A Letter to the People Who Wrote Letters to Each Other

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A month ago we announced Letters To Each Other, which allowed subscribers to Letters In The Mail to send a one page letter and SASE. We would copy the letters and send each writers six letters back in their self addressed stamped envelope. We asked the letter writers to send their letters to Karen’s house. 296 people participated and last night we had a party in a bar where we stuffed all the envelopes and mailed the letters. But first Karen read them all.

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Dear letter writers,

You have been coming to my house for weeks now, in trickles at first and then in floods as the deadline got closer. My mailman must be so confused; it’s been all Cooking Light and utility bills until now.

I took the first five of you to a coffee shop, and I fell in love with you at once.  You were raw, and it all felt a little sacred, getting a little piece of you sent so hopefully, two pages or less.  I couldn’t stop thinking about you all week.

I don’t know if it’s just that you were my first loves, but the first five of you were my favorites.

And then more of you showed up, 296 of you, and I found myself wanting to cherry pick six letters to “receive,” just so I could have you as a pen pal; Mr. Wales, guy from Tennessee, lady from Portland.  But then it didn’t feel right, like hand picking kids in gym class for a dodgeball team; my team of pen pals.  So, instead, I thought I’d write to all of you.

I want to tell you a few things; things about each other, things about what you 296 decided to tell six perfect strangers.

Many of your letters were about letter writing; about the last time you wrote a letter, about the state of civilization because people don’t write letters anymore. There were some breakups in the bunch; some recent, some long rotting.  Lots of illustrations, job dissatisfaction, loneliness.  Many Seinfeld letters; letters about nothing in particular – a subway ride, the weather, doing your laundry.  And a lot of meta-commentary, self-conscious “I bet you think this letter sucks” kind of comments.  Hey, Wisconsin, your letter didn’t suck.  In fact, it was one of my favorites.

There were letters clearly plotted, and others that meandered to their finish, down one side street and then the other, often surprised when you reached your destination, commenting that you didn’t know where you were going when you started.  A lot of extra notes tucked into your envelopes thanking The Rumpus for doing this (you are so welcome, the pleasure is truly all ours).

About ten percent of you poured your hearts out; and I’d like to give you 10% a hug, a big, big hug.

And then there were those of you whispered.  You started out all Seinfeld-like, and then, somewhere between how much you hate your job and love your dog, you said something really deep.  You seemed to sit somewhere between wanting to say it and being afraid that if you said it too loudly you might not get a letter back – so you whispered it.

And what I’m saying to you who are reading those letters is – listen. You’ll hear it.

He will tell you about his girlfriend’s late night shifts and how he doesn’t like to be home alone.  And then he’ll whisper, this is because his mom had clinical depression when he was growing up and she slept all the time, sometimes for months.  And then he’s back talking about his job.  And it will stop you.  And you will know that’s why he wrote this letter.

You’ll be reading about his grandma, a second-grade teacher with a basement lined with books.  And then he’ll say, as if in parentheses, that this served as his refuge from childhood trauma that his grandmother knew nothing about.  And then, just as quickly, he’ll move on to the weather.  And for a moment you might not breathe.

She will be talking about a trip to Texas to visit a daughter and casually mention that her family moved 80 times growing up because her father was a criminal (and sometimes they just didn’t take their things with them).  And within a matter of words she will move on to tell you about her college experience.

Listen, okay?

Most of all, what you said is that you want someone to write back.  I don’t know if we allow all caps here at The Rumpus, but if we do I would say PLEASE WRITE EACH OTHER BACK.  Please.

But if your hoped for pen pal doesn’t write, I want you to know that Stephan in Kansas works the night shift, and Susannah has a husband with dementia to take care of, and Jeff, he hasn’t been able to get out of bed in months.  So, what I’m saying is that, if you don’t get a response, it probably isn’t you; your letter was fine.

***

Letter Stuffing Party in San Francisco

Letter Stuffing Party in San Francisco

I told myself I would go to bed on time tonight; but I couldn’t stop reading your letters.  They seemed so much more important than sleep.

You are from everywhere – I mean everywhere, most of the United States and a handful of other countries.  How did you all find out about The Rumpus?  Especially you, 76-year old grandmother who doesn’t have a computer, how did you find The Rumpus?

One of you is a proofreader for a locally owned phone book.  What is a locally owned phone book?  And how does one edit it?  I want to know.

To the social worker in Minnesota, the only advocate in your county for victims of domestic violence – $11.28 an hour; really?  I will try not to resent the politicians in your county who hired only one of you, and then put an $11.28 price tag on preventing domestic violence.

There is a letter about a Rubbermaid container in someone’s closet that made me cry; it made me miss my father, even though he’s still alive.

There are a surprising number of you from Illinois.  Not Chicago, just Illinois.  Why?

Letter writer in jail for capital murder, did you get parole or did you get transferred to the adult system?  Yours was one of the first letters I read; it took my breath away.  I hope you write that book.  I’d read it.

***

I don’t even know how to mail a letter from my house; we don’t have an outgoing mail slot in our building.  Which probably means I haven’t mailed anything since last May when I moved in.  And it means there are letters that have gone unwritten; letters I may never send, even if I can find that mailbox; letters like these.

Dear sweet girl: I love you; 16 won’t last forever.  Some day you won’t have to live with an angry man.  I need you to know it’s not you, sweetie, it’s him.

Dear dad: Every time I think about the fact that some day I will log on and not see your name in my G’chat, I wonder how does the day after look, the day after your name disappears from my G’chat?

Dear first love: Sometimes I still miss you.  We would have been miserable together.  But, still, I’ve never loved like that, and I’ve never been loved like that since.  Sometimes that worries me.

Dear neighbors who live above me: My living room shakes every time you have sex, I mean literally shakes.  FYI, guy who’s making it shake, it’s not a race; enjoy the journey.  Don’t make me come up there and give you tips.

Dear headquarters of the religion I used to belong to: Leaving you was the hardest decision I’ve ever made.  I don’t hate you; you’ll always be part of me.  But, three years later, I’ve never been happier.

And dear you, Wales, Washington, Virginia, Australia, San Francisco, New York, Arizona, Utah, Connecticut, the UK (etc.) – thanks for stopping by.  I’ll miss you.

Love,
Karen

P.S. Write each other back, ‘kay?

P.P.S.  All the names I used in here, I made them up.  Your secret is safe with me (and the other six people who read your letter).

LTEO in sum:

The many different ways you asked each other to write back:

  • I hope that you will write me back despite the facts that I am young and self-involved and not great at letter writing.  Because the potential payoff is that we become friends which is almost magic.
  • Maybe I’ll hear from strangers.  Advice? Ideas?  Thanks for listening.  Let’s keep in touch.
  • Please feel welcome to write – I cannot overstress the pleasure of giving and receiving mail, especially from strangers.
  • If you care to write another letter, please drop me a few lines.
  • I’d love to hear back from you, and I promise I’ll write back.
  • Thanks for listening / reading and feel free to write back if you want.
  • I would be delighted to hear back from you!
  • I hope that you enjoyed my story, and I would love to hear back from you, should you be so inspired.
  • You should write me back and tell me some things.
  • You fascinate me.  I can’t wait to hear all about it.
  • I really would like you to write me back, so I guess I should try to be enticing in that regard
  • Write to me. We can say whatever we want to.  It will be fun.

 

Your uncertainty about your letter:

  • I feel self-conscious writing this letter, not knowing you at all.
  • I’m sorry if my letter may not have been as interesting as you had hoped.
  • I’m concerned that the anonymous reader of this letter has already checked out because of my yuppie drinking habits.
  • I’m writing a letter to strangers… and I feel pressure to be creative, witty, intelligent and engaging.
  • The above was a digression that I now question including as I’m not sure it was even that interesting to me.
  • I’ll admit that part of me is nervous about what exactly to write to relative strangers.
  • I am self-conscious enough to feel a bit anxious about being mocked by you; I hope you don’t do that.

 

A few ways you opened your letters:

  • Hello Bob or Brigitte or Henry or Sally
  • Dear thoughtful reader
  • Dear stranger and sharer of internal abyss
  • Hi reader
  • Dear Rumpus Letter Reader
  • Dear… um… you
  • Dear you
  • Dearest You
  • Hello Rumpus Club Members
  • Hi
  • Dear LTEO subscribers
  • Hey Dude Lady Dog
  • Dear fellow Letters in the Mail participant
  • Dear fellow earthling
  • Dear mysterious stranger
  • Well hi there!
  • Hello out there to somebody
  • Dear Fellow Rumpusite

 

A few ways you closed them:

  • Be well
  • Yours
  • Yours very truly
  • Stay busy and consume bitter stuff
  • Sincerely
  • I’ll close by saying I don’t mind weirdos, just no psychopathic ones
  • Thank you for reading
  • I will say good night now, dear person
  • It is nice to make your acquaintance
  • Sincerest warm regards to you and your loved ones
  • Mwah!
  • Warmth across the miles
  • Yours ‘til Niagara Falls
  • Yours in curiosity
  • With love and respect
  • Yours in the midwest
  • Amor Fati
  • xo

Karen lives, writes, and produces radio in New York. More from this author →