Sunday, June 29, 2008

Return to sender

Even though it may seem crazy, I check my mailbox everyday. Why? Because I am one of those impatient people when it comes to letters. If I ever get a letter I open it right away and get carried away while reading it. I suppose it could be called - obsession, but for me it is normal, it has been that way since I received my first letter at the age of 11. This will seem quite bizarre because today I found a bright pink envelope in my mailbox, the bizarre part is - it's Sunday today, Lithuanian post people are awfully lazy because they never deliver any recorded mail or parcels, however they faithfully deliver all the bills, I wish it was the other way round... Anyway the bright pink envelope had a very familiar handwriting on it, two pretty well chosen stamps and another stamp, saying: "Returned to sender; Insufficient address". It was my own handwriting, my own envelope and my own carefully chosen stamps exactly a month ago on the 29th of May. The letter was sent to Portland to my only friend in America - B. I am very passionate not only about receiving letters but also about sending them. I constantly hunt for cute envelopes, pretty stamps, nice paper and if I don't have any, I'll write the letter on simple white, but always will try to make an effort.
This is the second time I was let down by the postal service. Months ago, before B's birthday I sent her a parcel, containing two French books in French, along with a Spanish fan and a carefully written letter, she never received it, but it never came back to me. This pink creature on my desk is like a painful reminder of my failure to send a letter to B on time before she goes to Paris, because that was the original intention, because it is a stepping stone, the last letter before the new B will come back from Paris, but the old B will never read this carefully written letter, because the old B will never come back. I am not sorry about the old B, because the new B will be so much happier, but I simply missed this important meaningful moment. It can never be brought back to me, and I suppose, I'll just have to keep this awkward reminder in it's bright pink colour until I have the balls to give it to B again. I'm sorry B, I flopped, yet again.

Another item on my desk, near that bright pink guilt is a book I finished reading few hours ago. I picked up this book in the library even though I never heard of the author. The title (24 hours from woman's life) was captivating, and I can proudly say the stories that were in this great book were just as captivating as the title.
The book consisted of nine short stories, mostly about women, written by a man. I love the way good men writers are capable of expressing the woman's femininity in their writing. No woman, and I mean no woman, can ever describe the simple beauty of a very intensely feminine creature the same way as a man, because she's a woman and she is blind to it.

I picked up this book because I need to improve my Lithuanian writing skills. I have been a very good student at school, but since concentrating all my efforts on perfecting my English I neglected my own mother tongue. Mostly I don't enjoy reading books that were translated into Lithuanian, the translation always appears to be poor, never expressing the riches of the language. The books that were originally written in Lithuanian often leave very little to be desired, the classics and masterpieces that were brilliant, have been read, and what is left - is not good enough for my narrow minded challenging view, that always looks for something more than just a plain story. I like stories that are woven from many different threads into a beautiful thoroughly complicated carpet not simple black letters on white paper. I need something that leaves me wondering for hours, that makes me think about it, even after months have passed since I read it. This book was just that, filled with expressions in English, Latin, French; pictures from all around the world, including, France, Switzerland, Italy, India and other places that I've never seen. The feel of the stories is so genuine, that it seems, like you could reach out and actually touch the characters. Absolutely amazing read by this Austrian author. If you ever come across a book with the title mentioned above, grab it, without thinking twice!

Yet another item resting on my desk, along with that envelope and a borrowed book is an old National Geographic journal, Volume 177 no 6. The cover picture to the left is not the one, as I could not find the one I was looking for. This is a very special item, a mixture of the old days of my life and the current pace.
You see when I was about 12-14 years old, I had this crazy passion about these journals, that could be found in an old books shop in Kaunas old town. The shop has long gone, and probably has been converted into a cafe, but I still remember spending hours digging through those journals trying to choose one that I really wanted. I used to save all week my lunch money going without food just to buy one journal. And I'd dig and dig until I'd find the one I really wanted, the one I wanted enough to go hungry all week for.
The times have changed, since then I have traveled a bit and learned a couple of languages and this time I walked into this gorgeous old books shop to look for an English grammar. While I did not find what I was looking for, I found a mountain of old National Geographic journals, stacked as if no one needed them. My heart jumped, as I was getting ready to leave, I found my self turning around and heading towards that pile of journals, I felt myself yet again dig through the journals as if I haven't eaten all week just to have one.
I had enough money to buy five, six or even ten of them. The money that was supposed to buy that grammar book I really needed. However I did not want to buy five or six of those journals, I wanted to dig and find the one I really wanted, the one, that would tell me the stories of the places I've never seen and make my eyes hurt from looking at the photographs.
I dug for 20 minutes and found the one I wanted. Some feeling of nostalgia drifted through my heart when I went to the till to pay for the journal, I knew I'll be coming back next week and the week after. It is strange, that so many things have changed about me, including the person that I am today compared to that little awkward gray mouse digging through that pile in the old home town, but still I was searching as intently as in those days, not making my mind up which one to take. I found the child in me, the girl I hated for so many years, come alive in all it's beauty and sincerity. She was no longer awkward, and her hands confidently moved the journals, she knew she had money in her purse, she knew that there aren't any kids outside that shop waiting to make fun of her, she was simply to come back to life for a few moments, and then die off slowly on the way back home. She now awakens, every time I pick up that journal and start reading about the old civilizations of South America, or the people of Dominica. She's there, still the same and yet, so very different.


Richard said...

I completely understand about the letters. I used to write long letters (and good ones, too, I think). I could hardly wait for the response. Some penpals were better than others at responding. The worst responders tended to be friends. When I moved from Montreal to Toronto, I wrote frequently to my friends back in Montreal, but ... the slowness of their replies, the lack of passion in the writing left much to be desired.

I know all about agonizing of selecting everything so it was just perfect. I used to decorate my envelopes with stickers. I would get tiny stickers and use up a whole bunch on the envelope - arranging then artistically (I thought) - my mother used to tell me that one would have been sufficient and a dozen or so was overkill. My main problem was trying to find new designs after a while.

I used to read each letter several times, enjoying anew each time.

Those days are behind me now. I simply don't have the time to wrote letters anymore (I used to spend a day on each letter) and, well, one by one, I have lost touch with my penpals. Only one remains and we exchange e-mails nowadays - they are much briefer than letters, but more frequent.

I also understand the books / magazine / journal thing. I loved the National Geographic. I always found the stories they told fascinating. However, as I have gotten older, I also look at them with a more jaundiced eye. I see them less as revealing what is there and more as a distorted view of the world - biased and prejudiced through the eyes of the reporter / editor - showing us what they want us to see, telling us what they want us to hear.

I keep every book, every magazine I buy (although, I did get rid of a bunch of Byte magazines about 16/17 years ago because they were dated and not relevant).

I hope you can continue to relive the passion and enthusiasm of your childhood through the browsing and purchase of selected copies of The National Geographic.

b said...

Oh, Carra... this post and your comment on my blog absolutely brightened everything in my world and so brilliantly! I too am sorry that I did not receive this beautiful letter. But all that you say in this post and the comment on my blog... they too are moments and sentiments with absolute perfect timing. Words could never express just how grateful I am for the kindness and friendship you continue to show me.

And the image of you digging through books takes me back to our shared adventure in Paris back in 2006 at Mona Lisait. I will forever cherish that time with you!

Thank you for sending me the letter. I may not have received that beautiful physical piece of mail but I have received your sentiments so beautifully and so fully!


carra said...

Richard I totally understand what you're talking about when it comes to letters, yes writing the really good letters takes a lot of time and effort and when you get a lousy reply in return you don't feel appreciated. I still try to find time for the most important people whom I can not call, e-mails are great but there is that closeness that touch missing.

As for the journals, books et cetera, I could never throw away a book, at worst I could give it away, and when I do invest in a book I am very picky I know exactly what I want. I will never buy a book I am not sure of, but once I bought it, it stays with me for life.

As for flaws in National Geographic, you're absolutely right, but you see, to get what you are asking for you need to get your arse up and actually go there!

B I am glad I really am, that my post and the comment had such a beautiful effect on you. Never mind the letter better supply me with the address of where you will be staying so I can send a new letter right away!

Oh that amazing place Mona Lisait I could go to Paris just to go to that shop, it's an amazing place and I could spend hours upon hours with you there... I may need a postcard from you as a confirmation that you're actually in Paris again living your dream, so it's is my wish for today B please do live your dream fully!

Richard said...

e-mail certainly does not compare with my memories of letter writing. On the other hand, I just don't have the time to devote to writing long letters any more. e-mail also more frequent communication and usually fast turn around time (yes, I suppose I could pick up the phone and call, but ...)

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