10 January 2023

The letter box

As soon as she read the inscription, my editor dropped the card in the bin. I was shocked by the act and nonchalance. How could a hand-written note be discarded without thought.

I expressed my horror, to which she replied with her own amused, What's wrong? Causing me to blurt out, Do you also throw away mine? Not our exact words, though, as this happened years ago.

What I remember and know for sure is that she is one of the most loving and loyal friends I have, despite her ruthless attitude towards Christmas cards.

I'm just slower than everybody else.

Discarding letters is something I forced myself to do when I moved to my own place. I held on for so long to long letters in yellow pads enclosed with photos from pen pals who remained strangers, to doodles from high school friends who turned into strangers, to my first love letter from a secret admirer.

That was a lot of paper. Private. I was beginning to see the wisdom of my editor. The more these sentimental objects linger, the more they accumulate, the harder they are to destroy. Do I burn them? Is burnt photo paper toxic waste? Should I buy a shredder? How much is a shredder?

Why do I hold on to them, anyway? It's not like I'm in the habit of rereading or making a conversation piece out of them. This genre of documentation seems like a cousin of FOMO. A fear of losing beautiful memories.

Last weekend I had to exorcise a box-full of letters again. For a different reason. Nowadays I'm more discriminating with what I keep. Whereas previously I wanted to exercise being free of the past, no matter how happy it was, and in more practical terms, to live in a clutter-free home; now it's about cutting ties.

Sorting through my smaller letter box brought the right kind of surprise.

Apparently I was exchanging letters with a former crush who moved to Japan. In my memory the whole affair was one-sided. But if these stamped envelopes and postcards were any proof, somehow we had an intimate connection.

I also realized that it's clever to have writer friends. Theirs are the letters I should memorialize. I like words; they are good at it. Oh the many eloquent, convincing ways I'm told I'm amazing!

Then the genuine emotions. There is sincerity in length, a pouring out of unfiltered feelings. There is kindness in brevity, sparing both giver and receiver the burden of feelings, which, for the moment, is best carried by white space.

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