are those suddenly vacant homes clean, tidy, organised, orderly, sanitary or metaphorically warm.

Reaching the bottom of the stack of personal effects and coming up with nothing to guide searches for the dead person’s family, I’ll think, “Oh come on, man! Couldn’t you have kept at least a few things that give your history away? A hint of who you were and how your life played out? A note card with a name on it, a photo with a bit of writing on the back? Something? Anything?!” Presumably, the person had all that stored in his or her head, or didn’t want objects around as reminders, or hadn’t enjoyed the luxury of a lifestyle supported by tangible debris.

As I purged my apartment of its surplus last Sunday, by no means was I thinking about a stranger going through my home, or how I’ll appear the day I die, or what I’ll leave behind as evidence of who I’ve been, or the relative weight of things I’ve bought over the past fifteen years. I wasn’t thinking anything, really, other than “oh my gosh, it’s going to be amazing to open the closet and not have to wade through useless jackets in order to locate the broom!” And, as I write this today, before hitting the park with a latté and good book and scarf tied loosely against the breeze, I’m not drawing comparisons between myself, my job, or people who’ve passed away. Rather, I’m thinking of the opportunities I have to touch real pieces of mail rather than everything just occurring electronically, and it’s kind of interesting that in general, they’re letters written in the style of years ago (C. and I tend to fall back on topics like what we had for lunch, the weather, a thing we just overheard that was funny or screwy, and what we might do that evening), or letters at my job that really were written that way, with no more serious intent than letting someone far away know you’re still around.

8 Comments leave one →
  1. bill permalink
    September 13, 2010 3:08 pm

    its ok, in the future forensic archaeologists will have time machines.

    Throw it all away!

    • welltailored permalink*
      September 13, 2010 5:45 pm

      Phew! I was hoping you would say that!

  2. Gus permalink
    September 13, 2010 4:18 pm

    Can’t tell you how much I love this post, Welltailored. A lot.

  3. lilboyblue permalink
    September 14, 2010 8:06 am

    Love this one Miss.

    Firstly, my back will thank you for making one less box of…precious things for your next move.

    I have this notion I find archaically romantic that I can leave behind nothing and in the tradition of the Celts rely only on the stories told of my exploits by people I was closest to. I have one box of historical evidence left before I walk through the world as a ghost but for visitations upon my numerous nearest and dearest.

    I like to think how much we’d all have left if we couldn’t rely upon any electronic record of our existence. How much would the oral history compare to one’s cyberlife?

    Great stuff. Can’t wait to read more.

  4. September 14, 2010 1:41 pm

    Oh man, you buried the lead!

    I can’t imagine doing that, but that’s because I have more space in my home and less in my heart. I tend to get rid of things I’ve bought, but cling to things made for/given to me. The more work I do in archives, the more stubbornly I cling–I’m leaving the letters for the next generation to pitch!

    Thanks for the reminder of the parameters of the Sanity Plan. I think I’ll start in on fan letters this year. I crave that kind of positive release in these days of defeat and bitchery.

    • welltailored permalink*
      September 14, 2010 5:41 pm

      Ms Shearn wants in on this year’s SP too!

      • From the Red Dot, Jupiter permalink
        September 16, 2010 8:05 am

        Keep checking your mailbox….

      • welltailored permalink*
        September 16, 2010 5:07 pm

        Ohhhhhhh! Ok!

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