I am one of those few who do not advertise, at least, not in the way some people do and certainly not with the intention of selling anything; be it myself or anything else. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why I do not do more than hint at the vast number of years I have been on this planet, and the countless decades I have spent travelling, learning, and shaking my head at the small-mindedness of some of our fellow inhabitants. I do not hide my age, as such, but tend to work around it since, as I am sure you appreciate, there are many ageists out there, and anyone who is a few months older than a preconceived upper (or lower) limit is not going to get the time of day, let alone the investment of time, energy, pen, paper and a stamp each written letter requires. Suffice to say I am older than you, and considerably older than many of the people I write to who, not knowing this age difference, often write back to me with a certain level of freedom they would not normally show towards an elder. The only time I am inclined to warn of the age difference is when writing to someone who is new to this wonderful world of letter writing, who is beginning, in teenage years, to discover that there is a real world outside of the cell phone, away from Mama’s apron strings and the safe haven of the homely hearth. And my inclinations tend to hit the mark, sadly, as those I warn, those who are beginning this journey, avoid replying.
Age, though, is a thing which cannot be avoided even though few seem prepared to accept it. There are many other things people should concentrate on, as far as personal matters go, and advertising something that cannot be offered, making a claim which cannot be lived up to, is definitely on my list of Santa’s Naughty Things. I do not mind that people wish to push themselves, there is a lot of competition out there, but the wrangling of the English language as if it were an untrained horse out on the prairie makes my skin crawl. People should, if possible, be themselves because that is what we love about them, and not the attempt to appear better than they are, and invariably get caught out miserably in their efforts, by taking a bigger dictionary, or even a thesaurus, to write themselves up.
Wisdom and knowledge are two very distinct things, the one leading to the other if properly interpreted and lived as truth. Not everyone is capable of finding wisdom, but we all gather knowledge throughout our entire lives – a great deal of it absolutely useless in polite company – and sometimes that released hint of knowledge can be used to bring someone out, to inspire them and, with this coming out, create a lasting, wonderful relationship of like minds exploring the world each in their own way. Wisdom is something very few obtain, no matter how old they may be, so it is fair when you say it might just as well be encompassed by the posterior of a person who will have the gained the knowledge of sitting postures through trial and error, and the wisdom of when to utilise this knowledge. I should warn you, while it is still early days in our correspondence, that I tend to play with language, with multiple meanings, and gain great joy in doing so much, sadly, to the pain of those who have to read my words, and often also to their detriment when they are addressed, or when someone claiming high intelligence and world knowledge fails to understand what is being said.
It is often the case that someone else knows us better than we know ourselves, and even shocks us with their insight and the revelation of things which we wouldn’t want to admit even to ourselves in the dark of night. I will admit that I skipped over the musical interests and concentrated more on the style of writing and the language used – so you made a good choice in your script writer! – otherwise I’d have been lost at Cary King, although Mike D did bring me, through the twists and turns of research, to Mary’s Danish (Don’t Crash The Car Tonight) and Concrete Blonde (God Is A Bullet) and memories of my own youth in various dives and bars around the world, listening to smaller bands who brought out some brilliant music. And it is also often the case that people who think more, people who are interested in learning and being sociable, have problems describing themselves, or draw back when asked for some detailed explanation of their beliefs and standards. Not everyone can sell themselves, sometimes it takes months, if not years, for two people to really get to know one another, and that is a good thing. If we knew all about someone within too short a period of time, what else is left?
Now you have certainly piqued my interest: most of your replies have been from college-aged women, and that surprises me. Perhaps I have a different vision, different memories, of college life and certainly of the sort of person who would seek out and write to anyone on a pen friend site. I’m not going to play it down in any form: that people are writing is wonderful and refreshing in and of itself; that what they write is also interesting, potentially inspiring, is only to be lauded. Too many people take this form of friendship as an invitation for a relationship which is both impractical and, often, impossible – if at all desired – and abuse the privileges they are given, which only leads to misery and disappointment. When younger women write to another woman then it is clearly not simply a case of some fleeting romance, instant gratification of anything similar, but a genuine interest in the person, the circumstances, the future as a friend. I, too, have experienced the instant gratification side of things, and it leaves a bad taste in the mouth – metaphorically speaking.
Society, though, as I am sure you appreciate, is moving more towards the instant and the quick than the long-term and deep. The attention span of children, we are told, is so short that they can understand an abbreviated text message on their cell phones, but have problems concocting a sentence which makes sense, let alone one which is grammatically correct. The other day, whilst enjoying a peaceful coffee and making a few notes in my journal for future letters and as memories of experiences from the day, I noticed a couple at a nearby table who were clearly on a date together. At least, a date in the modern sense of the word: they were sharing things they found while surfing on the cell phones. They were not talking to one another, as in, not as we would talk: face to face and personal. They sat close, but not so close that their cell phone access would have been restricted. They spent over an hour like this. I wonder whether there is any possibility of a future in such a relationship since, for me, there is far more involved than sharing what other people have published unless it is merely a precursor to getting to know the real person by attempting to understand their interests.
And we all have memories of fleeting relationships from our youth, I sometimes think that is what youth is meant to be: learn through a quick experience which, hopefully, will cause no one any harm. Much the same as we all have memories of events from our youth, from our time as children right through college and on to the first jobs we took. We don’t remember everything, but know that what has happened, in one way or another, has influenced our lives and turned us into what we are today. And, of course, what we now experience will bring us to be our future selves, hopefully far better and more content as well as successful, intelligent, rich and beautiful. Good, though, to have pleasant memories.
Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.
I take it this is the Viktor Frankl you mean, with his wonderful work on Existential Therapy and his book Man’s Search for Meaning, where he recounts his time in a concentration camp and the route he followed to laying the foundations for logotherapy and existential analysis. This, of course, would have been far more than a passing memory for him, and for the many others who survived and went on to lead good and fulfilling lives in freedom, and it has certainly had more than a passing effect on philosophical thinking.
Can you see anything entirely without removing yourself from the picture? There are many thoughts on this idea, which you mention, and they depend mainly on whether you are looking for something to your own benefit, or whether you are assessing a situation without the thought of profiting from it in some way. Generally, when we review our own lives we do it from the outside; that is, we take our own view and our own perspective on matters, but not necessarily the influence we have on events, into consideration. We tend to try to see how it will work out for us, and then a removal from the equation is almost impossible. However, this also means that we rarely take other people into consideration, and rarely take into account that things could go in a different direction simply because someone else has had the same idea, wishes the same for themselves. But taking yourself out is also a little like being invisible, being able to see everything without other protagonists knowing that you are there which, I sometimes feel is a wonderful, and often enlightening feeling.
I was also raised to write thank-you notes, and we had at least one letter writing session each month in school, which was useful as the bulk of us lived away from home and wouldn’t, otherwise, have thought of such things. At the same time, though, since this was a school effort, it made little real impression on anyone. Can you imagine opening yourself up to friends and family about life and your troubles, while knowing that a teacher is going to inspect your work and grade it? We were also given set formats for letter writing, which had to be followed to ensure a good grade, and such things are often useless; I am glad to have dropped them very early on. Aside from one which I do occasionally come back to and use whenever possible, but not in this letter: one subject. When answering a letter with many different facets, such as yours, it is impossible to stick to the one subject rule, or you don’t answer all the little things which need answering, which make for the pleasure of letter writing. One of the older (classic Latin, from Cicero’s time) styles of letter writing, though, used to be to take a single subject and concentrate on it exclusively. This is useful for those who are writing in a more formal atmosphere and need t concentrate their thoughts to a specific subject, but not always so when writing personal letters. I manage it now and then, but only when a subject is of such great interest that my fingers fly through the words and there is no space, or thought, for anything else.
Our letters today, or perhaps just mine, are considerably longer than they used to be. As a child I would struggle with a single page, one side, and now I find myself trying to limit the flood of words so that I don’t hit the next highest postage charge. I take great pleasure in reading letters written by the famous, by those who have gone before us, and sometimes taking their words as an inspiration for my own efforts. I have even managed, based on ideas propounded by those great writers of many centuries ago, to reply to letters – if you may call them such – which consisted of a single line, or just a ‘no time now’ comment, with several thousand words of reply through the artful use of a quotation which, in my own free manner, I have then expanded upon or, as some would say, whipped the hell out of to get several pages of text onto paper. But letter writing is one of the few creative pleasures have, so I can allow myself plenty of leeway.
As to being a ‘storehouse’ of information, this is easy to explain: I keep my eyes and ears open and am personally open to almost anything. The pleasures of reading and travelling, of attending art shows and concerts as much as taking part in formal and informal education provide a wealth of information which can often be used to enhance a letter. I am not, fortunately, such a fountain of knowledge that people avoid me in conversation, and we all know such people, I am sure, but I find the gathering of knowledge, even if it does not lead directly to a state of wisdom, fascinating. At present, as an example, I am doing a Harvard University sponsored course on Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice concentrating on Shylock. Once I have finished that I am considering signing up for their American Poets course, or perhaps either Ancient or Modern Literature. Such are the things which enrich my life, and which occasionally find their way into my letters and other missives.
So, all I can say is: if you’re prepared to climb onboard for the ride, which will be fun if nothing else, be prepared for a wealth of different facets from all walks of life, all areas of education and learning and, now and then, a little humour. As to the last century and millennium references: I was born in March 1960.