Writing to Strangers

I Just wrote a letter to a stranger, but she wrote to me first.

I joined something called, “Letters in the Mail,” a few months ago. For only five dollars a month, I get handwritten letters ( xeroxed handwritten letters) from strangers every month. I think I get 3 or 4, but I haven’t been keeping track. These letters come to me in a large white envelope with a San Francisco return address, cause that’s where these letters  from all over the country ( for 5 bucks more, you can receive international letters )  get stuffed into these  big white envelopes. I’m not even sure how I learned about Stephen Elliot, the writer and movie maker. He’s the man who started The Rumpus, the online magazine chock full of  all sorts of writers ranting and confessing and advising and basically tearing off their skin and exposing their bloody innards for all to read. Maybe it was after I read Wild by Cheryl Strayed. I wanted to know more about this woman who penned the pages of my favorite book of the summer,  so I googled her and learned  that she wrote the popular column Dear Sugar for The Rumpus, which led to me join The Rumpus’ Letters in the Mail.  I’m pretty sure that’s how it happened. In the beginning we were invited to write a letter that was then sent to five or six strangers.  I never received a reply. I replied to one of the five or six I received, but she never wrote back. I don’t think my letter was that good. It was bland, I was just gettin cooking with it, and then I ran out of time. My mind was too cluttered, not enough space to straighten out my thoughts. I’m sure I sounded like a madwoman who doesn’t know she’s mad. That’s the maddest kind of mad.

Now I get letters from people Stephen selects to write these letters each month…I think that’s how it works. The letters are always random and always worth reading, and the letter writers usually do some hand drawn illustrations, which I like lots. These letters usually hang around for a while before I get to reading them, I usually read them while I’m lounging on my bed either pre-nap or post-nap. I keep them on my nightstand with my book of the week or of the day, depending on my mind’s hunger and fickleness. The one I just responded to was about the author’s creepy dads. She shared her story of the unsavory male animals that raised her, and then she asked us to share stories of our own creepy xy-chromosomed caregivers. The letter writers always invite you to write back, and they leave their addresses for a reply.  It’s like having a pen pal, remember pen pals?  This person is a stranger, so you can say whatever the hell you want without fear of ….I dunno, whatever you might worry about if you told the whole truth, and nothing but. It can be a confessional of sorts. Cathartic and shit.

So after I walked Zeb and pressed some french roast, I sat down and wrote about my mom’s second husband, the professional astrologer who used to have us all sit around in the living room once a week for a family meeting. We were instructed to share our feelings with each other while  we were naked. Yes, we sat on brown shag carpet in our birthday suits and expressed ourselves without the thick barrier of clothing. We were baring our souls while sitting on shag… bare-assed. Not that I had anything insightful to say at the age of four, I just giggled and pointed at my brother’s you-know-what. Then I wrote about my biological father, Demosthenes. I wrote about his 3 tattoos and his 5 wives, his motorcycle, red pistachios, dunkin donuts, and my  pre-adolescent baptism meant to save me from hell.  I wrote four pages front and back. I wrote so hard, I forgot about the time and my coffee got cold. I wrote until I had a lump in my throat warning me that if I went any further I’d be wasting my emotion on a letter and not on the memoir. I’d blow my emotional wad on this letter to a stranger instead of saving it for the pages of my imaginary book. I stopped writing when I realized I could go on forever, and forever is too long to write to strangers, because I have laundry to do and email’s to answer and a body to stretch, so I stopped and I put my letter in an envelope and I put a stamp on the envelope and I addressed the envelope, and now the envelope is in the mailbox. My words will soon be on their way to be read by the mind of a stranger who inspired this morning’s writing.

I highly recommend writing to strangers….

Try it!  Go here to sign up:  therumpus.net

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