I’m not a stalker, I swear.
I’ve tweeted at least a dozen general requests for postal addresses in the last week, and today alone I’ve pestered four separate people for their contact info via direct message. Given the number of eyeballs these requests have reached, surprisingly few people have taken me up on the offer. I don’t think the silence is lack of trust so much as it is a combination of “she can’t actually be talking to me” plus complete bewilderment as to the benefit for either of us.
First of all, yes, I am talking to you. I want the postal address of every single human being on earth, and I only have 62 of them so far, so let’s get cracking on this.
Second of all, the benefit is largely for me, because I enjoy writing letters, but you might also enjoy getting one more than you’d think.
Why, though? Why not just send you an email, saying all the same stuff? You don’t want another piece of paper stuffed in your mailbox that you now have to figure out what to do with. It’s clutter, it’s junk! And you’re right, I suppose, and if you feel that way you can toss it away once you’ve read it, just as you would an email. It honestly doesn’t offend me. For my part, I keep letters people have sent me until the box I keep them in is full, and then I go through and throw out the ones I don’t feel a sentimental need to keep (and that is usually fully 80% of them). Some, I will keep until I’m dead. Some, they might have to bury me with.
Emails serve a purpose, but here’s the thing. An email sits in your inbox demanding a timely reply or no reply at all. It’s an imposition, an Open Issue, a hanging question. An email is vaguely stressful.
Letters are quaint. They are gestures. Yes, in some of them I hint that a reply would be enjoyed, but even if you dashed one out right away I wouldn’t get it for three days, so you know it isn’t urgent. You know that you can reply in a month, or six months, or whenever you feel that same urge that I felt months ago to sit down and spend some time with you. It takes me 20-30 minutes to write a letter, and that 20-30 minutes is yours alone. When I’m in letter-writing mode I write about one a day. Sometimes I binge-write three in a row and then my hand falls off. Sometimes I go months without writing one. But every time, it’s a surprise for someone. It’s never expected. People don’t go to their mailboxes and frown when there’s nothing from Mishell there.
For someone like me, someone who struggles to find that baffling social “safe zone” between neglect and imposition, it’s important to have a way to reach out to people that’s entirely unattached to guilt. Oh, sure, sometimes I look at the half-dozen envelopes that have been sitting in my Unanswered Letter Box for months and feel a little twinge. But only a small one. Because I know that no one’s life hinges on the arrival of paper in their mailbox anymore. It’s one of those rare things that is a positive by its presence, and never a negative by its absence.
Also, I can express myself in a letter, beyond just the words I use. I can choose the paper, the pen. I can doodle on the envelope or the edges of the paper if I’m so inclined, or dab a corner with perfume. I can slip in a bookmark or some herbal tea. Once while writing a particularly sentimental letter, a tear surprised me and smudged the ink — I sent it anyway. Since paper letters have more of a sense of permanence, of artifact, often I put more care into them than I would an email. I imagine that each one is evidence of my passing through this world. Some day, in theory, the letters I send and receive might fall into the hands of a third party and tell them something about me, about my correspondent, about life when and where we both lived.
I have written letters all over the U.S. and Canada, to Israel and Sweden and South Africa, to the UK and to Australia and Singapore. I’ve even sent mail to people whose houses I could drive to for dinner if I wanted. I know most of these letters will get thrown away, just as I will throw away most of the ones I receive. But maybe, just maybe, some of them will be read when the paper is cracked and brown at the edges, when I’m nothing but a name on a gravestone. Maybe someday people in a post-apocalyptic wasteland will use them to piece together what Los Angeles was like in 2015, before the robot uprising.
Or maybe, if nothing else, you’ll briefly touch something I touched, and read something I gave my hand a terrible cramp writing, and maybe you’ll be slightly happier for it. That’s good enough for me.