Friday, October 21, 2011

Sands of Time

Long ago, and not that far away, I had several writer pen pals. This was before the internet spawned email, and in those bygone days, one corresponded by writing or typing upon sheets of paper using a mechanical device, and then folding these missives and putting them into envelopes and mailing them, via the United States Post Office. (It cost $0.15 to send one. Come January, it'll be $0.45, though I don't really exchange snailmail any more,  save with my mother.)

 I know, I know, it sounds barbarically slow, and it was, it took days, sometimes even a week to travel one way, but that's how it was.

One of the guys with whom I exchanged these quaint communications started into the writing business about the same time as I. I saw his stuff in some of the 'zines to which I was sending my stuff, and while I don't recall how the conversation got started, we struck one up and it was most lively.

He was a good writer, very funny in his letters, and while we weren't anywhere within visiting range, we did keep a steady, if slow, flow of mail going back and forth. We were newbies, toiling in the word mines, and happy to talk to somebody who understood the process. Not just the writing part, but also the selling, the publication, and all the elements that wove it altogether. Writing is a solitary business, and one finds one's companions where one can.

After a few years–this was in the late 1970's and early 1980's–I had a stack of letters stuck away in boxes and I thought that we had a mutual respect and admiration for each other's work.

What I didn't realize was that my pen pal was an alcoholic and addicted to prescription meds. Something happened, there was an accident caused by too much booze and pills, and his wife finally put her foot down. Get clean or get gone. 

Which he did, and so far as I know, has continued to do, and all's well that ends well, right?

Well, not exactly. Shortly after he finished rehab, he stopped writing letters my way. At first, I was puzzled, and later, after reading something he published, I realized what the problem was: The happy-go-lucky addicted version of him was no longer how he saw himself. Part of the twelve-step program allows that once one steps onto the part of sobriety, one might have to dump some old friends, or risk falling back into evil ways. And besides, if I liked him when he was stoned, then my feelings were based on a false image.

I think it was some combination of those two things. He wanted to leave his past behind, and I was part of it. We had never met, and never bent an elbow at a bar, but there was an association, and there you go. 

Well, shit happens, and I went on my merry way. I had other folks with whom I exchanged letters, and c'est la vie.

Fast forward to Facebook times. Curious and nostalgic, I looked the guy up on the web and dropped him a note. Polite pleasantries were exchanged, then nothing more.

Okay, so we're done. AMF.

Recently, I got a mass-mailing note from him, wanting to know if I wanted to be on his newsletter list. It came because I was in his address book, nothing personal attached to it.

So, do I want to be on his newsletter list?

No. Our Venn Diagram intersected briefly thirty-odd years ago, then didn't, and the water under the bridge, the sands through the hourglass, the passing seasons have put us into different worlds. People sometimes say it's never too late, but sometimes, it is ...

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