── “The Good Old Days”
I feel that the obscure charm of this phrase is its dual nature: the warmth that reminds you of the slow world with the human touch and the emptiness of feeling that such a world has passed and will never come back. We encounter this phrase listening to an old man looking back on his tranquil and straightforward childhood, or in captions of period dramas and historical films. In such situations, what the phrase reflects is a time much before our lives started, of course. However, we have lived for about 20 years, and ‘the good old days’ also exist in the memories. Huge text messages, high-quality photos, and the hustle and bustle of the city tortured by efficiency and speed shouldn’t be everything that makes our age. Never ──.
The exchange of handwritten letters with my friends is one of the crucial elements that form ‘the good old days’ in my life. When I was little, I used to spend plenty of spare time filling white papers with paintings of imaginary girls and meaningless letters. I sometimes feel guilty that the vast amount of paper used as canvases for my works may have more or less contributed to deforestation. Also, I guess that I am second to none among my peers when it comes to the number of letters I have written (as well as the sum of stamps I’ve put on envelopes). Anyway, I’ve sent many letters to neighbors, schoolmates, and even my mother’s friend, even though I didn’t have anything in particular to tell them. There were many letters delivered to me as well. The heaviness of the large box on my shelf beside me now speaks of it.
To make brown-colored boring envelopes look as lovely as possible was one of the things I used to put my energy into at that time. In retrospect, I sure used to annoy the postmen ── the showy decoration covering both sides of the envelope, the name written with an unusual pen, and the address written in the English style with the pointless letters of ‘JAPAN’ (both the recipient and sender lived in the same neighborhood!). When I was absorbed in making smartphone-shaped letters and sending them to some of my friends, they also sent me back letters in the same style. We were little girls who weren’t allowed to have cell phones and were ignorant of the internet. The exchange of letters had magical power in creating our own world that no one could intervene in and strengthening the fort of our friendship.
My pen-pals were not limited only to Japan back then. I exchanged letters through airmail with three girls of the same age in France and the UK which we talked about our daily lives. I’ve never met them, nor seen their faces, meaning that we were total strangers, and our only connection was the exchanged addresses through the post office. It didn’t last for long, but we sent gifts and celebrated Christmas and New Year with each other. I often waited for the replies for a few months. But it was no struggle for me to wait for a single thin card, thinking of the friends overseas whose faces I couldn’t visualize. The long time thinking whether my letter had arrived safely beyond the sea, or whether she had read it properly, doubled my joy when finding a card that emits an exotic mood at the back of my mailbox.
I think that ‘a letter’ is the polar opposite of efficiency, speed, and convenience. Writing something forces us to use our brains, and pen writing makes us much more nervous than typing. We tend to be irritated when we can’t write beautiful letters, and also, we often get stuck thinking about what we should fill the awkward blank with. Mailboxes are not placed everywhere these days. Above all, the period is long from when people come up with something to tell their friends, the letters to be delivered, and finally seeing the receivers’ reaction.
Moreover, ‘letter’ is incredibly fragile compared with texts sent and received through the server. If it, unfortunately, falls out from the postman’s bag, it will never be seen by the receiver, no matter how much love you wrote it with. It is also possible to be torn by pets or get dirty with coffee on the table. Needless to say, there is no backup or recovery button in the world of letters. If the actual article should disappear, it will never return to neither the sender nor the receiver. My childhood friend in my neighborhood kept plenty of letters I gave in a paper bag. When she brought them to her garden, it was taken away by a crow, dropping some of them on a mountain. That was one of the most shocking events ever, both for her and me.
Writing by hand, putting a stamp on an envelope, walking to the mailbox, worrying about the letter’s whereabouts, and waiting for a reply… I feel all of these are like art forms, which is why I still love handwritten letters despite such a bad experience. The labor, inefficiency, inconvenience, slow flow of time, and the fluctuations in feeling in letter-writing captures my aesthetic imagination. And, I feel that these kinds of things have the power to create unexpected stories. It might be a comedy, or it might be a tragedy. But, one thing is certain: even if it’s a tragedy, it is much better compared to SNS, which can spread what you don’t really mean in a flash, creating countless tragedies.
How many people today walk to their mailboxes with the excitement of expecting new letters in the morning? Even for me, the frequency of putting letters into my box has recently dramatically decreased. Chats like “How are you doing these days?” have been conducted on screen since I got this convenient contact tool. And sadly, while writing texts, I often multitask on other windows or get disturbed by notification of a message from another friend. (What a tragedy it is!) By the way, as for my recent friends, I don’t know their addresses in the first place. For my old close friends, I make sure I send birthday and Christmas cards even now. But usually, such cards don’t receive replies, which means the contact is now one-sided.
Have my ‘good old days’ gone and will never come back? A sudden sadness sometimes catches me, but the art of letters isn’t still completely gone yet. Rather, in this age of technology, I think the preciousness of time-consuming work may be increasing. I believe everyone has had the joys of opening letters addressed to themselves at least once. And we all should have had the experience to feel the writers from their handwriting, and, even for a moment, the happiness of having friends who write something to them. In my opinion, ‘the art of handwritten letters’ is the very thing that satisfies ‘something we’re missing’, especially today where everything has become mechanical and emotionless. Why don’t you send a letter tomorrow to someone close to you or who you haven’t been in touch with recently, someone in your neighborhood or in long-distance, or someone you care about? And don’t forget to add ‘I’m looking forward to your reply.’ at the bottom. I think it’s wonderful to share the little pleasure of looking into a mailbox. Writing this article, now, I want to revive my ‘old good days’ again.
You may encounter unexpected stories you’ve never experienced ──something that never happens in the world of text messages. For example, I received a call from my friend, that the paper bag that disappeared into the mountain with the crow came back at the front door the following morning.
The symbols of ‘the good old days’ vary among people. But I think that they might have something in common ──they are needed in this era more than we think they are. Keeping our gaze toward the future is important, but we can’t forget the beauty we had in the past because it’s only the people who have kept this beauty in their hearts who can recall it.
What are your ‘good old days’ like?