Is life 140 characters?

I am not the first to draw analogies between absurdities of our life perfectly captured into 140 characters at a time – or heaven forbid even less! Nor will this piece be the last. But for inspiration I draw upon life altering, multidimensional, handwritten letters that changed my life.

Thankfully I habitually hoarded letters I received throughout this life of mine. Some are not fit to reproduce in this or any space, but some, many in fact will be published – with any luck – in my completed memoir – Us versus Us, An intimate journey of letters and walls. As I sifted through these relics and windows into my past, one of the first revelations that emerged to me is that sadly, the art of letter writing, for many, is long gone. One can go on indefinitely about today’s instant communications, our rushed daily lives or the apparent pandemic of attention deficit disorder that has afflicted many of us, but it much more than that. A written letter is a temporary but very protracted one-way dialogue alone in our own thoughts. Oh yes, the written letter is intended for one specific individual on a topic or subject of mutual interest. It can also be the continuation from the previous correspondence, but as one writes these letters, it is a wonderful solitude of self-communication that is not part of today’s reality. Certainly, there is no instant gratification like a retweet on Twitter or that soon-to-be relic – email. Yet the response to the letter may take weeks to come full circle – who has that patience today? I would suggest, should you consider my words and begin composing a letter to someone – NOT to email the letter. I recall ever so fondly, the anticipation of wondering when the intended recipient received my letter, what did he or she think as they read my written words, I even romanticized about the possible moment when it was being read.   And then days later, I longed to return home after work to retrieve the daily mail to see if another letter had arrived. Those are wonderful memories …

Let’s slow down here and truly get into the moment of what it is like to write a letter. It begins now. I sit down even putting pen to paper and I start. Twenty minutes goes by and I decide to make myself a cup of coffee. Before I return to the letter the phone rings and my mother is having an issue that warrants my immediate attention. It is 3pm and time for my yoga class. By 8pm I return to my letter. I get hungry and have a late night snack returning right away to my letter – but tiredness overwhelms me and in short order I am off to bed. We’ll finish this letter tomorrow. Tomorrow comes and goes, sometimes thirty or fifty tomorrows come and go and until finally the letter is completed. I buy a stamp from the local post office and mail it off to my friend. This is not a hypothetical story. Okay, I was not doing yoga thirty years ago, hadn’t even heard of it back then, but many of the letters that I wrote and received from my friend Frank, who I met behind the Berlin Wall in 1983 were composed exactly like that. There was no instant send key in the 80’s. Life was slower – and it was wonderful. But during all that time writing those letters, it was me alone with my uninterrupted thoughts processing word to word – sentence to sentence – like the loneliness of any writer. As much as I was communicating with Frank, it was a dialogue with myself. There was no immediate feedback from Frank to my concerns on the new Soviet leader Gorbachev – and his viability as leader of the USSR, or my thoughts on the Soviet boycott of the 1984 LA Olympics, or on the Chernobyl nuclear accident of 1986. Not to mention the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989. I also had to deliberate to myself – in my letter of consolation to Frank upon the breakup of a promising relationship with his girlfriend – without any competing or brooding dialogue with him. Was I saying something insensitive? Was I being inadvertently flippant or unreasonable? Well, Frank would have to endure several pages of that tripe and I – would have to wait weeks to learn of his interpretation of my very well intended comments.

140 characters at a time is not life – life and my thoughts are much more than 140 characters at a time. Next week I will continue this piece and explain how these written letters changed my life …

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