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THE ISLAND OF LOST LETTERS

Island of lost letters

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> benjamin-constable.net > books >three lives of tomomi ishikawa >things that aren't in the book >the island of lost letters


Parenthetically - (The Island of Lost Letters 1)
Nothing comes for me in the post. No bank statements, no birthday cards, no junk mail… In books and films there are people who never wash, and people who go for years without sleep. Fiction doesn’t have to give explanations, and that’s great. But there’s a simple explanation for my lack of mail: I don’t have anywhere to receive it. The person I rent this apartment from is the tenant. They sublet it to me because it’s convenient for us both, but it’s not allowed. I keep the place clean and don’t make much noise. I smile and say hello to my neighbours and I hold the door for them when I come in. They know my face, but they act like I’m a pleasant stranger because, as long as nobody has to admit that I live here, everybody’s happy to pretend that I don’t. So my name’s not on the door buzzer and appears on no official paper. There is a letterbox at the entrance to my building to which I have the key, but my name’s not on it and nothing ever comes for me. I’m fine with that.

Sometimes though, I discover people have sent me things. My bank posted a form I needed to fill out for a new account. Friends have sent postcards from exotic locations, thinking of me and wishing I were there too. Somebody sent me love letters, two people posted wedding invitations. One person sent a note threatening to kill me I learned! But I have never received any of these things.

I daydreamed of a place where all the post I never got collects. In the states there’s a big dusty room called ‘The Dead Letter Office’, but my fiction-drenched imagination was more ambitious. I daydreamed a place more remote, isolated, an island far out in the ocean where every lost correspondence in history would end up without reply, unread and ignored. It would flash into my thoughts as I walked down the street, in the supermarket, or while I showered. It started to take on geographical form. And it became a metaphor for all things unread, unwritten things too; an enormous picture of uncommunicated things. The Island of Lost Letters.

Parenthetically - (The Island of Lost Letters 2)
From a distance The Island of Lost Letters looks like a huge rock rising high and forbidding from the water. Waves crash hard against the shore and the mist and clouds that gather inland are multi-layered in varying hues. But it’s made entirely from paper; millions and millions of letters written by people.

There are of course many reasons for a letter to get lost, some of them innocent like a mistake in the address, a fire at the sorting office, or a mail train held up… But most of the letters that go astray are not an arbitrary selection of the ones written. The reasons (conscious or unconscious) most don’t reach their destination is related to the meaning of the words within, and so curious themes of content emerge.

There are countless invitations (do come), and thank-you notes forced from the unwilling hands of children after Christmas, not to mention post cards (wishing you were here), get well soons and best wishes, happy returns and wonderful days, congratulations, commiserations (I was sorry to hear), sincere condolences.

There is no distinction between wealth and poverty on the island for the assets and liabilities belong to no one now. There are crisp bank notes pulled from birthday cards whose colourful images now pave the ways through the island’s towering financial district. Atop the stacks of windowed envelopes the breeze ripples cheques for inordinate sums, long since out of date, in currencies no longer existent, for most of the letters lost from which the island takes its name, have simply never been sent.

Others are never received, all manner of trickery used to outwit the most diligent messenger, or requests discarded on arrival by unsympathetic relatives, or the bills and reminders orphaned by those who prefer not to hear.

Some of the letters are addressed to me, ones I have not opened, or ones that are too long or the writing too small, or the point too distant, and my concentration could not hold. Most things written are never read, and I don’t know whose fault that is.

Parenthetically - (The Island of Lost Letters 3)
The Island of Lost Letters is a place of extremes. Its emotions are heightened, exaggerated in comparison to the world of its expeditors. The island is littered with early drafts still warm from the heat of the moment. These rash works are systematically abandoned by their authors in the cool light of next morning. Others, carefully-penned, wait forlorn by the door for a stamp, or a thoughtful hand to drop them in the post box, until they are no longer relevant, their imperative diluted, transported instead to The Island of Lost Letters to wait out eternity with their own kind.        

The Island of Lost Letters is an angry place. Bitter words of discontent in spiky hand line the routes. The papers crash and crunch as the wind rallies; they lie in drifts scrunched up in rage, their threats and rhetorical fury tightened, redrafted and underlined. ‘Know how angry I am,’ they say. ‘How could you?’, ‘Who do you think you are?’
As well as relieving the furious pressure of annoyance that would otherwise weigh down upon our world, the island lightens the burden of unwanted advice. These numerous epistles systematically reflect sentiments best guarded for the author’s own consideration, for the mislaid messages of the Island of Lost Letters care rarely for the needs of the people they address.

In this age of technology, the layout and structure of the letters lost evolves and adapts to take into account the numerous glitches that excuse the emails and text messages disappeared into the ether, passing on important news and relaying crucial information, dates, times, and places. And for the most current of affairs, all the latest can be found here.

A mixture of good intention and cruelty confuses the quarter where there is blood on the paper of treaties and propositions of peace, agreements to meet halfway, to dialogue, negotiate, and mediate. These were all lost because the messenger was shot. Their pages in a heap, needlessly wasted, for The Island of Lost Letters is not a just place.

Parenthetically - (The Island of Lost Letters 4)
In a dusty quarter of The Island of Lost Letters are found quaint bundles of envelopes tied together with ribbon. They carry the faded smell of perfume and are sealed with tender kisses. They have been preciously guarded for years, and then inadvertently thrown away when moving house, or disposed of after the recipient’s death.

One of the islands’ most curious features is its gushing torrents of love. The reasons for this most poetic and well considered collection are as diverse as the nature of love itself, from the selfless desire to share the perceived beauty of the world, to validation, lust for attention, propositions, and declarations of undying fidelity, now long since extinct.

There are words of care and cathartic explanations between parents and offspring never expressed. These are grouped largely in a wide and airy district where the ocean breezes swirl the paper in tourbillions like fallen leaves.

The Island of Lost Letters is a lonely place, reaching out from tiny rooms and prison cells, crying, “know I’m here; I need you not to forget me,” protecting the consciences of the absent and distant. And the island buffers lovers from knowing, “This time I’m leaving you. Here I go, I’m gone.” Some lives have been saved by the suicides never realized as the final words lose impact and doubt creeps in. And it is this same changing of the mind that brings shocking honesty to the island and not to the attention of the intended (“I want to tell you…” “It is time you knew…”).

The Island of Lost Letters is our filter, holding back the things we would, or could have said.  …And I think of the endless words I threw away or never wrote that have ended on that distant shore. I would have liked to tell you so much more, but the letters I have lost along the way could paper a continent of things that you will never know.


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