When I was a kid, I had to write thank-you letters to everyone who sent me presents at birthdays and Christmases. I hated it, of course. My mother wouldn’t settle for a thank-you note, no – these were letters, a full lined page at minimum. There was even an accepted format. I could do it in my sleep. These days I could throw together a template in Word and fill in the appropriate name and gift on the line, but at the time I’m sure I would have gotten in trouble for such laziness in the performance of my gratitude.
Salutation, family member! Line break.
Happy (holiday, as appropriate)! Thank you so much for the (item)!
[Insert several sentences discussing how you plan to use the item in productive, educational activities to improve your character] [Do not copy these sentences from earlier thank-you letters even if the gifts are similar – Mom will compare them to one another to make sure you weren’t lazy]
[If the gift was a giftcard, check or cash, here indicate what you plan to spend the money on. Edifying activities, crafts, books, and clothes are recommended. Do not mention candy or video games]
How was your (holiday)? Mine was great. We did [insert appropriate holiday activities. Omit mention of parental drunkenness, also omit parental rolling on carpet calling the dog a “faggot.”] I hope the weather in (family member’s hometown) has been nice.
I have been doing [good/okay/my best] in school and at home. [Do not overstate your good behavior. Describe all bad behavior in full. Mom will correct your letter with tales of your most hilarious mistakes if she feels you’re painting too flattering a picture of yourself]
Thank you again for the (item/giftcard/check). I hope you and (spouse/child/corgi hunting pack) are doing great.
One of these to everyone who sent a gift. Usually I had a list of names, and usually I’d get through about half of it in the week following the holiday, and forget about the rest. Next holiday comes… another list.
These days, nobody writes letters except one time-lost friend, another changeling bastard like me dropped into the wrong century. She still writes to me. We’ve gone back and forth on that, and I still feel pretty bad about how it’s shaken out. She writes these gorgeous letters, dark garnet ink on creamy paper, sealed with wax. All letters should look like this – I’d like my electric bill much better if it came on this lovely paper. She writes her thoughts, her feelings, the ones she finds hard to express out loud. I feel honored and so grateful that she shares these things with me, but when it comes time to answer her, I put it off and put it off till another letter comes and now I have two to catch up on. I did this with my journal in high school too – writing on any kind of deadline shuts me down instantly, as I feel the minutes ticking by and stacking up, undocumented. Give me a clock to watch, and I will watch it till the sun explodes, anxiously waiting for the moment that “late” turns into “too late.”
At this point, my longsuffering friend has accepted that I won’t write her back, even if I honestly and sincerely promised that I would, and I can spread out into the familiar comfort of lowered expectations. Once you’ve come to terms with being a perpetual disappointment to your loved ones, everything becomes much easier. Imagine my disgust with myself when I realized, in a creeping doom sort of way, that in spite of all of the above… I am really comfortable writing letters.
Sitting, staring at the blank page like y’do, my first instinct is to write “Dear…” It just feels easy. I have never been able to talk about myself – oh, I can talk, believe you me, but it won’t tell you a goddamn thing about what I’m really feeling. Even when asked about myself, I dodge the scrutiny. With strangers, I avoid the question. It’s easy; nobody really wants to know how you are, it’s just a conversational reflex. With people I know, I tell a story. Like I’m doing here, with you. “This happened when I was young. This when I was a little older. See the through-line? See the chain of causality? This is why I am the way I am.” But it’s a story, no closer to the truth than any other story I could tell about the same events.
To put something into words is to immediately begin to obscure it with words. How I choose to explain myself affects how you see me, even if the data points of what I say remain the same. And it seems like the way I’m most comfortable being truly honest is an epistolary format. It feels hypocritical because I’m so unwilling to write a goddamn letter to anyone who’s ever asked me for one… but I’ve never been able to do what I was asked. The imp of the perverse has always held the helm in my head.
So what’s all this babbling for, then? To explain that I want to explain myself. I want to be honest with you, to tell you real stories sometimes as well as stories about robots and drugs and giant bugs. And I think the best way for me to do that is to write you the occasional letter. I was wondering what you’d like me to call you. If you think of anything, let me know, will you? In the comments or whatever.
Anyway, I hope your May has been [warm/temperate/cool] and your [spouse/child/animal/intestinal parasite] is doing great. I’ll write you again later.