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Dear Doug,

I can't believe the post office still delivers letters. I can't believe people write them. You must be the last person on earth who writes on paper and mails it. This is an anachronistic hobby like jousting or playing with electric trains. I'm going to try it to see if I like it, though I have to admit it doesn't seem very satisfying. What exactly do I do between the time I mail this letter and get your response? It could take days. There's a strong possibility I'll lose interest long before I receive your reaction.

Back in the 90's the USPS was afraid of losing relevance and they suggested they'd become a sort of physical portal for electronic transmission. You'd go to your local post office and send e-mail. They were trying to keep people in the habit of going to them for mail. This was before everyone had megabit-per-second pipes in their homes. I was at U.C. Berkeley back then and I saw Robert Lucky at an invitation-only dinner. He predicted we'd have at least 400 kilobits-per-second coming into our homes by the end of the decade and most of us nodded, because we were the ones who'd create the technology he was busy foreseeing. We agreed it would happen and it did and nobody cared the post office thought of it first. But they didn't do anything about it so they're still selling stamps.

My mail is delivered by a Vietnamese guy named Han. His mace is always at the ready, safety off, in his left hand while he shoves letters with his right. He's been bitten by too many dogs, which doesn't compute to him. He comes from somewhere dogs are considered livestock. When he delivered your letter my normally placid pooch growled and bared her teeth. Han told me he remembered eating dogs when he was growing up in Quan-Tri.

I asked him what breed. He said he didn't know. I asked them their names, and he said they didn't have any. They ate generic, nameless dogs the way we eat nameless, generic chickens.

He handed me two inches of magazines and advertisements and backed across my front lawn, his forefinger twitching on the sprayer while I tried to convince him Juliette didn't bite. Though at the time I wasn't too convinced myself, so I couldn't blame him.

What spices do you use on dog?

Please forgive me, Doug. I wasn't expecting a letter so I threw out yours. It was sandwiched between an ad for tires and one for a big drugstore chain. It wasn't until you phoned and said you sent one that I went digging to find it. Only coffee grounds were on it and I could only read the right quarter of the page but I can imagine the rest. Imagination is what works best for me.

It has always been difficult for me to write. My thoughts don't compose themselves in readable ways. I'm happy to learn, though, that upon lifting my pen from this page I can fold it, place it into a stamped, addressed envelope. And you'll get it a few days from now instead of in a couple seconds. The delay will give me the opportunity to imagine your response. That's the way things were done in the old days. Communication could be measured in words-per-month. By my calculations, factoring in the possibility this note travels entirely over ground, we'll be exercising a 0.0001 bit-per-second channel.

Hurray for the post office. They've always been the masters of low-bandwidth interchange. It's not about to change soon, unlike everything else.

A few words can mean so much. Is the bandwidth in the bytes or the message? Do you fill it in with your mind, or is it literal? If so, the post office might have the E3 trunk beat. Still, I hear the words but I don't get how I was I was born on the day I got the cottonwood tree in midwinter. I mean, I understand the superficiality of the words themselves. I understand I got it because I believe what everyone says, not because I remember having it inflicted, nor anything of the dinosaurs or the world before. Born of mother's pain, then my own. What is the world, Doug? What is this life?

I came into this world with very little except a burn that looks like a tree. That alone is mine.

Tell me about it again. Use different words. Write it slowly.

I hope I really remember that Robert Lucky thing. I didn't hear it from you, did I?

Your Friend,

Joe









Dear Doug,

Machiavelli taught the Medici Prince that fear was the most powerful emotion.
It's the ring in everyone's nose.

How did he figure it out?

It must have been by valuing the exertion of will.

Everyone thinks they're afraid of the end of the world. It's not true. What we fear is the end of our own world. Not one of us is concerned with the end of a larger world of which we are no longer a part.

Everyone thinks they want riches. It's not true. What we want is the end of want. Want is the surest killer of happiness. The death of happiness is invitation to fear. We fear the lack of happiness. It feeds on itself.

If we were saints we'd release everyone from want. We'd lead people to a peace where we didn't need anything, not even life.

You build from that. Or do you need to build anything anymore after it?

I was born in a flash of heat and light. I was born in a perfect body. You say I'm handicapped. But if you had never said that, I'd have never known it. I'd never want to do the things I see you doing. I'd never fear the loss of what I can never have.

Suppose I was to illustrate all those things of which you are incapable. You would leave our meeting unfazed. But over the days and hours you would grow to experience loss.

This is what we need to repair. So please recall your therapist. Thank you for the doctors. Thank you for the concern.

Life has me firmly in its grasp. I am experiencing it.

Thank you and great love to you.

Joe









Dear Doug,

I have lost Juliette and I suspect the worst.

It happened while I was reading your kind letter. Thank you for your detailed description. Thank you for filling in my history. I know I asked you for it. Now I wonder if there wasn't something terribly wrong for my wanting it. I'm sure I had a life before the accident. Nobody is born thirty-seven years old. Even I realize that.

But I feel no connection to those people. They're characters from a story you invented. Please understand I wish them no ill will. I have tried to find a spark within myself for them -- something deeper than brotherly love. I'm truly sorry there isn't anything. I've searched my heart. Seeing how much it hurts them tears at me. How is it I cause them so much pain? I think about it day and night. I stare at the pictures. I pray something will come to me and sometimes I think I remember, but then I realize it's suggestion.

Maybe it would be best for me simply to tell myself they are my family and that I love them. Eventually, I would. I know that.

But it was while I was contemplating this idea that a breeze opened the front door, not firmly latched when I last passed through, and Juliette ran out.

The nonverbal communication channel between animals and humans is a lot stronger than people like to believe. She couldn't handle my becoming unfaithful to purity.

I have to be true to my own heart, Doug.

I know everyone feels they have lost me. But you haven't. I am still here. I am still your friend.

I am everyone's friend. I wish the best for everyone.

And I thank everyone for their best wishes.

Love,

Joe









Dear Doug,

It makes no sense to ask why. There is no why. We live and it is truth. We die and it is truth. The need for why is the path to pain.

You might as well ask, "why gravity?" "why inertia?"

What did I do to deserve it? One of the ever verbal Sunday faithful suggested if I examine my conscience I'll discover a transgression that caused an imbalance in the universe, and that to bring the system to equilibrium, I had to suffer my fate.

But the argument is flawed. All I have are the words of others to fill out the story of my time before the lightning. There is no "me" before my big bang. And I only have your insistence that before me was a person who was struck. My own life began on a gurney in the Good Samaritan Hospital emergency room, bed B, eleven-twenty-one PM, eleven months ago. Everything else is a story. Everything was in perfect balance when I came to be. It was how I came to be. You saw electricity; I saw the Earth for the first time. There is difficulty believing the literal interpretation of your story. I'm trying, though. Trying to believe there's goodness in it for all of us.

There was no sin that created me. How could it have been anything but love?

A man called me today. His name is Kirk and Juliette is living with him. I am going to her now. I will try to convince her to return to me. I will try to convince her I have given up this fruitless search for an alternate story of my birth. I can live in this here and now. It suits me just fine.

You may never hear from me again in your lifetime, Doug. Please don't take it to heart if this is the case. In these months you have been a good friend.

Tell everyone I work hard to love them. I put my full soul into it.

Live well, Doug. We have nothing else to accomplish here.

Joe

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