Life Without the Web
Until mail from my most recent column started pouring in, the feedback I'd received had been overwhelmingly supportive. The letters continue to be mostly handwritten and are often several pages long. The majority document the writer's own tortured relationship with the Internet. Many are surprisingly personal, considering they are written to a stranger. (Or perhaps that's why they are so personal?) A fair share of my correspondents express regret that they, too, can't unplug for awhile, while others have vowed to go offline for at least a week or two or more.
At least a quarter of the letters express discomfort with the actual writing of the letter and jokingly bemoan the lack of a backspace key or spell check. But I actually like seeing what you crossed out and what new direction you decide to take. Would Jesse from Richmond have come up with that Internet pyramid if she were tapping away on her keyboard? I don't think so. I have no doubt that a version of this diagram will someday be hanging in elementary school class rooms across America (distributed by the FCC).
My only request to my correspondents would be to stop apologizing for your handwriting. I enjoy how distinctive it is—so much better than another boring stream of 14-point Helvetica flooding my inbox. Snail mail may not be as quick as e-mail, but it's more human (which is also why I'm always disappointed when a cartoonist chooses the ease of some bland comic font instead of lettering their work themselves).
The bunny letters started arriving just two days ago. I've already received 30. (I'd been averaging about two dozen letters for an entire week.) Nothing like the death of a cute little animal to stir passions and generate pen pals! Several people reminisced about the deaths of their own childhood pets. My daughter Charlotte received four condolence cards. I was quite touched by this, though Charlotte was a bit perplexed. More than a month has passed since Cedar's death, and she is no longer in need of sympathy (though always excited to receive mail!). If the whole bunny thing taught my wife and me anything, it is how resilient children are.
Ten of the bunny letters were critical, and one point that writers made repeatedly and emphatically was that if I had been online I could have done proper bunny-care research, but because of my "self-indulgent Internet stunt," Thunder and Cedar's blood is on my hands. I better get reconnected fast or who knows what other preventable calamities may happen!
It's true that I didn't do any online research before we got the bunnies, but my wife and oldest daughter did (they also made several fact-finding visits to friends who have been caring for rabbits for years). Though most of the critical letters were sanctimonious in tone (and presumptuous about all the mistakes I'd made), not all of them were. I received some useful information about rabbit care from the House Rabbit Society. One woman questioned why we'd bought a rabbit at a pet store when there's a bunny rescue operation 45 minutes away. (She sent along a map and directions.)
Whatever the letters' content, I'm still looking forward to receiving them. I look for clues about the sender in the choice of writing implement, stationery, and even pressure of pen to paper. Some lines flow effortlessly whereas others look labored. I can't help but wonder who is attached to the hand that had moved across this page. Are they always this thoughtful? This irreverent? This sad? And, of course, what do they look like?
Google image search will not rob me of this mystery! A visual impression of the letter writer begins to form in my head: a harried office worker, a bookish professor type, Morticia Addams ...
Seven columns down, three to go (and back online in four weeks!). If you have any suggestions about what topics I should take up in the remaining weeks, let me know:
The Center for Cartoon Studies
attn: James Sturm
P.O. Box 125
White River Junction, VT 05001