The Other Inbox
by MIA NGUYEN
The act of writing a letter, or even receiving one in the mail, has become almost obsolete in an age where technology has taken over the majority of our precious time. These last years I found myself being drained from the lack of romanticism in receiving empty e-mails and text messages. I wanted something to hold onto.
In 2011 I started exchanging handwritten letters with strangers online, incubating long distance friendships. The intimate exchange of handwritten letters lets me connect authentically and compassionately with others on a level to which we are no longer accustomed.
Location: Preston, England
This letter will take some explaining... As you know, I wrote this letter originally some months ago – how time flies! – but it was lost in the transcontinental mailing system. I'm hoping for better luck this time.
This was the original letter I sent. I am glad I make drafts!
"I received your letter an hour before writing the first draft – I wrote drafts! –but this likely won't be sent out before I return from Devon because it is a long way to the post office, now that my local one has been shut down for refurbishment.
As you can probably can probably tell, I am trying out a new letter hand – I decided I should at least be proud of the handwriting in these things, if not the content!
It pains me to hear your persistent downing, and I so wish I could help in some capacity other than the written word, so marvelous, as it is... I guess that is our luck!
The perfume is sublime, honestly. I will have to badger my girlfriends to buy it! I now love three girls' perfumes: Ghost Deep Night, that Vera Wang one, and one I still do not know the name of...
I'm writing outside and it is still not cool at 9:30 in the morning and I can hear magpies – which are terribly ugly-sounding birds and very loud.
I do indeed like your little sketches and doodles. Would the time machine you're suggesting double up as a teleporter? Because otherwise if you travel back too far then you'd just end up in the pre-1600's in America, which wasn't so hip and happening!
Your Faithful Friend,
and Kind Stranger,
P.S. I am listening to Beach House and drinking coffee and thinking only of you while I was writing this.
P.S.S.S. I so hope you are well by the time you read this and I wish you all the luck and happiness in the world.
Location: Boston, MA
As you may have guessed, I've been running around like a mad woman because of my new position as editor of the literary magazine. Regardless, this semester has been quite rewarding.
I've been reading a lot more lately, particularly my assigned books from feminist philosophy class – very, very enriching. Even now, one Valentine's eve – I'm beginning to actually enjoy the freedom of the single world. It's taken me a while to get to this point, but do you remember the man from Providence named Jagdish? The one who likes the long, "delicious" hugs? Yeah, I've taken a lot of what he said to heart – sometimes you really just need to hug yourself.
So...I've taken this opportunity to more or less date myself. Anyway, I apologize for the somewhat late response; I completely forgot to check my mailbox for a good two weeks. But I had a lovely, unexpected surprise when I checked it twenty minutes ago – a perfect addition to Valentine's Day; there's nothing more poetic than sharing your handwriting the good, old fashioned way with a good, old friend.
I hope you're still doing well and I also hope by this point you've painted some lovely pieces with your new canvas and paint. Let's make a habit of corresponding with each other, this way of enjoying a long-distance friendship that I've never experienced before. By the way – THAT OFFER IS STILL VALID – PLEASE COME VISIT ME! I'd love to cook dinner with you, I think that would be so much fun. Enjoy your night and I hope to see you soon!
Location: Preston, England
A few things have changed since then, as you know. I'm not writing outside for a start, and I have moved into my university room for the first time. I have had a different room every year for four years. I have grown accustomed to moving around, I suppose. I don't know how I am going to feel about returning to Birmingham next year and staying there. For the formidable future, at least. Moving around has given me a sense of stability. Does that make sense? Probably not...
I have changed my letter hand since then, and I am still not happy with it, but perhaps I just need some time to get used to it. I hope that is the case; it is getting out of hand!
We have fallen apart a little, as you said we would, sadly. It was one time I truly hoped you were not right. I won't let this ruin our friendship, or whatever this is, for you are an amazing person and I feel I need you in my life. Is that coming on too strong? Ah well, probably but I mean every word.
This has taken me a very long time to write, and I am going to stop and send it before I decide I want to change my handwriting again!
I do this finds you well, I hope for nothing more than that! If it takes me a long time to reply it is because I have run completely out of money and am starving through pride of not wanting to borrow any from my parents.
and with love,
Location: Providence, Rhode Island
I am writing this to you in the middle of the Blizzard of 2013. Hopefully we both make it through unscathed. I have to help out with shoveling for my girlfriend's business because they plow and shovel during snow storms. I am not looking forward to it. I wish I could just stay in and watch movies and drink hot chocolate. One of my favorite things about big snowstorms is that they remind me of being a little kid and having to just stay inside for the day. I'll be making $20/hr though so at least there's that.
I am proud to announce to you that I have accepted a job offer! The position that I was hired for is an Energy Advisor, I'll be going to people's homes and determining where they are losing energy and how they can be more efficient with the energy they are using. I start training on February 18th so my days of unemployment are coming to an end. It's in Boston so for now I'll be commuting, but I'm hoping to move out there. I'm excited to start and get my life going!
Are you pumped for the summer and California? It's going to be great! Sorry this is short. For some reason ideas of things to write aren't coming to me today. I mainly just wanted to tell you about the new job. Hope school is going well!
Location: New York, New York
Someone ordered green paper by mistake at work – how much are your eyes hurting right now? It was neat to get a letter. The mail I get is mainly postcards from horrifyingly shitty illustrators, work so bad it calls into question their sanity. When I was in high school I had many pen pals. I was big into ska and punk music, and read a lot of zines and had for flung friends with the same interests, but very few real live humans in my life with my tastes. You know…high school.
My current favorite album/musician are Dirty Projectors, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Fiona Apple. I listen to all of them incessantly. I love pop music, too – I sing karaoke every single Friday, and we do puite a lot of Katy Perry and 90s alternative rock. My all time favorites are definitely The Beatles, particularly Abbey Road. How about you?
Anyhow – tell me what your major is and what your favorite crappy movie is and a thing you are great at cooking.
Location: Los Angeles, California
Thank you so much for the Cliff bars! I look forward to my next adventure in anticipation of trying out the blueberry crunch in a desperate moment of nutrition. By the way, I couldn't be happier about writing letters as a form of communication. Even though it is a dead, or dying, form of correspondence, it is a great exercise for training the brain to write in an entirely different circumstance. Already having written what I just have, I immediately have a need to go back, change words, or strengthen sentence structure. Naturally, this comes from being too familiarized with word documents, Twitter, e-mails and other formats where we can edit and re-edit everything we write. Admittedly, there is a tremendous amount of anxiety that I am experiencing without being able to change things up, but for now I will continue with romanticizing the liberties of irreversible expression like the giddy tool that I can be sometimes. Having just hyphenated "romanticizing" brought me back to my grade school days and now I am already relishing the benefits of making this decision to write! Granted, I do journal my life's progress on a weekly basis, but writing in a journal is very dissimilar. Do you journal? It's a great way to track your trajectory.
So anyway I do miss the East Coast, regardless of how cold it might be over there right now. I grew up in Haworth, NJ, a very small suburban town with not much to do. So when I moved to Boston when I was 18 you can imagine how happy I was to be in an active setting with a lot going on around me.
Sorry to hear about your eczema, but it seems like you have everything under control. As I'm sure you are aware, it is problems such as these that can lead you to discover new things unexpectedly. It also teaches you, new things. That keeps you young. Well, that and kombucha! Favorite flavor? Mine's ginger. Apparently you can brew your own, which I want to learn, because otherwise it's so expensive. But getting back to what I was saying, I'm glad your perspective has changed on health. Having what I thought to be crippling anxiety only helped me get better as a person and learned new things once I was willing to take on the challenge. I had to change the way I think and act and in doing so learned some very interesting ways to help improve brain functionality. Therefore, I work regularly at trying to repress any anxiety by challenging my brain to do new things. Adventuring is only one of many, exercise is another. I've ran half-marathons, completed triathlons, and now I'm trying to compete and finish a half iron-man in July. They're a lot of fun, good luck with your race come March!
You seem like a very interesting person to get to know. That's why I wanted to reach out to you. I'm glad I did. I really enjoy reading myself, but I haven't read Bukowski yet. Many people I know have recommended him so I have added his books to my reading list. Any recommendations? My favorite author is Douglas Adams, he has had the most impact on my writing style and even on the way I think. Others include George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut, and the comedic styles of Larry David and Jon Stewart. I also enjoy non-fiction. One book I became fascinated by was this one called Imagine by Jonah Lehrer; which details everything that makes someone a creative person. Great read.
I feel as though we've only just scratched the surface and that there's so much more to delve into, but I will save that for later. Tell me, what do you do for fun? What are your passions? What are your inspirations? Maybe even your flaws?
Looking forward to your next letter, and please take your time if there are other things you have to do. I would even prefer if these letters show up randomly and unexpectedly. All the best.
Mia Nguyen is the senior contributor to This Recording. She is a writer living in Rhode Island. She last wrote in these pages about her ex-boyfriend. You can find her twitter here and her website here, and her instagram here.
Photographs by the author.
"Woe Is You" - Hunter & Wolfe (mp3)
"Somebody New" - Hunter & Wolfe (mp3)