Pen Pals in Love - 7 Letters / by D.M. Jerman

Hey Sexy Lady-
So today is "Tropical Rain Forest" day here in Philly. It poured for about 25 minutes this morning and now it is cloudy and humid, and at odd intervals it opens up and pours again for a bit, and then stops. Huzzah!!
Apologies in advance if the letter is a bit short- no matter what I do, handwriting seems to strain my forearms and bad elbow. I feel like a rheumy old man in this weather. I can picture myself on a porch in a rocking chair yelling "Ethel!! Bring me some whiskey! My joints are acting up on me, gol-durnit!!" or some similar...
I'm working on a couple of cover letters and reading "Truman" by David McCullough. It's one of those 1000 page biographies that I love for the depth of info and historical perspective contained within, and hate, because I'm inclined to consume it unwholsomely and to the exclusion of all other activities. It seems odd to describe something as totally sweet as reading as unwholesome, but there it is.
I sat out on the back porch reading yesterday, wearing a white t-shirt. I read for about an hour, and absent mindedly scratched at my head and picked at my face and just kind of groomed myself for a while doing so, and after a bit I looked down at my shirt and it was just covered with bits of skin and hair and all sorts of biological detritus which I figured you would appreciate.
Also I had a vivid dream two nights ago about the devil AND zombies AND werewolves. It followed the classic horror set up- a bunch of people trapped someplace while zombies roam about outside- but the Devil, who was an inscrutable woman of Amazonia build, had kind of transported everyone there, and no one really knew what was going on. At one point I killed a zombie by pounding it into the carpet with a hammer until it disappeared.
Whenever somebody would escape, the werewolves would find them and bring them back inside. The Devil kept awkwardly seducing the men who seemed more curious about what would happen than excited to get it on with the Princess of Darkness. Of course, she was oddly proportioned.
---

Tonight I'm thinking about writing and how the writing process relates to observing + experiencing things in the world around us.
I went to see Chuck Palahniuk read from his new book last night and stayed for a bit of the Q&A. As I was leaving, a girl asked him what he thought about going to writing school. Should she pay a lot of money to go learn about something that she may already have?
Palahniuk is tall and rangy, like a pair of wire-rim glasses (which he wears, incidentally) come to life. He smiles easily and seems to take an almost adolescent delight in swearing, as if the fact that he can curse in public is an exciting discovery.
He told us several stories about people he has met- the girl who had her first orgasm using her little sister's electric toothbrush as a vibrator. The guy who takes pictures of people who die in the booths at the sex shop where he works, etc. And when asked the writing school question, he hunched over the podium and thought for a minute, then grinned like the swearing adolescent again and said "I feel like it's important to experience things and fuck up a lot in order to tell good stories. It helps to spend years choosing your friends very poorly."
He went on for a while, and I liked his answer, because he got right to the point: the question shouldn't be "how am I going to write" but rather "what am I going to write about?"
I read a piece in the New Yorker today about Jonathan Franzen and his adolescence in the church fellowship, and I was really impressed with how well he conveyed the sense of his looking around and observing things that age. He seems to have held onto and distilled that observational power into a clear narrative voice, and I think that's really cool.
I notice myself looking around at things a lot, but not always observing them that intently, or not keeping track of my observations too intently. Is there anything that you do to practice capturing observations?
I had a dream last night that took place at a camp in the woods. Everything was very dry, and some people came to cut down a huge old pine tree. It had two main trunks that grew apart from one another in a V shape about 10 feet up the tree. One arm of the V still supported lots of green needles and living branches, but the other was clearly dying. When they cut down the tree down, the friction of the tree falling thru the air created enough electric charge to light it on fire, and when it hit the dry ground, the place ignited like a tinderbox. I was wearing a thick sweater that caught on fire, and I kept repeating to myself "Stop drop and roll, stop drop and roll."
I hit the ground and it felt soft under my shoulder, then I woke up.
I'm headed to Philly this weekend, and I may go to NY as my friend will be in "The Hamptons." Yes, he is also a member of a boat club. And yet- he is not a dick. It's like he plays this game to amuse himself.
Anyway, I'm going to take my camera and finish my roll of film, and then I will have some fresh pics to send you.
In the meantime, here is some graf of a monkey I found on the ground in Brooklyn near the brewery.
I love you! I'll write again this weekend with more about how I feel about you and I, and maybe a sonnet. You are the best.
---

Sunday night and I'm drinking coffee in the the no-tech coffeeshop. I came out here thinking they might have that wi-fi going, as the Milkboy was having a private party. Weak!
This one is out in Wayne, about a 20 min drive from my parent's place. I used to come out here a lot in high school with friends when we couldn't think of anything to do. Meanwhile the big city pulsed the same distance away in the opposite direction... and here we thought there was nothing to do...
I put soy milk in my coffee and it's doing that thing where it separates into little clusters and then converts around, and if you want that nice even brown coffee, you have to stir it before drinking.
It's actually kind of nice to end up in the no-tech place and not have that gaudy internet to distract me. Funny how it both increases and decreases productivity to have connectiveness.
Still, I was thinking while driving here that this area could use a dive coffeeshop. The kind that's cramped and dirty, and that stays open until 2am each night, and plays super-eclectic indie music and has battered old armchairs picked up off Craigslist, like that Sparky's place on 14th in DC.
There are so many colleges around here that you'd think there would naturally be a market, but they all seem to cater to the yuppie-type crowd.
I'm glad to have travelled a bit and had some life experiences that throw this place into contrast- and to have a rad-sexy companion to show me some of the ropes!
I think a lot of people here are busy playing at behaving old while they still have much youth left in them, and it would be a shame for that to burn off wholly unexamined.
A lady I work with, a psychologist, gave me copies of some poetry and essays of hers that have been published, and last night before bed I read one about death. I realized there in bed that I'd be pissed if I were killed in an accident or something dumb, and the pastor of my parents church tried to give a service or speak at a funeral about my life. I don't want that!
I think I'm going to write up some advanced directives because of this.
So I want to ask: if something happens and I die, will you scatter some of my ashes or speak at some kind of service about me? I haven't thought it through yet, but I know that I don't want that awful man trying to pretend like he knew the first thing about me, and then invoking the Jesus crap as a palliative for my mother and family.
I hope you enjoy the other stream-of-consciousness letter included here, and the beautiful portraits. I tried to find some quotes to write on them that matched the mood, but I couldn't. It's the kind of thing that I'd like to have memorized volumes of old British poetry for. Byron and Keats and Coleridge and those guys. So much to read and so many things to do. It's great when the world feels full of potential like this.
Kitten! I miss you! I hope you are catching some late-night sledding under the stars. Make a snow angel for me!
---

Lover-
Here I am sitting in DuPont circle with my back against a tree. I'm wearing a navy blue hoodie and olive green cargo pants with sneakers. There are two police cars parked in the circle to my left. And a couple sitting on the grass in the sun. I'm in the shade myself. On my way down here I passed a homeless man, and I rifled thru all the change in my pockets and gave him the nickels dimes and pennies, but I kept the quarters. For lunch I had a meatball sandwich and a root beer that went 'pop!' when I opened it, and its neck filled up with fog.
I spent a little while earlier flipping thru a magazine from Harvard. It was supposed to be edgy in a quasi-pornographic way. Full of fetishy pictures of boobs and butts and articles by women trying to be transgressive with their use of dirty words. They all aim low, tho. The magazine is pretty clearly pitched at other liberal-minded Harvard undergraduates who, even after being accept at that "most prestigious" of institutions, need to keep telling themselves that they are different (and better, by implication) than the world around them. There was only one decent piece of writing in the whole thing, at the very end, about the excitement and danger of being young. The rest was some variation on the "boys at Harvard won't ask me on a date" or "girls at Harvard are too busy studying to spend time with me" theme. Covering up for their lack of decent subject material with florid adjectives. I was surprised by how poor I found it to be, but then maybe I'm reading things into it that I want to see there.
A slew of pigeons are around me now, cooing. Any second now they are going to all launch themselves into the air and flap around to the other side of the circle.
This morning I walked up Connecticut Ave towards then past the Zoo, looking for interesting places to work and a public library. I passed a lot of nice apartment buildings and restaurants, but no libraries or internet cafes that I could use to find libraries. Eventually I got to one of those campuses of the University of D.C., and passed another Futons!! store. It was closed. Then I took the metro back to DuPont. Going past the Zoo I crossed Garfield St., which is where my college girlfriend Kaylie lived. I had been at that same intersection before, but coming from the opposite direction. Somehow this distinction was important to me, and even tho' I could see in my head the two of us walking down Garfield chatting and holding hands, I was detached from it. Not reliving it, just remembering. And that seemed important.
Then there is a great little tea shop on R st. just past the circle called Teaism, and I'm going to see if I can get a job there. Dan and I went there last night and I had some great mint tea, and it was a great way to spend part of the evening. I'm excited about it.
This afternoon I think I'm going to walk down New Hampshire Ave towards the mall and see if there's an interesting place I might like to work. It's a lovely day to walk and see things and I'm going to take advantage of it. I'm feeling pretty optimistic and hopeful about things here. There is energy and vibrancy that I feel like I can feed off of. And I'm excited to share it with you and write to you about it. I'm really happy that you are a part of my life.
I can see people playing chess from where I'm sitting, and I miss you.
---

Hey love-
Enclosed is a book that already traveled 3,000 miles in the same box to find me. It spent about 5 days out of the box, and now hopefully has found its way back across 2,500 of those miles to your hands. I really, really enjoyed reading it, so I hope you like it as well.
Enclosed is also a t-shirt of yours that I found while I was cleaning my room back in June. I held onto it because it reminded me a bit of the size of you, and how you smell, and the kind of cool stylin' threads that you've got. But a shirt for a shirt as they say, and I figured you might want it back so you can cut a super-sexy red streak across camp.
I'm very much pleased that you like my last letter. I'd be immensely turned on if you wrote one of a similar sort for me. I'm a bit turned on just thinking about you writing it. I'm sorry that I haven't sent more letters to you of late- I've been thinking a lot, but the thoughts are scattered all over the place, and when I try to get them down on paper, they seem to disappear from my head. But I'm trying.
It's raining. Real rain too- not just some little drizzle. It just started and the moisture is kicking up this amazing organic earthy-type of smell. We had a rain dance and banged on some drums a few minutes ago, so the kids are going to be really psyched that they called down the rains. Fun!
I miss holding you soft next to me so much. The way your lips press against mine, cool and firm and sweet- and how they feel between my teeth when nibbled. I catch myself sucking and chewing on my lower lip and thinking about your mouth, your eyes, the curve of your hips. This is when it is hardest for me to be apart from you. When I want the comfort of these things. Held in my hands, wrapped in my arms.
I miss you in the quiet spaces.
I love you.
---

A few nights ago I walked up to Borders in order to get out of my house and away from the TV. I listened to the Futureheads being raucous as I walked. Remember how a little while ago I told you that I'd like to put together a CD of really driving rock music? I think that the Futureheads CD is basically that CD. Sometimes in the night I wake up with Futureheads music playing in my head. I think it has been playing in my dreams too. It reminds me of the first time that I had a dream about a particular rock climb- a hard 5.10 dihedral at Rumney that has a scary/amazing step-across. Mostly on THIN edges at the top of the corner... just thinking about it gives me goosebumps. I would wake up from the dream with the feeling of rock in front of me and air below me, and sometimes it is like that when I wake up with Futureheads music on my mind.
I got to the bookstore and the corporate managers had decreed that it was time for the Christmas music loop to be played over the loudspeakers, so I kept listening to The Futureheads to drown out the terrible schmaltz of corporate xmas rock.
I picked up a copy of Adbusters and sat in a chair listening to the thumping drumwork and had a visceral reading experience. I didn't retain any information from the articles- I couldn't tell you who wrote them or really what they were written about, substantially. Instead, through the hazy rock filter, I picked up packets of violent dissent and frustration with a culture that takes advantage of its citizens with money and selective information transfer via little electronic screens.
Usually, when I read or write or do school work, I try to clear out the background noise so that it is essentially neutral. Sometimes I'll write with classical music on in the background, but even that starts to distract me, so it was really interesting to read while pumping music directly into my brain. To read without regard for the retention of information makes the best ammunition in a debate, or in an argument, but in this situation the voice and tone seemed to be weapons of choice. When I finished reading, I felt both cynical and liberated. Less than optimistic about the true nature of things in the world today, but really glad and fortunate to know that I'm not being entirely hoodwinked by the those who would benefit most by me agreeing to become a docile consumer of mediated product-based culture.
When I visualize myself writing you letters, I am often smoking cigarettes. Somehow I've internalized the standard French New Wave cinema style young intellectual- thin, pensive, no time to waste finding food or funding it, or other such physical considerations. There's tension here, because the non-epistolary me is so very rooted in the physical functioning of this body. The urge to smoke, for me, is very much rooted in visual self-regard.
I want to because I want to see what I'd look like while doing it. All the more reason not to.
I've been picturing myself smoking more often since visiting you in D.C. and climbing out onto your roof thru the window. Something about that set up screams "Cigarettes! Wine!" to me. But I'm pretty sure that this vision has been placed there by TV and movies and other things that I've read and watched- another reason to stay skeptical about my own desires and intentions.
I dropped off some film today and caught myself thinking about the taking of photographs on the way out of the store. I was imagining that I was a famous photographer explaining my picture-taking philosophy to a student or interviewer or something, and I was saying that photography was important because it enables you to be mindful of your surroundings at any given moment in time. That when you stop and decide to photograph something, you really step into the present awareness of your visual surroundings for that moment, and that you could in theory consider a well chosen and exposed subject to be a quality picture not because it looks 'nice' but because it represents the valuable mindfulness that went into the taking of the picture. I'm sure that this is a fairly common belief among photographers, but I was glad to think it in a more or less spontaneous situation, because it's good to know these things: Why do I like taking pictures? Why do I like climbing rocks? Why should I try to find a job? If I'm ever a teacher, I hope my students end up asking the same questions of themselves as well as of the subject matter we're studying.
I hope you like the inclusions with this letter. I love you a lot and am continually excited by you. If the world devolved into anarchic chaos tomorrow and we were forced to leave our homes and not see each other again, I'd be more happy having known you than just about anyone else I've spent time with. In short, you are the best!
See you soon.
---

D-
Saturday night. I stop into this main line bar for a beer and to write this letter. Not as dark or smokey in here as I had hoped for, but the beer will do.
Last night I was up until 6am, almost dawn, and now I feel surly. Like my voice ought to rasp and rattle the way it does after breathing smokey air too long and drinking too much coffee. It was around 3:30 last night, sitting in the couch at Lydias house, and I look over at Alex and he's snorting coke off of his housekey. I thought we were winding down, but he was headed the other way. Go back to his place to crash, but he's inviting over some old friend to "catch up quietly." Hmm. Best if I leave and go home.
When I get there the outer back door is locked, and there's no key for that one, so I stand on the back porch and call my parents on the phone. Shit.
Backing up, last weekend I swing out of the yoga studio into the cold sun and onto the bus for NYC. Talk to you for a while on the phone and then catch a train, a little uptown, a little crosstown, stop in to see Caitlin at the clothing boutique where she works. No hug on the way in, but one on the way out. That weird ambiguity. Friends? How close? I want to cut out the bullshit and start with a big hug but in the moment I forget.
I pick up a grilled cheese for dinner and get myself a coffee at the corner store. Something about NYC makes me want to drink coffee, don't know what. I head out onto the train under the river, pop out in Williamsburg. Weird place- it looks run down and dirty, but there's all loads of expensive shit in the stores. Kind of an affected dirty.
I meet Niles- he's got a unabomber beard happening. We go out to dinner with his roommate and I give him advice about losing weight. Don't skip lunch, ever.
Kind of a bizarre conversation as he knocks back a burger and I dip his fries in mayo. i think the mayo at that place is homemade. It's really good.
We head back to Niles' place, meet Caitlin, head out. Niles brings his dog. First bar is like this one: nicer than it should be. Second bar has better music and a ping pong table. When I play Niles I take off my shirt but he wins anyway.
Drinks, talk. Natalie shows up. She and Niles take off. There are these other photographers there from Providence and they are trying to knock a ping pong ball into a broken wineglass, drunkenly. I'm done.
Caitlin and I take off, and they yell for last call as we walk out.
I curl up in her bed and we hold on. I don't know if she wants to kiss, but I'm asleep before I ask.
Sunday morning. Make pancakes. This takes until 1:30 or so. Lay about and read and wait for a nap that doesn't come. Then get antsy and want to run around before the sun sets.
We take a football out to a park and throw and run into the cold setting sunlight. Sounds of a nearby touch football game float towards us across the frozen ground. So beautiful I want to scream it out and sprint back and forth across the field. I think about what you said about all being connected to the stuff of the stars. I blow on my cold hands.
That night in bed Caitlin and I talk about language and decisions. It's so platonic right up to the moment we kiss, like it wouldn't have happened if we hadn't been distracted. The kissing is better than it has been in the past. Practice makes... improvement. I guess. She is wet, and so I ask... She says I thought it was obvious. She's got a condom and I strap it on and penetrate her- first sex I've had in 2+ years that isn't with you. I have trouble following her signals and getting out of my own head. I think she needs her clit stimulated, but I can't seem to find it. I'm tired and I'm not going to come. She presses hard into my lower back and she's very strong and that feels good. It feels good too when she cups my whole side in her hand, fingers on my back, thumbs on my stomach. I stay on top for a while, then on the roll over the erection goes and we call it an evening. Neither of us comes. We wrap our limbs and this feels good, too. At some point I thank her and she says, I don't think anyone has ever said thank you before. Who have you been with?, I wonder. She's the fifth lover of my life.
In the morning I've got to hustle out. I've got the schedules in my head. Subway, bus, subway, walk, work. It should work out in theory but life's a little messier than that.
I make the 10 o'clock bus after three transfers, pushing my way past the aggressive Chinese ladies from the other bus companies.
I like those ladies- I'm glad that they bring that old-world commercial aggression to this country, where the transaction has become so ritualistically sanitized. Gimme the seediness any day. The bus leaves behind schedule, and then stops a bunch of times to drop passengers at random motels and restaurants along the way. This whole underground world of migrants and off-the-books living!
Sucks for me now, though, because I'm strapped for time. I need to catch the subway to Philly at 12:15 and it's 12:05 as we finally start up the long blue Ben Franklin Bridge. Nerves awake in my stomach, anticipation. I'll be embarrassed if I have to call in late. Then the driver misses the turn into the station. Shit! Now we have to go up an extra block, no, 2 blocks, on turn around, and I'm going to miss that train one choice: I get up, grab my stuff, ask to be let off at the red light, and run for 13th street. Feet echo on the concrete as I rumble down the stairs just as the train pulls in. YES! Thirty seconds later and I would have been screwed.
The doors close. I'm on my way.
I know I'll make it now. In the release from the nervous anticipation, I enter a beautiful state of flow and presence. The unlikeliness of it all. The transportation swapping. I feel like a marble in one of those toy gadgets, lifted up by a conveyor and then set loose down an incline into an obstacle course of turns and funnels and switches; or like the surface of the Earth is some enormous clockwork mechanism and I'm floating from piece to piece, changing arms as they snap together briefly before pulling apart again. I make the connection and then put on some Daft Punk for the walk uphill to the office. It sounds really good played loud directly into my ears, washing out my aural senses, and I walk fast up the cold empty street, and I'm right here, joyfully free in these five minutes. Somehow its all added up to this, stretching backward across the time of my living- the train, the subway, the bus. Caitlin and Niles and dirty NYC, yoga and Philly and you and me after a campfire, back and back, further and faster now, stars and planets in a telescope, a green field in New Hampshire, boats on a river and bikes in a driveway under hot sun. I feel like I'm a grain of sand falling thru the neck of an hourglass, suspended free in this moment...
Then I pass the pizza shop and realize I forgot about lunch. I guess I'll walk in and buy a slice...
So, back to this bar. Here's a thing about it. I ordered a beer and sat down. I went to take off my jacket but stopped halfway and put it back on. I'm not going to stay here very long.
I love you.