Man of letters

2006-05-12

in Writing

Since I got my fountain pen and pad of brown, lined, recycled paper, I’ve written about thirty letters: ranging from a few short paragraphs to one of several hundred pages. There was a time, about eight years ago, when I wrote a great many handwritten letters: probably more than a hundred in all. In one of the more cruel things ever done to me, a few years ago the recipient demanded to return or destroy them, en masse. I certainly didn’t want them returned, but I really hope they haven’t been destroyed for want of attic space. They were written during an incredibly embryonic time and, idiotic as they doubtless are in the greater part, I think of them as a partially externalized version of myself as I was and wanted to be. I want them out there as a challenge to the blurring of memory in response to time and new events.

Since then, I’ve been both too ashamed of my atrocious handwriting to write many things by hand. I have also been concerned about having information out there of which I have no record to back up recollections that inevitably become hazy with time. The greatest force that has changed my mind recently is the sheer and impossible volume of computer generated text: whether blog, email, or printed letter. In the face of such a flood of information, it is increasingly hard to get anyone (including myself) to pay attention. As a consummate record-keeper, I do have virtually every scrap of electronic information ever sent to me archived and searchable. Even so, I am far more likely to re-read the few letters I have received since arriving here (the rest being safely entombed with photographic negatives back in North Vancouver).

I’ve just finished writing a letter of the sort that you hope will become a bulwark between a past mistake and all the future. As always, there is no certainty that a few flimsy pages can prove so solid, but I shall hope and see.

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{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

B May 12, 2006 at 4:19 pm

“I want them out there as a challenge to the blurring of memory in response to time and new events.”

“I have also been concerned about having information out there of which I have no record to back up recollections that inevitably become hazy with time.”

That old tension between the desire to preserve an honest record of the past and manipulate that record for present purposes. Well known to lovers and governments everywhere.

Milan May 15, 2006 at 7:29 pm

Very few have been replied to so far, at least in letter form. It’s annoying to get an email back in response to a letter. Half the message of a letter is that the contents are important, but not urgent.

All that said, I’ve very much appreciated the messages from Meghan, Alison, and others that I’ve received while in Oxford, so far.

R.K. May 15, 2006 at 3:02 pm

Out of curiosity, how many of your letters have received responses? People largely seem as though they can’t be bothered, these days.

Milan May 16, 2006 at 1:30 pm

I got a response from Sarah Webster today, which made me very pleased. I will send her a letter in response shortly.

esther May 18, 2006 at 10:57 am

I hate the idea of people throwing away letters i have written them. I have kept every letter, note and card (well, almost every card) ever given to me. i’m one of those stupid sentimental people who will keep things like a kinder-surprise toy from a first boyfriend and a wilting flower from my school ball.
but sometimes i feel so bogged down in all this stuff, although it brings back the memories and occassionally when i visit home (oxford) i’ll go through the old boxes of stuff at the top of my wardrobe and cry/ smile/ laugh/ remember at the end of the day i wish i could just throw it all away and move on. there’s definatly an extent to which its bad to live in the past!

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