Friday, January 1, 2016

A Man of Letters

[Part of Think Kit by SmallBox. Today's prompt: First line. Pretend you're writing your autobiography. Give us your first line, a first chapter, or even just an image. What's the story of you? Based on a previous discussion with a friend, I twisted this prompt and imagined a future in which I was a known entity, and my letters would be collected, published, and dissected. A real 'man of letters' – an anomaly in 2015.]

I tried many times to become a man of letters, before it took. There were the various journals, construction-paper-and-staple bound in bold colors around the gray, lined, re-used pulp paper that tore easily under my pencil's eraser as a seven-year-old. Those entries were mostly rote; who did what at lunch, my after school concerns – the neighborhood crew I was running around with, or what was new at the small creek that ran through our 1960s-era subdivision.

In high school there were composition books, the black-and-white speckled covers, the inside flap penned with a thousand iterations of signing my first time. This must've seemed more pertinent in study hall than reading or writing – although there were poems of a sort interspersed with math and history notes, mostly paired couplets with seven or eight words per line, hard end rhymes, and choruses that were about as pathetic as you'd expect.

Other beginnings included the magnetic-clasped, faux-leather-bound half-size volume from Carmichael's in Louisville. This went with me on my first few full-band tours, tucked into a backpack full of unwashed clothes, peanut butter jars, and squished loaves of Aunt Millie's Honey Wheat. In fits and starts this filled up with paragraphs of floors I'd slept on, weird things that people said in the back of the van, to-do lists, directions to bars or clubs or the last homely house – pre-smartphone-era, most things I owned were fair game for jotted down, turn-by-turn instructions that ended in bold-faced, underlined addresses.

Even postcards from sojourns would often go unsent – even, embarrassingly, after they were addressed. They'd get stuck in a book purchased on the road, or like a weed poking out of a clump of receipts. And once I came home, it seemed an affront to the addressee to send the postcard stamped instead with INDIANAPOLIS IN. They'd notice, judge me (correctly) for my sloth and inability to write three sentences that basically summed up the weather, my location, and what I'd done in the past 24 hours.

In the end, it was the omnipresent, real-time connectivity imposed on me by the all-too-consuming digital world that made sitting at the table, curtains open, coffee steaming, in front of a pen and stationery – where else could one carefully compose thoughts that were meant for a single reader? Away from the screen strain, I gradually shed the filter of my online self one scribble at a time.

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