Monday, 15 August 2011

Black Box Recorder

On a shelf on my wall-length bookcase, among all my books, I have a box. It's matt black, two shoeboxes big, and stuffed with the detritus of my life. Polaroids, love letters, sketches, and even the 7-inch vinyl single of David Bowie's Absolute Beginners (all the way back from a stormy adolescence back in 1987).

It's a collection of paper, silver, and celluloid artefacts- wayfinding things that show me where and what I've been for the past three decades. My time capsule- the bits and pieces from the last 30 summers, that make up the shape of my heart.

I have a bonfire of old love letters. They're faded currency now, out dated as bounced cheques, but once I clutched them to my chest like answered prayers, my heart ringing like a hundred church bells. The countless handwritten ink words have carved a palimpsest on my heart.

Letters were analog to email’s digital. Something real, something you could hold in your hand, knowing the writer had held it too, days or weeks ago, somewhere far away.

They seem quaint as vinyl records and polaroids now, but letters were the everyday currency I used to stay in touch. They to’d and fro’d like paper carrier pigeons from far off places, with exotic stamps and strange post codes.

Handwriting is unique as the whorls of a finger print. Reading someone’s for the first time is a milestone in any new relationship.

Some of the envelopes hold glossy, tactile photographs, that I raise to my face and stare at, or hand-labelled mix tapes whose songs I remember, but have nowhere to play them on.

Let’s face it, no one ever sighed and clasped an email to their chest. Email’s like reading a fucking TV screen. Letters are a document, not a morse code of ones and zeros.

There's a silver ring G gave me one glorious day on the beach, way back- that day she said there were dolphins in my eyes. She’s gone - and I don’t wear it - but I like to take it out, look at it, and roll it in my fingers sometimes, to remind me someone else - and I - can love that much.

These are the most immediate. They hit like a technicolour bolt from the blue. Faces and places out of time, long since gone, and now far far away. Some of them make me smile, others make me feel like a hollow man scooped out by nostalgia, empty and homesick.

'Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth. Oh, never mind. You will not understand the power and beauty of your youth until they've faded. But trust me, in 20 years, you'll look back at photos of yourself and recall in a way you can't grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really looked.'

- Kurt Vonnegut

‘Nuff said. Do you have a box, and what's in it?


tam said...

So here's the thing. Its filing season, admin day, and I am supposed to be doing that kind of archiving (forensic accounting more like). But instead I am opening old shoe boxes, choc boxes and crusty files full of photos, love letters and old I'd cards. To bring me back to the present, I reached for phone and plugged into fb, to find this post. I guess its that kind of rainy day.

Dave said...

Yes, I have silver biscuit box filled with memorabilia. Scented love letters with effusive outpourings of gloriously delusional love; my ponytail, when my golden locks were finally shorn; a travel necklace only removed after 2 years when it gave me a terrible rash; coins and currency from travels; photos of course from the old days (so few of them, their scarcity amplifying their value); poems written late at night, then carelessly commented on by the savages of the English Department's poetry board; my wisdom teeth; birthday cards with tersely banal messages from my parents.

Shiny said...

Mine’s a 1940’s red suitcase with white piping, battered but beautiful, and filled, too, with letters, handwritten and still capable of making me laugh and cry. I miss handwritten letters. Lovely post x

Jean Pant said...

I have more than one. I have many. Sometimes, fueled only by dutch courage i open them and read/look/smell/remeber. and then I cry. One day i will brun them and never look back.