In my hall closet, under a tumble of duffle bags and clothes meant to go to Goodwill (any day now), resides five shoe boxes filled with letters from family and friends that date back to my college days; letters from my mom telling me that dad was carving a new duck decoy, a fairly recent letter from my friend Mean Vick wishing she could get a fainting goat or a horse, a letter my Aunt Lulu sent when I was an intern at the Alaska Repertory Theater in autumn of 1981 and wouldn’t be home for Thanksgiving for the first time ever. “[Your mom] said she was going to get a four pound turkey for this Thanksgiving,” she wrote. “I thought she meant it. I didn’t know they didn’t come that small. What I don’t know about cooking you could fill a very big book.”
Often I have to be in a strong state of mind before looking at these precious letters. They make the past tangible, and even things like my parents’ updates on their never-ending attempts to outwit the damn squirrels that got in the bird feeder are funny and endearing, because mom took the time to describe it in writing. Handwriting is powerful. The ink, still living on the paper even though its writer may be long gone, and energy carried in the curve of the letters as much as in the thoughts themselves, takes my breath away.
One of the themes in “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” is how technology is replacing, or has replaced, letters and real-life conversation. I bemoan the vanishing art of letter-writing even though the last one I wrote was about three years ago. But now I’m reminded of how important it is to put pen to paper and tell someone I love they’re important, even though it appears as though I’m just talking about roasting a turkey.
Inspiration for the craft of letters and writing can be found at Castle in the Air on the always-fun Fourth Street shopping area in Berkeley, and Flax in San Francisco (while it’s still in its Market Street location). For pure eye candy, the Griffin and Sabine trilogy by Nick Bantock still mesmerizes, almost 25 years after its first publication.