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?