Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Part I: Successful Launch - Part II: Letters

Part I

Today is my daughter's twentieth birthday, and it seems to me that this is about the point where the anniversary of her birth becomes as much about me as it is about her. We're both adults now, so we're just equal participants in the world; I'm no longer responsible for orchestrating her experiences.

I'm sure that this is true because she is now established in her own apartment, a thousand miles away, and I can't even get her on the phone to wish her a happy birthday, so she must be independent and able to take care of herself. [Note to daughter, who will be one of the few people reading this: "Hi, Sweetie! Happy Birthday!"]

Twenty years ago, that was one hot, pregnant summer, in Hallandale, Florida. I was working at the post office, riding my bike about two miles each way. I usually went in pretty early, 6 a.m. or so, which meant I would be getting home in the hottest part of the day. Thank goodness for the small manmade lake behind our house: I would come home, throw on my bathing suit, jump in, and swim to the end and back--thereby getting my exercise and cooling off at the same time. Towards the end of the pregnancy, I could definitely sense that the baby was enjoying the swims. And after she was born, she did turn out to be a water-loving kid.

I quit work two weeks before my official due date, and then the baby was two weeks late so I had a whole month to sit around and eat nectarines--that's what I remember, and we went to the beach a lot, too. All that sitting around and eating probably had something to do with our dainty little girl coming into the world at 9 pounds 2 ounces.

Labor was long and hard -- 40 hours -- and then they kept us in the hospital for longer than normal because of some nonsense about blood sugar levels. I enjoyed the opportunity to rest, though, and the food was good. Every morning they would bring around the sheet to order the day's meals and you could check portion size--small, medium or large. I requested large portions on everything, three meals a day, and I still went home weighing 45 pounds less than I did when I went in. That's what I call a good week. Also, I spent a lot of time reading: I read Lady Chatterley's Lover, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Almost a whole week of leisure. And then, on duty 24/7 for the next two years. That was fun, too, though.

* * * *

Part II

This article about paper had me meditating about the value and meaning of handwritten letters.
My letter-writing history goes way back. I have letters that came back to me when my grandmother died, thank you letters I wrote to her from age 5 onward. In elementary school my friends and I wrote notes to each other constantly. I still have a whole pile of notes from my friend June, at my parents' house. They are an interesting window into a time long ago.

My mom recently sent me all the letters I wrote to her during my first year away at college. Hillary Clinton's college letters illustrate her journey from Republican to Democrat. Mine clearly document that I subscribed to The Militant newspaper on my very first trip to Harvard Square, and joined the Young Socialist Alliance soon after. They also record my voting record, however: straight ticket Democrat.

Here's an excerpt from a first semester letter home, looking back at a glimpse of the future:
October 30, 1976

Last night I ate dinner with Kurt Hackenburg--he's one of our R.A.'s -- maybe you remember that his letters to the freshmen were typed and Xeroxed--anyway, he had something to do at the computer center and he talked me into going there to see it. They have a deal where you can "talk" to other people who are using the system. There was a kid using a teletype terminal at his house. Kurt has "talked" to him before--he's 12 years old and is the son of one of the psychology profs here. Anyway, this may not be too clear, but we had a 3-way conversation going through the computer. It was very interesting. The way it works is that you type the message and it appears on the other 2 screens. Kurt is trying to talk me into taking a computer course. Maybe I will, but not next semester. I really want to take math, and kind of need to take biology and physics, and all these courses just don't fit into a double-major schedule. I might end up dropping the French major, but I don't know. I'll discuss it with my advisor next semester.
Aside from their historical value, I think handwritten letters are very important, now more than ever. All kinds of information comes through in a letter that you can't convey in email. The choice of paper and pen, the handwriting, the format, the pheromones--there's even DNA being transferred, and there's a heck of a lot of information in that. You might think that message doesn't get through, but who knows? As time goes on and letters become more rare, they will become more valuable. I predict I'll be writing letters until the end of my life.

3 comments:

TBG said...

Wow. You could type on a computer screen and it would show up on someone else's computer?

Way cool.

In my son's first email home, he pointed me to the website where they can keep track of the washers and dryers in the dorm laundry room.

Now that's progress.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the memories.
love,
Dad

MatthewJohnson said...
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