As You Like It: Ten Things I Wish

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Weren’t Replaced by Technology is the name of the link that my husband sent me last week. It was a list compiled by Michelle Guo on her personal blog, which she had pared down from Mashable’s 50 Things Replaced by Modern Technology. Guo’s list comprised the following:

Print photographs, hand write letters, make mix tapes, check a map before a road trip, send off film for photographs, remember phone numbers, make a photo album, send love letters, hand write essays, keep a personal diary.

Reading her list, being of a certain age, I sighed even as I accepted myself for the dinosaur that I have become. I still do many of the things on that list. I may have a GPS, but I still check a map in case Madame GPS dies mid journey.

The two items on that list that particularly resonated for me were the love letters and the personal diary. Though people still keep diaries — now renamed blogs, tweets or Facebook — they are no longer personal. If Jane had eggs for breakfast, the entire world knows about it. People no longer lock their feelings up with little gold diary keys. It’s a shame.

As one who has kept a diary since elementary school, I fondly remember the entire process. The first step was finding a book that was quintessentially you: mine were inevitably pink with hearts on them and included the essential little gold key, since I would have died if anyone had read what I had written. Later on I abandoned store-bought journals and bought spiral notebooks (those still exist right?) that I would cover with decorative paper.

Next was the search for the perfect pen — for me, a fountain pen. Then finally, the writing. I would always write in them at the same time every day — after everyone else in the house was asleep. Secrecy was paramount.

A few years ago I decided to look through my diaries again. They were filled with the usual things that teenage girls obsess about: boys, girl friends, tests, clothing, parental strife. Occasionally I surprised my present-self with the insights and poetry that I had written in those pages. And there were gold nuggets as well, like descriptions of dates that Steve and I had enjoyed and all our firsts — the first time we met, the first date, the first kiss — all there and all precious because here we are 46 years later, still together.

I miss the whole handwriting experience. Does anybody still pass notes in class? I suppose texting is today’s note passing, but does texting encompass the whole, heart-throbbing experience? Can I pass the note without the teacher seeing? Without any of the note-passing intermediaries reading it? Will it get to my current flame? And then the ultimate agony of watching the recipient’s reaction as he opens it: Happy? Excited? Annoyed? One simple facial expression could lift or crush. Can a text do all that?

Most of all I miss letters: Pen pals, envelopes with fascinating stamps from traveling friends, thank-you notes, miss-you notes, and best of all, love letters. No amount of emails, texts or tweets can replace pages filled with a familiar handwriting that makes your heart jump.

I consider myself an expert on letters since Shatz and I corresponded for years. When he left for college, though he only traveled as far as Boston and we spoke on the phone for expensive hours, we still wrote letters. Later on, when I moved to Israel, we wrote weekly. When Mark was killed there were times when those handwritten letters formed the single, fragile thread of my sanity. They pushed away the too dark, dangerous thoughts that threatened to overwhelm me. They were hope. We wrote reams and torrents.

I knew that we had saved those letters. We had packed them away somewhere in the attic, but I had lost track of where. I thought of them often through the years and always meant to find them to make sure they were safe. Somehow I never did — until yesterday. I climbed up and found a ratty looking box in the corner of a shelf marked letters and diary. Diary? Singular? When I opened the box I found a small, pink diary, its lock rotted, but pages intact. And letters, four stacks of letters.

They were slightly damp and I couldn’t believe they were still in one piece and legible. I sat there on the kitchen floor holding the tangible proof of our constancy and hope and wanted to read them all at once. I noticed that Shatz had numbered his letters so that will make it easier when I begin reading them again, 38 years after I had read and re-read them the first time. And then I will pack them away in a sturdier box for our daughters to read one day. This will be their handwritten legacy.

It makes me wonder, what will our children leave behind? Thanks to our new technology where everything is stored on a cloud, what record will be left of their lives and loves? Will texts and tweets be all that is left, only to melt away as the air that they already are? I wish my children written words, and drawings and photographs, or like Hamlet, their too solid flesh will melt and leave nothing behind.

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avatar Posted by on Feb 13 2013. Filed under As You Like It, Featured Content, Opinion. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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