January is here again and with it has arrived a collection of resolutions, promises, and great changes among the masses that will mostly be abandoned come the first of February. I’m not immune to the lure of January 1st – its cleanness and newness buzzing brightly, clearly visible even in mid-December, when saying yes to another slice of cheesecake seems okay because you’ll start fresh in the new year. My resolutions are vast and unrealistic and foolish, but my strategy was to just throw it all out there and see what sticks – weight loss, marathon training, writing a few personal essays, more salads, less wine, four blog posts a week, submitting a short story to a journal (which takes the writing of a short story as a first step), saving money, reading a new book a month, keeping my office/car/desk clean and organized – the list could (and actually does) go on and on.
But here’s one I’m really pumped about. It’s more of a project. No actually, a challenge. It’s a new blog post I plan to do called 52 Notes, and I think it’s going to be quite the venture.
I’ve shared before with friends of mine my mourning of the lost art of letter writing. A few years ago, I tried to resurrect this craft for myself, sending out notes and cards to a few of my friends. Some wrote back, and how lovely was it to receive an item in the mail besides a bill or a flyer for the new Thai restaurant opening around the block. But as in most endeavors in my life, I eventually let the letter writing go. 52 Notes is about giving it another (more structured) try.
You may have heard the story late in 2014 about Neal Cassady’s 60-page letter to Jack Kerouac being retrieved; a letter heralded for how it influenced and transformed Kerouac’s writing, causing him to pen his highly acclaimed On the Road using the stream-of-consciousness style that helped make this work memorable. Do I think one of my proposed 52 notes will inspire a great piece of literature? Yes, likely.
But I’m not doing this for the fame. I simply crave old-schoolness. I love heavy telephones fit for injury if thrown. I sometimes miss the days of answering a phone call without an inkling of who might be on the other end when answered (back in the day, it was rarely the boy I was crushing on at a given time). Cassette tapes, encyclopedias, paying with cash – all memories of stress-free days… at least relatively stress free – I could get worked up over what I’d wear to the school dance or if the new cute guy in school had a girlfriend back where he came from. Digital files and the internet and debit cards have made the world easier, faster, but not necessarily better. Some intangible bits of beauty have gotten lost in the whirl of it all.
So while driving the other day, the idea came to me to write letters to friends and family – perhaps even strangers – over the year: 52 notes (on greeting cards, stationery, recycled paper – anything that can be mailed) to 52 different people over the 52 weeks of 2015.
Visiting my parents over New Year’s week in Stockton, I considered who the first person on my list of 52 might be. Right away, I thought of my friend Lorre because, back when we were teens, the two of us probably exchanged hundreds of notes. Lorre and I were on and off best friends (ever have one of those?). On Friday nights, we spent hours at Hammer Skate, on Saturdays and Sundays, we walked the malls countless times (yes, malls – Stockton has two that are located across the street from one another), and during the week, we talked on the phone until we fell asleep. As much time as we spent together, there apparently was still information that needed to be shared between us by note. While often salacious, Lorre’s notes were most impressive for their neatness, as she had the coolest writing out of all my friends, a sort of cursive/print mash-up that I often tried to emulate. She also ended many letters with a signature face (something I also tried to develop for myself but nothing ever stuck).
Thinking of this face, of her writing and her notes, I asked my mom if she knew anything about a shoebox of mine left in my room over 20 years ago when I moved to Los Angeles; a box filled with letters and notes from high school. It was more of a throwaway question – I assumed she would say no.
Instead, she told me to go to the laundry room and look in the cabinet over the dryer – there was a white box in there that she’d put away years ago, after she’d transitioned my bedroom into her sewing room. I tingled in a way I’ve not tingled in decades – could it really be, pieces of life from my way way back?
And indeed it was. An entire Esprit de Corps box puffing with notes. I read every one, a process that mostly made me laugh, but nauseated me as well. Worried me. Shamed me. Mortified me; made me cringe. It was the most surreal hour point five I’ve had in a very long time. The funniest thing is, I can’t even share some of the best stuff in those notes because… Because that was high school. And how things have changed. And also, how they haven’t. I’m really not close to most of my high school pals anymore, and there were some people named or who wrote notes that I don’t recall at all. But, still.
More of that on another post. What the box really did was enthuse me even more; commit me entirely to this project.
The Esprit box came home from Stockton yesterday with me. I can’t believe that the information held within it has been so accessible to my parents all these years, and they’ve not indulged. Good thing. The biggest challenge now will be to hide it somewhere that my kids can’t find it. I’ll just be sure that none of my 52 Notes contain incriminating or scandalous information.
Here’s to a well read and written 2015!
My first letter is to my boy crazy partner in crime from Pacific Middle School and Lincoln High School.