Letters To A Friend #1
The following is a response to Sam's letter to me on her newsletter: Footnotes from the Void. Click through to read the first in the series.
Sam is an incredibly acute and perceptive writer whose character I hold in high regard. When she reached out to do this, I was hesitant. I don't remember the last time I wrote anyone letters and was suddenly self-conscious about the principles of letter writing. It is one thing to have something to say but another to express thought and feeling in clearness and elegance - a mastery I am still becoming acquainted with.
In the end, I concede that writing to each other in the age of corona is a resistance against loneliness. It is also an invaluable gift, in the form of attention, for a friend who from here on will be privy to my flaws, celebrations and conflicts within these paragraphs - as will you.
This idea of exchanging letters couldn't have come at a better time. I've been thinking more and more about returning to an analogue life. This life I'm proposing isn't about nostalgia for a pre-internet era but for a time that was slower, more focused and deliberate. I find that reading and writing letters ushers in a kind of deep and measured concentration that results in the meeting of the minds.
It's been increasingly difficult to stay present in any activity that I'm engaged in. I am constantly hopping from one thing to another and I'm not sure if this has anything to do with our habit of context switching between pieces of information throughout the day or background anxieties from the effects of the pandemic. Sometimes I find myself unable to even finish a thought - it's like I'm trying to get to the next thought as fast as I can so I can get on with my life. Though I'm not sure what that life is but a succession of speeding from and rushing through to our inevitable deaths.
I have hope that this correspondence will teach me to be more careful and intentional in our friendship through the methodical distillation of my thoughts than an off-hand quick text. All this is to say that good things take time to flourish. The best wine, cheese, books, music all have one thing in common - they were tended to meticulously without haste. The same I hope will emerge from this exercise in friendship.
At the time of writing this, the Movement Control Order has just been extended and although I do not know when I'll be able to go back to work, there is a part of me that doesn't want to. I've come to realise that my love for the work isn't so much about the work itself but the ability to connect with another person. I read recently that our inner-circle friendships are just as important as our weak ties - people you see infrequently and near-strangers with whom you share some familiarity. Some of these same people sit on my chair and together we occupy this space of acknowledging and recognising one another, to have our humanity reflected back at us.
The protocols at the shop are intended to reduce interaction and though they are necessary to minimise risks, it has become increasingly fraught in day-to-day interactions. People no longer hang around to catch up after a cut, handshakes and fist bumps are scarce (I recall your hand-heart formation just outside my shop window), and masks render it difficult to read micro expressions - I can't tell if a client is satisfied or not. Cutting hair was never about cutting hair, it was always about the people. Only now I have to fear the reason behind the work I have come to love, and it's not a feeling I'm ready to go back to.
Speaking of resolutions, you would be pleased to know that I am also on board with this idea of themes for the year. For 2021, I have chosen to focus on creativity. In a world where almost everything sacred or meaningful in society has been commodified or monetised, this is my radical rally against it. Maybe I'm fetishising "art" as the last bastion of the soul but as capitalism rages on, I truly believe that art is the only thing that can save us.
I do apologise if this letter finds itself to be less than hopeful. It is not my intention to start our conversation on such a dismal note. But as Albert Camus once said, “there is no love of life without despair of life," and I think nothing can be changed until this is faced.
What do you need to face today, Sam?
Rage on with love,