Dear Future Me

at the laptop

Where did the weekend go? I only arrived in Paradelle an hour ago. It almost wasn’t worth the drive. It’s getting dark and cold. I’ll have to stay over rather than drive back home. That’s okay. I’ll make a fire, and a hot toddy, rustle up some dinner and settle in with a movie. At least my weekend in Paradelle will be relaxing.

I spent a lot of Friday, Saturday, and today writing on a keyboard but none of it was for this website. Virtual work on two websites and blogs that are not my own. Gigs that pay some of the bills. But I missed this place.

I just wrote myself an email on the Future Me website that will be delivered in a year from now. I’ve done it before. You write yourself a letter and pick a future date when you want to receive it. I’ve done it before.

I used to do this with my middle school students before the web could do it. They wrote letters to their graduating high school selves based on some models I provided. I never saw the letters other than briefly as they put them into a self-addressed and double-stamped envelope, and I noted that they had done the assignment. Then I bundled them and stored them. I would mail them out at their graduation time in 4 or 5 years depending on their grade level.  (Double stamped in case the postage rates changed in the interim.) A middle-schooler writing about who they were and who they wanted or expected to be as graduating seniors could be an interesting letter.

After I mailed them, I would have a few students return to visit me. Some had forgotten the assignment and were amazed that I remembered to mail the letters. A few letters bounced back to me (I was their return address) because they had moved. Most of the students never came back. That’s typical with students you taught in middle school, But the ones who did visit me were really excited to get their letter. Their reactions to reading it ranged from “Geez, I was such an idiot” to “I was so wrong (both in good and bad ways) about how high school would be.” They told me they had written about middle school best friends and interests and dreams that had faded away. Some said their ambitions were still ambitions – perhaps still to be fulfilled after graduation.

Who can predict our future? None of us, though we try. Just now (for the purposes of this post, of course) I took a look at my horoscope and tarot reading for today. Am I a believer in such things? Not really, but I treat them like having a daily affirmation or keeping a gratitude journal. They are a moment to reflect on yourself. The unexamined life isn’t worth living, right?

My horoscope said You may be wondering why everyone is getting so touchy when you see this as being just a normal day. No one was touchy today. I only saw my wife and she was fine with me today. The wonderful thing about horoscopes and tarot is that you can always get another reading. I checked a second horoscope source and it said:  You may discover that what you find beautiful today is different from the idea of beauty you were raised with. That is certainly true. Today, at least this second half of it, was beautiful in a way that I was never raised to think of a day. But then the horoscope went in a totally different path: Even if you have already been drifting in this direction for some time, being able to clearly articulate what you do and don’t like in the moment can help you make decisions more easily about how you’ll style yourself going forward. Once you have the idea of a general style you want, you may really enjoy shopping for some of the specific items. Shopping? Is that tied into the ads on the webpage? I hate shopping and my style hasn’t changed in decades.

tarot

Let’s look at my tarot reading done online – which is perhaps as valid as one done by any human including me.

Your emotional foundations benefit wonderfully from a New Moon on the 2nd. This offers a fresh start domestically, within your family. I don’t feel I need a fresh start domestically but let’s wait for that New Moon.
It indicates a possible house move or the beginning of a home-related project. Well, I can always anticipate that my wife might start a home project. She’s been talking about new furniture and making a new area around the fire pit, which is currently snow-covered.
It could also mean new domestic responsibilities come your way or any issues connected with your clan get ironed out. That’s ominous. I already have responsibilities for my older, ailing sister, and I suppose either of my grown and married sons might add something. I hope this prediction is wrong.
Resolving or proceeding with anything home or family-related is supported further by your ruling planet Venus moving forward on the 29th. Where emotional security and contentment are concerned, it’s all systems go! Well, that’s encouraging.

I’ll make a note on the calendar to check back on the 29th and February first (which is actually when the New Moon slips into place) Should I worry about any of this? The Magic 8-Ball says “No” and I like that definitiveness.


In case you’re curious about sending your future self a letter…

The Lost Practice of Writing Letters

envelope
Image by LwcyD from Pixabay

I wrote last weekend about writing a letter to your future self. I didn’t mention then that the inspiration for that was my seventh-grade English teacher who had us write letters to ourselves. She told us that she would send them to us when we were seniors in high school. So, the idea was to write to the person you thought you would be in five years.

She never sent the letters when we were seniors. She left our junior high and probably tossed our letters. I seemed to be the only one who even remembered that we had written the letters. I can’t recall now anything I put in my letter. I wish I could. I wish I had gotten my letter back. My 17-year-old self would have liked to have seen what my 13-year-old self was thinking about the future that had become the present.

Writing letters seems so old-fashioned today. I had students that were amazed that there were entire books of letters that authors, artists, statesmen, or historical figures had written.

vincent's signatureI showed my students a book of Vincent van Gogh’s letters. He wrote often to his brothers, especially Theo, and his sisters, other artists and friends from home. It is estimated he wrote more than 2000 letters and about half survive. Theo kept Vincent’s letters carefully stored. Vincent often discarded letters.

It is estimated that Thomas Jefferson had written 18,624 letters in his lifetime.

I also had my students write letters to famous people and I amassed a pile of celebrity addresses and copies of the responses they received which I displayed in my classroom. This was in the days before email was common and mostly in the pre-Internet days, so finding addresses and information required more difficult research than it would now.

When my students received glossy 8×10 photos with actual autographs and real letters from the people they wrote to, it was exciting. Some of my students got unusual responses because they wrote clever letters or wrote to people who probably didn’t get tons of mail. There was an autographed tennis ball, an Olympic swimmer’s cap, a few DVDs, signed copies of books, several hand-drawn cartoons and comic book panels, and an animation cel. One student asked Donald Trump to autograph a crisp dollar bill so that it would be worth “more than a dollar.” He did in that odd bold scrawl that became familiar to us during his Presidency and included a copy of his Art of the Deal book.  One student asked an author to record answers to her questions on the cassette tape she sent with the questions. She did. One boy asked a TV weatherman some questions about getting into the business and got a call from him at home.

I encouraged students to write to the contemporary authors that we read in class. We even wrote letters to Juliet after we read Shakespeare’s play about her star-crossed love – and we got answers from her. (Read my post about that to learn how)

They learned a lot about how to write letters. And by that, I don’t mean just the format of a business and friendly letter. For example, they learned that writing to the biggest star of the top-rated TV show probably would only get you a small photo with a printed “autograph.” But a clever letter to a minor character or the writer or director of that same show might get you a personal response or more. The student who got tickets and an invitation to visit the Saturday Night Live show backstage didn’t ask for that – which is probably why he got it.

We learn how to communicate in many ways – both about the mediums to communicate and the forms those communications can take. The email, the Facebook message, the tweet, tagging someone in a photograph, the text message, the phone call, the note slipped into your locker or left on your desk in school or at the office, the card from the store and the handmade card, the poem, the mix CD or playlist of songs, the note with the flowers, the Post-It note left by the little gift on the kitchen table, the message put in your lunch bag and a letter sent from many miles – or many years – away.

After my mother died, I found a box of letters written to her. Some were from my father who had died many years earlier. Some were from me, written when I was away from home as a child on vacation with relatives, and from me at college. They are priceless pieces of the past. I have a postcard reply from author John Updike. I have a letter from astronaut John Glenn I wrote in fifth grade when I thought I might become an astronaut too. I have all the letters to authors and actors and celebrities that I wrote each year when my students were doing that assignment. One from Mr. Fred Rogers is something I treasure.

I find it sad that letter writing seems to be a lost form of communication. When was the last time you received or wrote an actual letter to someone by hand, on paper, that was mailed? Probably, too long ago.

A Letter to Yourself

In April  2020, I wrote a letter to myself.

This was an assignment that years ago I would sometimes give to my middle school students. They were 12-14 years old and letter writing was an assignment we did in several forms. For this assignment, I gave them a fill-in-the-blank form that asked them a number of questions including: who are their best friends, favorites (movies, TV shows, books, places to visit, foods etc.) and I asked them about what they hoped or expected for their near future. It asked them what they wanted to happen in high school academically and socially. Did they have college plans, or career plans? They also wrote a letter to themself. Though I gave suggestions, that part was open-ended.

What made this assignment ultimately significant was what I did with their form and letter. I told them I would only glance at it at their desk to see that it was done but I would not read it.  They also had to bring in a self-addressed stamped envelope that the two sheets would be put in ready to mail.

I would mail them their letter on the first day of June of their senior year. So, in 4 or 5 years this most-likely-forgotten assignment would arrive at their home.

I knew from teaching high school seniors that a strong wave of nostalgia hits when June begins. Seniors tended to be nicer to each other. They talked about final things. This is my last: math test, cafeteria lunch, homeroom, pep rally, detention and so on.

The first year I mailed a set of those letters (about 125 of them), it only took a day or two for seniors to come back to their middle school to show them to me and tell how it felt to read them. “I changed so much! I totally forgot about this assignment. My predictions were so wrong. I laughed to read this. I cried when I read this. It made me so happy. It made me sad. I can’t believe you remembered to mail them!”

Luckily, no one had moved so the letters arrived. (I had them put on two stamps since this was a time before the “Forever stamp”). And none of those students had died in the interim. That was something that did happen the second time I did this assignment. I knew that and had pulled the letter which I delivered to the student’s parents in person. They were grateful for it, but I never heard from them about what they found in the envelope or if it was a good or bad thing for them to read.

Every time I mailed a batch of letters, I would get a few students who came back to complain that they never got their letter. Thankfully, I had kept a roster and next to their names I had them sign that they did not turn in the assignment. Instead of being mad at me, they were usually mad at themselves, but no letter was also a kind of unwritten letter from their younger self.

I was reminded of this years ago when one of my students who did a letter years ago became an English teacher herself. Via Facebook, I found out that Ines paid the letter assignment forward. She wrote “In 7th grade, my language arts teacher had us write letters to our future selves. The week I graduated from high school, I was so surprised to receive a letter from… me! It was the letter I had written myself so many years earlier. I don’t remember now what I wrote but I remember loving the idea so I did it for some of my own students.”

When I wrote my letter last year, I considered doing an email and using the Boomerang app in my Gmail to schedule it to send one year later. I decided not to for several reasons. First off, that meant that the email would be sitting there tempting me for a year. I could even revise it. But I didn’t have a nice teacher who would snail mail it to me in April 2021. I finally decided to write it, put it in an envelope, seal it and just put it away out of my sight and set a reminder on my electronic calendar about where it was “hiding” and to open it this month.

Writing a letter by hand on paper and putting it in an envelope might seem quaint to teens today having grown up in an almost fully-digital world. But I suspect people of all ages still get a little charge of excitement at getting a real letter or a greeting card in their home mailbox that exceeds the “Happy Birthday” post on their Facebook wall or the text message update.

One year is not four or five years, and I’m not a young teen heading into some years full of change. Still, April 2020 to April 2021 was a big year of change for myself, the country, and the world.

I wrote the letter on April 14, 2020. In the two weeks prior, we had seen a $2 trillion stimulus bill passed. The world hit one million COVID cases. There were 51,000 deaths by April 2 and by the 9th the number was 100,000.  The WHO and CDC were telling us to wear masks, but President Trump would not and many of his supporters followed his example. The day I wrote my letter, President Trump blamed the WHO and pulled funding from the U.S. to the organization. It was a depressing day to write a letter but I knew this was a history I didn’t want to forget.

I also knew that my first grandchild would be born in a few days. My son was concerned that they said he probably couldn’t be in the hospital for the birth.

Spring flowers were blooming in my neighborhood but spring was not as hopeful as in previous years. My sister was living in an assisted-living facility that had already had COVID cases and deaths and I was not allowed to visit her. There was talk of vaccines but that would be about nine months away despite claims from the false claim from the White House and some news sources that the virus would “go away when it got warmer” and that the number and reports of cases were exaggerated. At one point, the Presidents had said it would subside by Easter. But Passover and Easter were largely virtual events and things had only gotten worse.

Like my students’ letters, I wrote about what was happening then and what I hoped for in the next year. I won’t share my letter but you can guess correctly at some of it. I hoped the pandemic would subside and that no one I knew would get the virus and that none of that did would die. I hoped the vaccine would appear. I hoped that Trump would be a one-term President and that Biden would right the ship of state. My biggest piece of optimism was for my granddaughter.

Some of my predictions and wishes came true. Some did not.

Certainly, the birth of our Remi was the best thing to happen in the past year. My son was able to be in the room for her birth and isolated, masked, and sanitized, they left the hospital 24 hours after they went entered.

No one I am close to died from the virus but a good number of friends, relatives and acquaintances have tested positive and a few were hospitalized.

The pandemic continues to dominate the news. Things are better but the virus is certainly not gone. Travel plans we made for summer 2020 that we moved to 2021 are moved to 2022. My high school reunion that I am on the planning committee for moved our October 2021 event to October 2022.

Maybe things will be close to normal by the fall, but no one really knows.

I still haven’t seen my sister except through a window. My wife and I have been vaccinated but we still wear masks and we still stay pretty close to home. Tomorrow is Remi’s first birthday.

Maybe I should write another letter to myself. Maybe I should make it an annual assignment. Maybe you should write one too.