Letter Writing

and Side Thoughts

by Annie Tran
Richardson, Texas

In fall 2018, I took an undergraduate course and my professor asked the class, “Do any of y’all write letters?” I raised my hand. Of course, I write letters. I enjoy writing and sending hand-written letters to friends. It is a great experience. 

The question of whether someone writes a letter or does letter-writing is just a question. I write letters by hand because I like it more than having to type out a letter to someone. You can call me old-fashioned, but I’m not tech savvy nor do I use much technology unless necessary. 

I’m not saying typing out the letters is a bad thing. I tend to contemplate more on what I would say or respond to the person, or company I’m writing to when I type. It takes more consideration and there are plenty of times where I would rack my brain for ideas on what to put on the document. Most of the letters I had to type before Fall 2020 have been for my creative writing classes. The purpose for writing them was to provide a written response to the author of a story.

When someone reads another person’s work, they will typically take notes or annotate the work. The things a person notices may be part of analysis or interpretation in the letters to the author. It is possible a majority of the letter will include sections on what someone likes or dislikes, what seems to work, what does not work, and whether the person who reads the story finds the writing worth their time.

A typed letter may take a while for me to finish. If I have a due date for class, I tend to get my work done before class begins. An example may be that if I have up to a week to write a workshop letter to a classmate, then I would need to work on reading the story and type my feedback before then. On the other hand, if I write a letter to a friend, I tend to write the letter within a few hours. Preferably, I would ask for consent from one of my friends if I could write them a hand-written letter and send it to their address, if I do not know their mailing address.

There is, however, a family friend whom I have not been in contact with for a few years. His name is Andrew and I still remember when I used to visit his house. His dad would invite my mom and I over to eat meals with them, along with another one of their friends. I actually met him and his dad before I visited his house. That was when his dad gave us a car ride to Japan House to go eat dinner together.

I wasn’t into the idea of meeting any of my mom’s friends and I sure wasn’t interested in meeting any of her friends’ children, even if the guy or girl were around the same age. My mom said a friend of hers has a son. Okay. Well whatever, but I still didn’t feel like going along to hang out, but my mom and her friend wanted to hang out anyway. Their other friend was going as well, but I thought it would just be my mom, her friend, said friend’s son, and I. Four people, not five. Well, nope. We had five people going to dinner. During the car ride, we never looked at each other.

Unlike other people, I don’t have much of an interest in looking at my phone. I always wondered when I would see people on their phones at cafés (Starbucks at Richland College in Sabine Hall, as well as at UTD in the Student Union), as they were shopping, and at tables waiting for their food and beverages to arrive. Texting and whatnot never interested me. I only looked at my phone because everyone around me would do so, or if I didn’t think there was anything else to do. And I didn’t think there was a need to begin a conversation in the car ride to Japan House, even though I was sitting next to the same guy whom I would get to know as one of my friends.

When we arrived and picked up plates to get our food, he was the one who initiated our first conversation. I looked at him and thought that he resembled a Japanese idol named Genki Iwahashi from King & Prince. No jokes there; the guy really has such aesthetic appeal that he really could have been mistaken for a celebrity. Yet, this encounter with a new acquaintance was better than I would have thought. He was someone who didn’t hesitate to strike a conversation with the daughter of his dad’s friend.

At the table, we talked about things such as anime and manga, interests in cosplaying, if I had been to A-Kon before. No, I am not talking about the singer, Akon, but the anime convention, for those who have not heard of A-Kon before. He asked if I wore makeup, to which I replied no (to be frank, no one had ever asked me about wearing makeup before, but it was engraved into my memory so that I could remember him by). Of course, the makeup question was asked since people tend to put makeup on for cosplaying purposes as well as to make themselves beautiful.

Perhaps the worst thing about going to A-Kon is having to risk being out in the heat. Walking around is something I can endure, as long as my body doesn’t get overheated. The best advice I can give for people who get heat exhaustion or have heatstroke is: Stay inside whenever you can if you attend A-Kon! Other than the heat, imagine having to spend money on the A-Kon pass, book hotels, the items at the stores, and so forth.

The only time I had ever gone to an A-Kon convention was in the summer of 2016 with two of my friends from high school. Since A-Kon lasts for a few days, we only had one day to go, but we had to wake up early since it would take a while to drive to. Obviously with conventions, finding a parking spot is a battlefield. Imagine the ordeal of going for the first time to a convention, and the next thing you know is the horror of waiting until there was an open space for you and your friends to stop at. I wish I had eaten some of the food from the food trucks, but my friends and I had a limited budget, so we ended up picking one of the restaurant hotels at the Hilton Anatole.

But when I think about it, it has been several years since I hung out at a friend’s house. As you get older, things change. I wonder what it would have been like to meet those friends you don’t get to see in-person anymore? For me, I can only meet people virtually through scheduled meetings. It feels like I’m in middle school again, but I can chat with someone whose face I can see. My laptop’s webcam sucks, though. I may have to check it the next time I use Zoom, but the quality of my webcam is terrible on MS Teams. On Blackboard Collaborate, I was never able to fix it so that I could share my video. 

Who knows when you’ll get to meet someone again, even for a short period of time? Sometime in October 2020, I considered mailing a belated birthday present to Andrew, and heck, it took a while to do so. I checked on Stamps.com for my shipment history and guess what? It was undeliverable because the status read: “MOVED, LEFT NO ADDRESS.” I ended up dreading that I wouldn’t be able to give Andrew something to thank him for being a friend I’ll remember.

I had also written him a letter, but… imagine the frustration anyone would feel from never having those words ever be read by a treasured friend, someone I hadn’t seen in a few years. I was sad and disappointed. I still feel this way—a blend of sorrowful feelings that go on to become a wistful wine bottle of memories as time passes by, but you know… Some people do move away after a while and perhaps there is nothing you can really do except to wish for their well-being. I wonder if he moved as a way to cope with the pandemic. 

If that was the case, would I have sent a letter to him sooner? I took out a sheet of notebook paper that I had ripped from my journal. There was another small letter that was supposed to go with the bubble mailer that contained his birthday gift. A mistake on my part was that I forgot to include it in the package before sealing it. In the shorter letter it says: 

To Andrew,

I have included a belated birthday gift that I won for free this year.

However, you are free to give it someone else if you’d prefer.

It’s a Bleach bracelet, though you might not be a fan of the manga/ anime. I feel like it would be weird if I gift another J-pop CD or book this year.

Now, you may think that it was weird that I put “gift” instead of the word “give” in writing this letter.  The intention in putting “gift” there was meant to bounce to the process of gifting someone a present. I have this habit of gifting others an item on occasion. What connects people together can be something like reading or listening to music. I used to give Andrew different gifts when I would go to his house, or I would hand his dad the gifts meant for him if we couldn’t meet up.

To me, sending Andrew a present was showing how much I appreciated his company and our friendship. Surely, the pandemic was likely affecting him like everyone else in the world. Reaching out to him was also to tell him that I wished I had gotten to know him better, but what words could I have ever expressed verbally or written down on a sheet of notebook paper…? It wasn’t the “end” of a friendship, but looking back, perhaps this really was the last gift I decided I would ever give to Andrew.

Later, I asked my friend Damon if I could write a hand-written letter to him since we rarely get to meet in person with how the pandemic has been tough on people. I believe someday we will meet again.

I listened to the song “Hello” by Taiki Kudo. It is quite soothing during such stressful times. I like the title of this song as well. I think by now with all the homework I have, writing another letter would help ease the tensions of dealing with how I’ve been going back and forth with doing schoolwork.

I also asked Damon if I could put the words I wrote in the letter in my essay. I haven’t finished writing it, but I did start on the letter this afternoon.

To Damon,

Thanks for allowing me to write you a letter. Due to the pandemic, I am unable to go outside much, unless I am going to pick up food or do some grocery shopping, pick up the mail, or do some other chores.

This fall semester has been taking a toll on me. I am in the midst of working on my third essay for the Humanities 6300 class I am required to take for my major. Honestly, I am experiencing a lot of stress from this class… As much as I would like to drop out of the class, I would rather persevere and get this one over with.

Yet, the life of a student isn’t an easy one. Academic essays are a pain in the ass, no matter how short they are. I plan on making this essay as short as possible.

At the very least, I plan on it being three pages. The topic is on one of my favorite J-pop boy bands, Arashi. I actually got to listen to their music in 2009. I was twelve years old that year, and I had a desktop computer back then. The essay I am writing will cover a bit on Arashi’s upcoming hiatus along with their latest song produced by Bruno Mar. It’s called, “Whenever You Call” and the lyrics are all in English.

As much as I love their music, I also feel happy about the hiatus. With a hiatus comes time for a new movement. A new beginning. 2020 is the start of a period that closes for a group of idols I’ve been a fan of.

2021 is close by. What will happen, I wonder, when the end of 2020 comes? A new year rests dormant before us. Do you know what you want to do next year? What are your plans for the future after 2020 ends, Damon?

When I started writing the letter, I thought it would end up being a short and quick piece. I had thoughts such as, “Are you doing well?”, “What’s going on in life?”, “Is your family okay?”. I felt that if I really knew anything about Damon, I could have asked a bit more, but as an introvert, I really didn’t know what to write down until I thought about things that weren’t going well in my own life. I had to be a bit more personal when it came to writing to someone who I could truly share my feelings to.

Everything about 2020 had been a boulder of stress, waiting to push me past my limit. Generally, I have bouts of loneliness, but not being able to meet with people without worrying about my own health and someone else’s, gave me a greater loneliness than I usually had. Things became worse with having to take a class I wanted to like but I hated it all the way through to the end.

Despite how I like writing letters to people, I’ve contemplated and looked within myself on whether it’ll really keep me connected with someone else. It might even be that my wish is to confirm my own existence and to see if a friend of mine will remember me. 

Annie Tran graduated from UT Dallas in Literary Studies and currently majors in Literature for her MA program. As an inspiring writer, she works on fiction and currently has a work on Route 7 Review's online journal. She is a fan of J-pop and otome games, particularly listening to Johnny & Associates groups’ music and playing Voltage Inc. apps.