birds in a barrel's mission is to release creative nonfiction into the wild.

40 Days & 40 Writes is its first project.

Letters Through the Years

I’ve been thinking about this all day and I can’t think of a particular letter I wrote or should’ve written that stands out. I remember a smattering of letters. The first letter I ever wrote was when I was about five years old, living in Korea. It was to my aunt who was studying music in Germany. My mom had me draw a picture of her in a wedding dress with a groom standing next to her. I remember writing letters to my first grade class in Korea soon after I moved to the US. I imagined the teacher reading the letter out loud to the class as I drew a picture of me on a plane that was to accompany the letter. I wrote to the class one more time. I never received a reply, which made me wonder if the teacher ever read my letters, if my classmates knew I was still thinking of them.

I remember exchanging letters with my best friend from junior high. She had a big fight with her mom and stepdad and was sent to live with her dad in Las Vegas. She wrote that she hated living in Vegas but it was nice to be away from her mom. She didn’t seem to much like her dad, either. One time, my letter got returned to me. I wasn’t sure if I had the address wrong or if the dad sent the letter back out of spite, to keep us best friends apart.

A few years down the line, I wrote a lot of letters to a friend went off to Tennessee for college while I stayed in town to attend UCLA. He’s the only Korean I’ve ever met who wore cowboy hats as part of his regular ensemble. Everyone who knew us thought we would end up together but we always knew where things stood between us. It’s the truest and closest platonic friendship of my life with a guy. Our letters to each other were pretty run-of-the-mill, I guess, but we quickly felt that paper was too ho-hum. We started writing letters on toilet paper, aluminum foil, old shopping bags.

When I studied abroad in England during my junior year, I spent a lot of money on stamps. I was constantly sending letters to friends. One time, I put together an elaborate poster of all the artwork I’d made that year. I made multiple colored copies and sent them in poster mailers to various friends. I don’t know what I thought they would do with these. There was a color copier in the student union and I was using it constantly to make booklets and collages. I guess I ran out of ideas but didn’t want to stop.

I don’t write letters at all now. The closest I get to it is birthday and holiday cards. I did go on a date with a guy a few years ago whose whole thing is to write letters and collect old letters written and received by strangers. At first I thought this was a romantic and nostalgic notion but after our date turned out to be a dud and he sent me a letter anyway, I wasn’t so charmed by the notion. It felt like a desperate attempt to create magic and whimsy where there wasn’t any.

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