Forecast for the Future

"Every individual without exception bears a potential writer within himself. The reason is that everyone has trouble accepting the fact that he will disappear unheard of and unnoticed in an indifferent universe, and everyone wants to make himself into a universe of words before it's too late. 

Once the writer in every individual comes to life (and that time is not that far off), we are in for an age of universal deafness and lack of understanding."

- Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Friday, January 4, 2008

Week 0, Jan. 1 - Jan. 5: Write a Letter to Someone I Haven't Spoken to in 2+ Years

Ok, here we go, Week 0--but before you read this, scroll down and make sure to read The Hyperliving Manifesto if you haven't already.


Anyone who's ever met me would probably describe me as a "people person." This doesn't necessarily mean that I'm always nice to people or that I always get along with them, but I certainly like meeting and talking to them, having conversations and seeing where things go. I've met a lot of interesting people in my short life, and I feel pretty good about the fascinating times I've had with most of them.

Unfortunately, one of the things I'm not always so good at is keeping up with those people after they leave the immediacy of my life. Sometimes I'm not even good about keeping up with them when they're still in my life. It's a constant battle that I face, particularly when the person has connected with me in some powerful way--it's almost like the more meaningful our connection seems, the harder it is for me to stay in touch once they aren't right there. Why is this exactly? I would speculate that it has a little to do with me wanting to maintain some kind of twisted justice to the heights of "what we could have": that is, I know how good things could feel if we are in the right scenario to communicate with each other, and something inside me doesn't like the idea of having less than that if we're not in the right scenario. Additionally, really connecting with someone can be somewhat exhausting, and so sometimes it seems daunting to try and continue that after it becomes less convenient to keep up.

Mostly though, these are all excuses: I can choose to stay in touch with someone or not. It's pretty easy. A simple email or letter sent within a semi-regular timeframe is usually enough to remind someone that you're out there and that you care. Extended silences usually suggest the opposite. Obviously you can't stay in touch with everyone forever (and sometimes people chose to move on from you whether or not you want them to), but I feel disappointed in myself that I've let some of the great people of the world slip away out of fear and neglect.

The Week 0 Task: Write a Letter to Someone I Haven't Spoken to in 2+ Years

And so, I begin my hyperliving project with some letter writing, to try and reconnect with some of those people who've become lost to me.

Since this first week isn't a full week (hence "Week 0") and i'm also still involved in trying to get the website off the ground, I've decided to not hold myself to one-a-day, but rather to just try and get seven letters out by next Tuesday (though Week 1 will officially begin on Sunday). Also I've decided that these letters must be hand-written and snail mailed. Email seems to easy and anyway, it's pretty neat to get a hand-written note in the mail that isn't a Christmas card. Below are the first two letters and I'm currently working on three more.

Letter 1, T.K., CTY Instructor:

Letter 2, A.A., CTY Instructor:

Choosing the addressees of these first two letters was easy. I have spent a lot of my life being involved in and caring about education: even though I always hated schoolwork, I always loved school, and I tried hard to forge real relationships with classmates and teachers; and beyond that, I've also gone to the other side and been an educator myself, TAing for the Johns Hopkins CTY Program, substitute teaching, and working in my college writing center (sorry Phil B, if you're out there, that my language/writing has degraded embarrassingly down to or even below "sub-cultural standards"). The people from these worlds have meant so much to me, and yet so many of them have been lost completely.

CTY in particular is the sort of experience that lends itself to making great connections and then losing them. The experience involves people brought in from all across the country to teach intensive small-group 3 week courses where instructors meet with students three times a day from 9-8 for five days a week (plus Sunday night class). In these situations an instructor and TA have the opportunity to get incredibly close, because not only are they living in community housing but they are literally spending all day together for three weeks. I had the good fortune to work with three different excellent and interesting instructors, including two of whom I decided to write to.

Letter #1 was sent to T.K., my first CTY instructor who I worked with in summer 2002. She was a single, middle-aged woman and she took to me immediately like I was one of her children. Literally. She had two sons who lived in different places in Ontario and throughout our three weeks together she spent the entire time telling me how much she thought I'd get along with them, and generally making me feel like I'd been stolen from a womb in Canada. We drank wine, we talked Roland Barthes, we discussed the behaviors of our wonderful and crazy students, and bemoaned the way the bureaucracy of education brings us all down. It was all so wonderful and bourgeosie that I remember even my girlfriend at the time getting jealous. When it was time to go our separate ways, she mentioned repeatedly how she'd love to write me a reference to tell the world how great I am, and we exchanged contact info and I was about as sure as anything that we'd stay in touch. We didn't.

As soon as I returned my bubble of academia, I forgot about writing, I forgot about calling, and soon enough, I forgot about her entirely. In the five plus years since we last spoke, I have heard from her just once, in the form of a two-line email she sent me after finding my email address attached to a joke on the internet that says, "Jeffrey Beaumont sells life insurance to hipsters in East Williamsburg." "Jeffrey," she said, "Don't sell out to the man! You're too bright. Live for yourself, and I can tell you that doing so has nothing to do with life insurance!" It brief and hilarious, and cuter still that she was serious, but that was it.

So I wrote her. I told her about my life, I told her about my plans (hyperliving) and I told her how she had touched me and that I hoped she might let me know what she's been up and maybe figure out if we will cross paths again.

Letter #2, for A.A., also came out of CTY. She was an instructor I had worked with the following summer, in 2003, and my last with CTY. Unlike, T.K. however, A.A. was much closer in age to me--a slightly older contemporary rather than a wizened magus of life. Like T.K. though, A.A. and I hit it off well--we taught a class on pop culture together and delighted in explaining to the kids about our dear friends Walter Benjamin, Michel Foucault, and The Ghostface Killah. Signs, semiotics, and gangsta rap had never before seemed to blend so mellifluously together as they did when we stood together in the front of the room, explaining to middle schoolers how The Simpsons was one of the more culturally (and therefore intellectually) significant phenomenons of late 20th century. Each day seemed like a great success, and I looked forward to sitting down at the end of it with a cigarette and a glass of Jameson and talking with her and the other instructors about things like who was rocking their aces harder and which student presented the highest ratio of genius to craziness.

My connection with A.A. seemed deep and I felt like we had a friendship that would go far. After the program ended, we even made the effort to see each other a few times that summer and things seemed great, but then again I went back to school and she went back to work and I became conscious of the fact that she was at another level in life than I and I wasn't sure how to operate. And so again, I disappeared.

Jeffrey as CTY TA, circa Summer 2003

Writing A.A. was harder because there had been a lot more on the line and it was a lot more my fault that we had fallen out of touch. Where do you start with someone who you last left things as, "You are great and awesome, I'm excited to know you, let's be friends and talk about Kelis and South Park and our love of Frank O'Hara... but yeah, i'm just gonna go now and not answer the phone or write any emails"? Humbly, I think. Apologetically. And it made me ask, what do I want to get out of this? Do I just want her to forgive me for being a bad friend, or am I hoping that maybe we'll have reason to become friends again? Or am I just writing the letter to write it? (And I only found her mailing address on the internet anyway, so god knows whether or not she'll even get the letter.) I decided it's better not to have hopes or expectations, and to just see what happens. I feel like the letter I wrote her ended up sounding empty and away from whatever heartfelt points I had wanted to make, and it made me think about how life isn't just about "on" and "off" switched. But I'll just have to wait and see.

The other letters I've started I'll tell you about after I finish them, but they each reach different types of people I've had in my life. One thing I've been impressed about is my ease in finding reliable-seeming mailing addresses for everyone off the internet--I hadn't written to any of these people in so long that I figured I might not be able to track them down, but in the end I managed to find all seven. I feel like this is a good start.

And now I will say it: thus commences a year of hyperliving.

Stay tuned on Sunday for two more posts: The Upcoming Schedule and Manifesto, Pt II, and the breakdown of what will come during Week 1. Again, comment or email with any thoughts, suggestions, or hateful screeds you might have to me. I'd love to hear from anyone else who either read this and wants to send out some letters or even someone who's just recently attempted to reconnect with lost friends and loved ones.


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1 comment:

ezruh sellof said...

I forgot about the hawk!!

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