the messiness of letters

image by Isidr☼ Cea via flickr

I’d basically given up on this letter stuff. You know, that lofty idea of writing and receiving letters from total strangers and finding meaning there, finding that illusive thing called connection.

Right now I have a handful of letters staring at me that I fully intend on answering, despite the fact that what I thought would energize and inspire me has joined the list of things to do that I really don’t want to. Like that dentist appointment that I’ve needed to make for so very long, they ooze guilt that sticks to my fingers. The letters are lovely, many handwritten and heartfelt, yet they unjustly live on my desk tucked next to bills and other nasty things, like wildflowers growing from cracks in the cement.

Why can’t I embrace the joy? I’m not sure. Some of the letters moved me deeply, their tales winnowing their way into my thoughts and resting there for days. The concept makes my heart soar and I am one of the greatest fans of The Rumpus for starting these Letters to, Letters From… The actuality of it, though, is that—to me, at least—the results seem oddly forced, deceptive. Let’s pretend we’re secret friends and tell one another our secrets.

I’m such a cynic. (sigh)

While I know that most are sincere I can’t help but think that others fictionalize or at least exaggerate their tales. But then again, so what? Does it matter? Who is to say what is real and what is not? (Enter David Shields who not only smashed any viability of linear narrative but also that line between reality and fiction.)

Meanwhile I’ve been reading Tiny Beautiful Things which is one big confession-fest. Someone said in a review that Cheryl Strayed’s latest work destroys us, and it does. This amazing book is filled with a thousand voices of angst and fear, stories of the most profound messiness of life which she miraculously wraps into beautiful bundles of hope and meaning. Strayed offers her own flaws like coins which she tosses out to those who seek her help, her blessings. Don’t worry, hun. Listen to me sweet pea, she says, and they do. We do.

Problem is I really don’t want to tell my secrets to a stranger, even one so goddess-like as Sugar herself. I don’t have any secrets which scratch away at me, my wounds having long ago healed, my secrets all told or tossed to the wind. Maybe I’m too old or too this or that, or maybe I’m just not of the ilk, one who flees rather than is drawn to the door. Maybe I am just fortunate to not have suffered some of the unbearable angst others have, to be able to wake up with a smile each day, unburdened, without need for expiation. Maybe I’m just a fool.

In my travels I’ve often wandered into the local church and peered towards the confessional in the corner (including the one pictured above, more than likely), curious yet ready to run as if some sort of beast were hiding within it, filing its talons… As a child I was a pretend catholic during visits to my cousins, following them closely and mimicking their curtsey and nod to the altar when they reached their pew, taking communion with eyes closed as the watery-wine-dipped wafer stuck to my tongue and the roof of my mouth, and sucking it as though it were the sweetest caramel despite the fact that it tasted like old straw.

There, now you got a confession out of me. I wanted to if not confess my own sins—which would have required some creativity to come up with something of import to offer—then to listen to the confession of others, to hear the murmur of formal forgiveness, the direction of penance. It didn’t last long, that desire.

I suppose in this secular, digital world it’s not surprising that many confess anonymously online (although at first glance most websites soliciting confessions appear to be directed at those who wish to titillate rather than expiate). There is even an app for confession.

There is no anonymity online of course, but actually there never was anonymity of confession offline either. The lattice allows a view of the confessor, the village was small and one would either be seen entering and leaving the confessional or would be recognized by voice, by sins recounted. Maybe we want to be recognized. We want to be known, and spilling our guts is simply one way of doing that.

But it’s so very messy.



2 thoughts on “the messiness of letters

  1. Love this. I feel the same about The Rumpus, about letter writing / responding, about Tiny Beautiful Things… beautiful writing. I think it depends on the secret, whether I am willing to tell it or not. But then again, I don’t have too many secrets.

  2. Don’t know if I will read Tiny…ironically, contemplated ordering for library today. I toyed with “letters” but I know ME, I’m terrible about things like that even though I’d LUV to get in a letter writing habit. Secrets. Yes, what is it that we keep as we get older? Just tonight I wondered, who am I more honest with, others or myself…
    Wonderful posts, thank you for allowing me to think for a spell ~

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