Letters of Note ~ Shaun Usher
There is, perhaps, a voyeuristic tendency in all of us, when it comes to reading other people’s correspondence. Something that Shawn capitalizes on in the most extraordinary way possible.
Of course, he can’t possibly include every single beautiful letter possible, he can certainly include those that make your heartache. My personal favorite is My Darling Girl from Sue Perkins (the English actress) to Pickle, written shortly after the 11 year old beagle closed its eyes for the last time.
I’m also including the opening letter from Letters of Note: Sex, An Instrument of Joy written by Margaret Mead to her sister Elizabeth Mead, which I think is one of the best letters to show a young person.
The last letter I’m including is the one that I borrowed to send to a friend when I didn’t have the right words. Do not be so bloody vulnerable from Noel Coward to Marlene Dietrich is the first letter I fell in love with.
The only mistake was not to have behaved a great deal worse a long time ago.
I bought this particular copy of Letters of Note from Readings in Lahore. They still have it in case you’re interested!
DO NOT BE SO BLOODY VULNERABLE ~ Noel Coward to Marlene Dietrich, 1956
Your letter filled me with such a lot of emotions, the predominant one being rage that you should allow yourself to be so humiliated and made so unhappy by a situation that really isn’t worthy of you. I loathe to think of you apologizing and begging forgiveness and humbling yourself. I don’t care if you did behave badly for a brief moment, considering all the devotion and loving you have given out during the last five years, you had a perfect right to. The only mistake was not to have behaved a great deal worse a long time ago. The aeroplane journey sounds a nightmare to me.
It is difficult for me to wag my finger at you from so very far away particularly as my heart aches for you but really darling you must pack up this nonsensical situation once and for all. It is really beneath your dignity, not your dignity as a famous artist and a glamourous star, but your dignity as a human, only too human, being. Curly is attractive, beguiling, tender and fascinating, but he is not the only man in the world who merits those delightful adjectives.…Do please try to work out for yourself a little personal philosophy and DO NOT, repeat DO NOT be so bloody vulnerable. To hell with God damned “L’Amour.” It always causes far more trouble than it is worth. Don’t run after it. Don’t court it. Keep it waiting off stage until you’re good and ready for it and even then treat it with the suspicious disdain that it deserves. I am sick to death of you waiting about in empty houses and apartments with your ears strained for the telephone to ring. Snap out of it, girl! A very brilliant writer once said (could it have been me?) “Life is for the living.” Well that is all it is for, and living DOES NOT consist of staring in at other people’s windows and waiting for crumbs to be thrown to you. You’ve carried on this hole in corner, overcharged, romantic, unrealistic nonsense long enough.
Stop it. Stop it. Stop it. Other people need you..Stop wasting your time on someone who only really says tender things to you when he’s drunk…
Unpack your sense of humor, and get on with living and ENJOY IT.
Incidentally, there is one fairly strong minded type who will never let you down and who loves you very much indeed. Just try to guess who it is. XXXX. Those are not romantic kisses. They are un-romantic. Loving “Goose-Es.”
Your devoted “Fernando de Lamas”
Elizabeth dear, I’ve a good mind to punish you by writing back in pencil. You’re a wretch to write in pencil on pink paper just when you’re writing something very important that you particularly want me to read. Don’t do it again.
I am glad you told me about the moonlight party, dear. It’s the sort of thing that had to happen sometime and it might have been a great deal worse. As it was, it was a nice boy whom you like, and nothing that need worry you. There are two things I’d like to have you remember- or in fact several. The thrills you get from touching the body of another person are just as good and legitimate thrills as those you get at the opera. Only the ones which [you] get at the opera are all mixed up with your ideas of beauty and music and Life-and so they seem to you good and holy things. In the same way the best can only be had from the joys which life offers to our sense of touch (for sex is mostly a matter of the sense of touch) when we associate those joys with love and respect and understanding.
All the real tragedies of sex come from disassociation either of the old maid who sternly refuses to think about sex at all until finally she can think about nothing else- and goes crazy- or of the man who goes from one wanton’s arms to another seeking only the immediate sensation of the moment and never linking it up with other parts of his life. It is by the way in which sex- and under this I include warm demonstrative friendships with both sexes as well as love affairs proper with men- is linked with all the other parts of our lives, with our appreciation of music and our tenderness for little children, and most of all with our love for someone and the additional nearness to them which expression of love gives us, that sex itself is given meaning.
You must realize that your body has been given you as an instrument of joy–and tho you should choose most rigorously whose touch may make that instrument thrill and sing a thousand beautiful songs you must never think it wrong of it to sing. For your body was made to sing to another’s touch and the flesh itself is not wise to choose. It is the
spirit within the body which must be stern and say- “No, you can not play on this my precious instrument. True it would sing for you. Your fingers are very clever at playing on such instruments-but I do not love you, nor respect you- and I will not have my body singing a tune which my soul cannot sing also.” If you remember this, you will never be filled with disgust of any sort. Any touch may set the delicate chords humming-_but it is your right to choose who shall really play a tune- and be very very sure of your choices first. To have given a kiss where only a handshake was justified by the love behind it–that is likely to leave a bad taste in your mouth.
And for the other part- about being boy crazy. Try to think of boys as people, some nice, some indifferent- not as a class. You are[n’t] girl crazy are you? Then why should you be boy crazy? If a boy is [an] interesting person, why, like him. If he isn’t, don’t. Think of him as an individual first and as a boy second. What kind of a person he is is a great deal more important than that he belongs to the other sex- after all so do some hundred million other individuals.
I am very proud of the way you are able to think thru the problems which life brings you- and of the way you meet them. And I consider it a great privilege to have you tell me about them. I’m so glad you are happy dear.
My darling girl ~ Sue Perkins to Pickle
My darling girl, First, a confession: I had you killed. I planned it and everything; asked the vet round and a nurse in a green uniform with white piping – all with the express intention of ending your life. Yes, I know. I know you had no idea, because I had been practicing for weeks how to keep it from you, and how when that time came I could stop my chest from bursting with the fear and horror and unbearable, unbearable pain of it all. I sat there, in your kitchen (it was always your kitchen), numb, and filled in a form about what to do with your remains. I ticked boxes as you lay wheezing in your sleep on the bed next door.
I made a series of informed, clinical decisions on the whys and wherefores of that beautiful, familiar body that had started to so badly let you down. Then, once the formalities were over, I came in and did what I’ve done so many days and nights over so many months and years. I lay behind you, left arm wrapped round your battle-scarred chest and whispered into your ear. I love you. So that was my secret. And I kept it from you until your ribs stopped their heaving and your legs went limp and your head fell as heavy as grief itself in my arms. Then, when I knew you were no longer listening, I let it out – that raging, raging river of loss. I cried until my skin felt burnt and my ears grew tired from the sound of it all.
It wasn’t pretty.
OK. Confession over.
Now what you also need to know is that this is NOT a eulogy. Quite frankly Pickle, you don’t deserve one, because, as you are well aware, your behavior from birth, right up to the bitter end, was unequivocally terrible. As a pup, you crunched every CD cover in the house for fun. You chewed through electrical cable and telephone wires. You ripped shoes and gobbled plastic. You dived into bins, rolled in shit and licked piss off of pavements.
You ate my bedposts. As an adult you graduated to raiding fridges and picnics, you stole ice cream from the mouths of infants, you jumped onto Christmas tables laden with pudding and cake and blithely walked through them all, inhaling everything in your wake. You puked on everything decent I ever owned. You never came when called, never followed a path, never observed the green cross code and only sat on command when you could see either a cube of cheese or chicken in my hand (organic, or free-range at a push) And last, but not least, you shat in my bed (yes, I know they were dry and discreet little shits, but they are still shits, you shit) Here’s another thing, while I’m at it.
I’m angry. Why? Because you, madam, are a liar. You made me think you were OK. You allowed me to drop you off at our mate Scarlett’s farm and leave you there for weeks while I went away working thinking that all was well. Yet it wasn’t, was it? The cancer fire was already lit, sweeping through your body, laying waste to it while my back was turned. I look back at photos sent to me whilst I was way from you, and I can see it now that faint dimming of the eyes, the gentle slackening of muscle. The tiniest, tiniest changes in that cashmere fur of yours. It haunts me still. Had I been there, I would have noticed, would I not? Me, your anxious guardian and keeper of eleven and a half years.
I found out about the lump the day I landed. Scarlett rang me with the news as I boarded a train for Willesden Junction. The most momentous moments can come at the most banal. It had just appeared, out of nowhere, as surprising and fast as you, on your neck. You never did anything by halves, and there it was, the size of a lemon, wrapped round your lymph. I took you home the next day, to Cornwall, the place that we love best, and you allowed me, for a while at least, to believe that nothing was wrong.
We rose at sunset, in the light of those Disney-pink skies, and walked the ancient tracks together – before you got bored and veered off, full tilt, in search of the latest scent. But your lies could only carry you so far before your body gave you away. I saw your chest starting to heave when you took a breath at night. Your bark became hoarse. You no longer tore around the house causing havoc. You were biddable (you were never biddable), you ate slowly (oh, don’t be ridiculous) Yet still, the denial. Forgive me for that. After all, we’d beaten it before, you and I. Twice. Even when the vet told me your lungs were hung with cancerous cobwebs and there was nothing more to be done, I went out and started doing. I sped to the health food store and returned with tinctures and unguents and capsules.
And there you were having to eat your precious last dinners covered in the dusty yellow pall of turmeric and a slick of Omega 3s. So silly. So silly, in retrospect. I should have let you eat cake and biscuits and toast and porridge. But I thought I could save you. I really thought I could. I didn’t ever believe that something as alive as you could ever succumb to something as ordinary as death. After all, how could you be sick, when you ran and jumped and played, day after day after day? And then, I got it. You were doing it all for me. You were dragging yourself into the light, every morning, for me. All of it. For me. And as fierce and possessive as my love was, I couldn’t let you do that any more. You were eighty years old, by human reckoning. You were eighty years old and you still flew into the boot of the car without assistance (assistance is for old dogs, you didn’t know how to be an old dog), you still strode the Heath with that graceful, lupine lope of yours.
You skidded round corners, you sniffed and barked and hectored and lived to life’s outer margins. On the day you died, you pottered for over an hour in the meadows with the sun on your back, without a care in the world. I am so very grateful for that. When someone once took a punch at me, you leaped in the air and took it. When I discovered I couldn’t have children, you let me use your neck as a hankie. You were my longest relationship, although I think any decent psychologist would have deemed us irredeemably co-dependent.
You were the engine of my life, the metronome of my day. You set the pulse and everything and everyone moved to it. What a skill. I woke to your gentle scratch on the door. (it wasn’t gentle, it was horrific and you have destroyed every door in every house we have lived in – I am just trying to make you sound nice) and the last sound at night was the sound of you crawling under your blanket and giving that big, deep, satisfied sigh. I have said I love you to many people over many years; friends, family, lovers. Some you liked, some you didn’t. But my love for you was different. It filled those spaces that words can’t get to.
You were the peg on which I hung the all the baggage that couldn’t be named. You were the pure, innocent joy of grass and sky and wind and sun. It was a love beyond the limits of patience and sense and commensuration. It was as nonsensical as it was boundless. You alchemist. You nightmare. Thank you for walking alongside me* during the hardest, weirdest, most extreme times of my life, and never loving me less for the poor choices I made and the ridiculous roads I took us down. Thank you, little Pickle. I love you.
From the four eyed one who shouted at you, held you, laughed at you, fed you and, for some reason utterly unbeknownst to you, put all your shit in bags.