I'm taking a break from the blog-as-kid-photo-vessel because I’ve been hunting down a box of old cassette tapes for the past month. There’ s a tape in there with Grandpa Bob’s voice on it. He’s singing Froggy Went A-Courting, bouncing me on his knee in the old armchair with the orange roses. I remembered that tape after finding, about a month ago, a gizmo that translates cassette recordings into mp3s, and I want to save that gravely cigar-smoking voice for all time. But I can’t find it. I’ve almost plumbed the storage depths of our tiny city home, and now I’m starting to slow down the looking because so long as there are a couple of unsearched boxes, its existence remains absolutely possible.
During the girl’s nap (upside-down on top of the blankets, wearing pink plastic heels and covered head to toe in bug stickers) I allotted myself two storage-shelf boxes worth of looking. They both said “Old stuff. Basement.” Sounded promising. I think the last time they were opened was two apartments ago. Both were completely random samplings of beloved (or formerly beloved) objects. The first was mostly out of sequence stacks of snapshots (Cape Town up against Cape Lookout up against Glen Helen up against Patzcuaro up against a truckload of rockweed, lupines growing out that lost Chevy’s back window, round bales of Alfalfa back home). No tapes.
But the second, the second box was completely full of letters. Paper letters. Entities that exist in physical space. Bent and smudged and hauled around, scribbled on and used as grocery lists, and most importantly, full of handwriting. Handwriting! A record of some loved person’s kinetic energy. Whoah. They seemed almost like museum pieces. I mean, remember when mail used to look like this?!
Paper letters sent through the mail might be to email what live music is to streamed. I mean, I’m as Facebooked and blogged and emailed up as most, I guess, and often happily. The instant exchange is what makes possible my work-from-wherever, and often whenever, whilst-wearing-whatever-I-wish gig. Among other things. But I want to take a moment to remember (and maybe a little to mourn the loss of) the weight of the envelope in hand. The little feathers or maps or pinches of far-away dirt you could slide inside. That faint winter smell of paper and glue. The crossings-out and coffee rings and oil stains. And the time it takes to write by hand, and knowing that it will be days, if not weeks, before the eyes you aim for see what you said. I know I wrote more carefully back then, pulled out a different frame of detail, a different sort of more lasting sort of storyline than I do now, shooting out emails by the dozens each day. Much has been said about all of this already, about how email etc is changing our brains. Whaddya gonna do. I wonder, though, while we’ve still got the good old USPS, if it might not be a good idea to write a letter or two. And maybe stick in a newspaper clipping, a leaf of still-going-strong kale, a picture of the girl, a Brooklyn pebble. Any takers?