From the time I was a small child, I was taught to write thank you notes for kindnesses, memorize othersâ€™ birthdays and anniversaries, honor the dead, be organized and tidy and evolve into a social creature that takes the time to remember. I think I received my first box of stationery from my mother when I was five. I was reading by three, writing certainly by five, and my mother did take the time to teach me how to write a thank you note. I am still in possession of a few sheets of paper and the lined envelopes my brotherâ€™s then girlfriend gave me for my seventeenth birthday. I attended a funeral at Arlington National Cemetery by seven, with the 21-gun salute over the casket. There was even debate among the grown-upâ€™s whether I was old enough or not to face such a formal, regimented, emotional event. My mother told the others I would most certainly be able to do so and I was. Iâ€™ve landscaped cemeteries and filled in graves with dirt so that a stranger isnâ€™t doing it. Gifts on natal days, thank youâ€™s, â€œsaw this and thought of youâ€ notes, pushing into the top of a spade with a high heel: all of these things to honor people in my life, or after they have left my life.
Every year I keep a running list of not only birthdays, but days of past loss, and special days that hold secret meaning for me: November 5th: the day a boy I loved in high school first kissed me, May 5th: a day when I gathered change in my jeanâ€™s pocket and could only afford to buy some lettuce and two navel oranges. Cinco de Mayo? No. The Day of Lettuce and Oranges. Those dates are kept online and rotating, year to year with minor changes, then transposed onto my desk calendar for the coming year, then added each week to my Daily Activity Sheet, and more on that sheet shortly.
A few weeks ago, I was reading an article about the dangers of becoming â€œthat woman who has many cats and takes to clipping articles she mails to friends,â€ and I thought, â€œWait a minute. Iâ€™ve been a clipper of the â€œthey would like thatâ€ article since I was a tadpole.â€ I guess Iâ€™m supposed to be trekking the Silk Road in Hindu Kush, sleeping on some Kang platform in a brothel, or skydiving, or out on some sandbar with a champagne bucket at Taj Exotica Resort in the Maldives. As for cats, I have none at the moment, but a running joke Iâ€™ve made against myself is that if Iâ€™m not careful I could become the type of person with 20 (or more) catsâ€”all with literary names, and spend my twilight calling out, â€œWhere are you , Hawthorne?â€ â€œDinner, Dickinson!â€ â€œPOE! Get DOWN off of there!â€
I was discussing this situation with a friend in New Hampshire (a Massachusetts native,) and we both agreed we like our habits and yes, I â€œtext,â€ but I would much rather write on good paper with a fountain pen and, if whimsy takes me, even add a dab of sealing wax. When you have Crane & Company right on your doorstep, (making quality paper since 1770) and Paul Revere scribbled on you, (and theyâ€™ve held the contract to make U.S. currency paper since 1879 so hopefully you carry them in your wallet,) how can you not want to own the weighted quality watermarked paper that honors Craneâ€™s craft and tradition? Listen. Iâ€™m the person whoâ€™s always had on their â€œ1,000 Things Before I Die Listâ€: â€œLearn to make paper.â€ I actually had a friend in San Francisco instant message me a few weeks ago, asking in which direction a watermark should be facing when you write on the paper. Answer: As if you were viewing it. At least, thatâ€™s what I was taught. Donâ€™t know what a watermark is? Wiki.
Today I realized I should call Our Lady of Hope Chapel on Cape Cod and start making arrangements for a memorial mass to be said in honor of a man (like a Dad to me) who had just died, and plot it for when I will be there (autumn). After that task was done (on my activities sheet), I called the widow to let her know when the church date would be, so that the family could be alerted well in advance. And being me, yes I made sure the day has special meaning for the man, because I am the person who takes note of these things: by computer and by ink. While I was on the telephone with the manâ€™s wife, she said her son-in-law had been in with sheaves of papers in his hand, and she thought perhaps he had just come from the post office. He told her, â€œno,â€ it was just his â€œburn list,â€ of things to do for the day. Then she and I discussed the necessity of such lists, to keep things organized and flowing and wellâ€¦ done. On Charlie Rose last night, they were discussing the play Frost Nixon, and the topic of Richard Nixonâ€™s listmaking came up, including how Nixon had written heartbreaking things like â€œBe more likeable,â€ or â€œSmile more.â€ This from a man who liked to list his enemies.
I outline my daily sheets, created at the end of each week, for my coming week. The header is called â€œDaily Activity Sheet,â€ and beneath that a long enough line that I can write in the day and the date. Headed sections followed by blank lines include: â€œPriorities,â€ â€œCalls, â€œAppointments,â€ â€œBuy,â€ and of course, â€œTo Do.â€ These type lists can be adapted to any particular need. In that heading â€œPrioritiesâ€ I always try to list one thing I really want to be zeroed in on for that day, as well as any birthday or date of note to be remembered. Since I work these lists up a week in advance, they also let me know ahead of time when to mail a card so it arrives when it should.
Will your current cell phone have the same meaning throughout your life an an inherited fountain pen your father gave you the day you turned twenty-one? Will someone find your text message tucked into a book? Trust me. I do know the people who have their Commodores on a shelf in the garage and get misty talking about the â€œMighty MOS 6502.â€ I am not against the future, if anything Iâ€™ve had to learn to accept losses over time and keep moving forward. I love that I can scan the box of already antiquated stationery, chosen for itâ€™s charm to give to me at seventeen, photoshop the scan, then add it into a blog. Talk about mixed message. Marshall McLuhan would roll. The medium is the message, and what a communication.