Here's a letter from a small world.
The Christmas letter goes out and does what it will.
If you’re family, a close friend, or on my Lone Prairie paper newsletter mailing list, you received my Christmas letter in the mail.
Christmas letters have been a lifelong weird frustration for me to the point where, in 2005, I wrote a completely sarcastic letter out of frustration of living a very small life and receiving letters and cards which made the world seem full of big, important, world-changing lives mutually exclusive of mine.
“We hiked to the top of Kilimanjaro!”
“Our children just built a home theater in their mansion!”
“We had a family get-together and spent weeks on a cruise and every moment was perfectly precious [without any drunken brawls despite what you may have heard].”
Some Christmas letters are different, mind you.
Some are full of grace and truth without any veneer of forced positivity or success. My friend tells of how each year he would eagerly read a letter from a person who had the unique ability to be absolutely negative about everything, and convey it so hilariously well, though unintentionally, as a year-end wrap-up.
I would kill to see someone send out a photo montage Christmas card of all of the real moments in their life instead of the posed ones.
Instead of the perfect family posed on haybales, stopping to scream at each other long enough for the shutter to click, I’d love to see the photo taken with kids crying and mom about to kill and marker scribbles on the wall and food on the floor next to the dog vomit next to a photo of the dad kicking the tire of his tractor that he just buried out in the muddy spring field. I could connect with that.
But me being me, I wrote that frustrated 2005 Christmas letter with a pen dipped in sarcastic poison. I’m thankful I only sent it to close friends and family, because it’s appalling.
I photoshopped photos of myself on the moon, on Antarctica, and with my cat doing medical wizardry pointing out how awesome my travel experiences weren’t. The main body of the letter was upbeat and painted every occurrence in life as some sort of feat of success. In a sidebar on the right, I translated it into reality.
The split page was the point: the words we use to describe our life are code. In today’s world of social media with filters and personal branding, I understand that better than I did back then in the pre-smartphone era.
2005. 2021. Sixteen years. You’d think you’d be in a different place.
I am, I suppose, because you don’t gain sixteen years (and pounds) without becoming a different person. But the place is similar, even if I have a different view of it. For the most part, a small life doesn’t really bother me. Big tends to be noisy with a lot of drama.
But on day five of working from home and seeing no outside people, you start to wonder if you’re doing anything that matters, that makes a real difference in the life of any other person. This is the great angsty cry from teenage years onward, but kind of like zits, it’s something you thought would lessen as you got older and are quite disappointed to have been wrong.
I don’t know if God has been busy pruning my life over and over, or if I’ve been chewing off my own branches, but small is what my world is.
I write. I could write a lot more than I do. But should I?
I have a kind of Biblical version of the Miranda running through my head, reminding me that not only do I have the right to remain silent, but I have a couple of decades worth of careless words on the internet to answer for some day due to an ill-controlled tongue, and maybe I should exercise that right. But if your world is small and you’re literally in a position where all you can do is to just write words to send out there, what do you do?
So I sent out my letter this year.
I told the reader a bit about the year. Tried to put some humor and some meaning in there. I don’t have kids and can’t share photos of much besides my art, so I stuck some of that in the letter. Graphic design-wise, it isn’t great, but not everything has to be precious enough for a portfolio.
Got them all printed, gathered the cards and envelopes, bought a bunch of stamps, and started writing a quick note to tuck in with the letter. Over 130. And then I dropped it in the mailbox understanding again how, when you write something like this, you never know how the words will land when they get into the hands of the recipient, which makes you nervous and then, thinking of Facebook and social media comment sections, thankful.
“Here are all the words I have for you today. I hope they matter to you!”
And then you go back to your small world.
The ride at Disney World that maniacally reminds you that it’s a small world seems to have it backwards. Small worlds—even if we’re supposedly digitally connected to everyone and have magically bent the distance between point A and B because of a screen—don’t take you on a boat ride through all the lands and all the peoples where hugs abound and everyone sings the same thing repeatedly on tune before going into a straight jacket.
Sometimes they are not much more than a piece of paper with some words and a stamp and that’s the one-sided extent of it. If you don’t have a glass bottle and an ocean, an envelope and a stamp will do.