Taking Typing I & II in high school was one of the smartest things I’ve ever done, as it has continued to serve me well. Unlike, say, “Business Shorthand” and “Home Economics: The Art of Meal Planning” and the forgettable college courses I took, like “The History of Greece 404 to 146 BC” and “Case Studies in Organizational Communication.” But I digress...
Before the rise of the internet, I used to have loads of pen-pals. We swapped stories, photos and the occasional cassette tape. We shared aspirations and dreams. One penfriend in Japan was a huge Jesus & Mary Chain fan, like me. We shared photos--hers were spectacular--she stalked them to the Tokyo Shinkansen and took wonderful photos of Jim Reid. I, on the other hand, had to admit failure in that when I met Jim in Columbus a few months prior, I’d burst into tears in his face and compelled him to leg it onto the tour bus and the safety of a large bottle of Black Label Jack.
Then there were the scores of up and coming bands I corresponded with, most of which never “made it” but whom I still look back fondly at the letters we shared, and I still own and listen to their music. There was Bon Von Wheelie from Girl Trouble. We wrote back and forth several times and I’ve kept her letters tucked safely inside the Hit It Or Quit It LP. She hooked me up with Calvin Johnson, the head guy at K Records in Olympia, Washington. Calvin and I took up a spirited friendship for awhile and he sent me loads of great 7” singles released on his label. I sent him a bunch of I Wanna Label stuff in return. Somehow along the way I got hooked up with Robert Griffin from Scat Records in Cleveland and we shot letters back and forth for awhile. I adored his band Prisonshake and he sent me loads of music related goodies. Favorite item was probably the Scat Singles Box that had lots of silly toys inside. He later signed Dayton’s Guided By Voices (whose first LP was on I Wanna) and moved to Chicago. One time I got a lovely (and sexy) birthday card from Mark Kramer, head dude at Shimmy Disc Records and one half of the neo-psychedelic band Bongwater.
Then there is the penpal that I married! We sent countless letters and "FunMail" whizzing back and forth across the Atlantic. The day he sent himself across the big pond was one of the best moments in my life. We've been together ever since.
Ocassionally I still get a piece of FunMail from my best mate Rodney, a multimedia artist now living in San Francisco. Back in college we regularly stuffed each others university mailboxes with fun and interesting items (purple pantyhose doused in glitter, feathers, scratch & sniff books we’d made ourselves, bags of safety pins) and he still sends me an oddity every now and then, and it never fails to amuse and delight me.
It’s an even greater joy, however, to be able to meet up with friends face to face, and share laughter, stories and music with them. That's why I think the internet is such a wonderous thing. I've met a lot of great folks whom I have so much in common with, and who share the same interests as me, and for that I am forever grateful.
I know what I did before the internet and wouldn't change it for the world. But I can't imagine life without it now.