28 January 2005

7. Restaurant Customers

Dear restaurant customers,

You may or may not already know this, but there's a good chance that the last meal you ate out was cooked by someone like me: someone who, without even knowing you, personally hates your guts.

Okay, so that's not exactly true. Most of you are probably pretty cool, but some of you are such whiny bitches that they make the rest of you look bad. For instance, some whiny bitches waste time and money by sending servers back and forth to the kitchen to ask questions instead of simply reading the menu. The ones who don't read the menu are among my favorites. "I didn't know this had bacon in it" when that's the first ingredient listed among the fillings in an omelet? We get to deal with you bastards, and you're why I can never be a server because at least in the kitchen you probably can't hear me cursing your mothers. In fact, I think I hate you extra on behalf of the floor staff, who aren't allowed to cuss and throw things nearly as much as I am back in the kitchen. The servers don't seem to believe me when I say I could never do their job, but it's true. I would laugh at stupid customers constantly. I know part of why you people come out to dinner is to have someone else take care of you, but that doesn't include remembering the details of your diet or reading the menu for you. Nor does it mean putting up with your shit when you're having a bad day, especially if you don't tip well. Waitstaff are simply not paid well enough to pretend they're your best friend, or your mom, or your shrink. But back to me in the kitchen.

I'm not really trying to write this letter for you customers who are good enough to know your dietary requirements and pay attention to the menu descriptions of food, and order carefully based on what you know you can and will eat, and make small changes before the kitchen's already started your order (more on sending plates back in a bit). Even people who, before ordering, send servers back to make sure a given food doesn't contain an allergen or whatever are okay in the grand scheme of things. I'm fine with "I'm lactose intolerant; please hold the cheese and sour cream"; in fact when I see orders come back asking for no cheese, I check for other possible trouble ingredients in the item because it would be really rude to accidentally put mayo on a vegan's soyburger, especially when the new menu's got a typo so it looks like the avocado burger doesn't have mayo on it. But ultimately we have a menu for a reason; it describes what the kitchen is set up to produce. If we wanted you to make shit up, we'd just give a list of ingredients and tell you to go hog wild. But it would slow service down even more than you people who put back nonstandard orders ("No toast, no home fries, substitute three strips of bacon and a side of sausage links? I can probably get you a whole dead pig, you Fatkins freak.") And we'd definitely have to charge you more for the privilege of writing your own menu, and then you'd probably complain about that instead. There's no winning with you people, is there?

Now. About sending back a plate. It's one thing if I made a mistake; most of the time it'll end up becoming somebody's employee meal for the shift and I'll remake your food correctly at no charge. But if you didn't read the menu right, or better yet you changed your mind about what you wanted after the food got to your table, then that's your mistake and it cost us money. It probably cost us more money than we'll make on your whole party, unless you ordered some really expensive drinks. And that's just ingredients. We're not talking about the time it cost to send the server back and forth, and for the kitchen to remake the order. And then of course there's the karmic cost of all the hate you've generated, which is pretty huge.

Long story short (too late!), part of going out to eat is that you have to trust the people cooking your food to do their job, not second-guess their every move. If you're so particular about your food that you don't trust the kitchen to make it right, you're in the wrong restaurant, or maybe you shouldn't even be going out to eat when clearly you could do better for yourself cooking at home.


P.S. Tip your servers well or be destroyed.

started 18 January 2005, published 28 January 2005, last updated 8 September 2013 (just formatting on that last).

25 January 2005

6. Tobacco Smoke

Dear tobacco smoke,

Thank you for all the times you weren't created around me. I really do appreciate those, but I don't think enough good thoughts about them. Also, I am sorry for being a smug bitch about the fact that I don't smoke, but there you have it. I don't smoke, but I feel so smug every time I think about it that I actually feel guilty about it sometimes. Which means that every time people don't smoke a good time for me, if only in that I don't have to remember how horrendously smug I am about my non-smoker status.

Why am I glad? Because I'm bad at smoking, for one. I tried it one summer with some friends, and embarrassed myself by coughing and choking and getting a runny nose and watery eyes from just a few puffs. That sucked, so I quit trying. Why waste the cigarettes they were giving me, right? More for them, better for everyone. Smoking is expensive, which is another reason I'm glad I'm not so addicted I have to do it. Unfortunately, since first trying to smoke and failing I've only become more and more intolerant of your smell, especially cigarette smoke, to the point where I am, as mentioned before, a horrid smug bitch about the whole smoking thing. Which brings me to the final reason I'm glad I don't smoke: I'd have to put up with intolerant nonsmokers such as myself. That sounds like it would be a total drag.

So yeah: tobacco smoke, I don't miss you. It's okay if you don't keep in touch.


started 6 December 2004; first published 25 January 2005, last updated 6 June 2014

20 January 2005

5. U.S.A.

Dear United States of America,

So as of today, George W. Bush is sworn in as President, and even cynical little me has to admit he was probably elected this time around. At least this time we didn't have to get the Supreme Court involved, right? That's got to count for something, right? Okay, I'm grasping at straws here.

I've been meaning to write you a letter since November 2004, of course, when the election happened and I couldn't bring myself to call it a re-election, but I also couldn't bear to think that we averaged 70,000 votes worth of fraud per state this time around. Of course, most of my letters started out, "Dear U.S.A., what the fuck?" and didn't get much more eloquent from there. It was the popular vote that really turned my stomach. I mean, I was glad it matched the Electoral College results for a change, not that I particularly like the Electoral College, but that's a topic for another letter. But G.W.B. didn't win the popular vote in 2000, and carried on like it was a landslide anyway, so the thought of what he and his team would do with even a slim majority was pretty sick-making. So was the thought that a majority of people cast "Please sir, can I have some more?" votes, and wondering what the hell was going on in their minds, and feeling like an alien maybe a little more than usual even. Also I really didn't like the thought that people with opinions and ideas like mine (and a lot of people with opinions and ideas a lot less extreme than mine, for that matter) were going to be thorougly ignored for another four years. I wrote about wanting to leave the country, like a lot of people did when post-election despair was strongest, but then I found, to my surprise, that some parts of me actually identify with you after all.

I've always been something of a foreigner here, from the fact that I was born with dual nationality and grew up speaking two languages, to the fact that my family didn't go to church. On the other hand, I always had the reassuring knowledge that there's another country I could easily call home if I so chose, even if as I got older I gradually learned that the Netherlands was not the land of gifts and unconditional love --- that was just my grandparents' house, which happens to be in the Netherlands. Still, the growing-up realization that I would probably never fully fit into either country didn't particularly make me like the United States any better. So why was I suddenly discovering in myself this sudden refusal to leave?

Part of it was just stubbornness, and the knowledge that if everybody like me left the U.S.A. it would make the administration's job that much easier. Part of it was the fact that damn it, my house is here. But to my everlasting surprise, there was more.

Dear United States of America, you're my country, too. I may be a second-class citizen in a lot of ways: I'm a woman, sure, and to make matters worse I'm a woman who's had an abortion. I'm an atheist, I'm a foreigner, and I'm a queer. But despite all those things, I was born here, and that makes this my country even if I don't always like it, and I'm not going to cut and run just yet. I've made a list of things that would make me leave: another war, one that threatened to draft my partner; a national law against same-sex marriage; a national law making abortion illegal. Even the reversal of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court might not be enough to make me leave you, U.S.A., because if Roe went down I'd have work to do, making sure that women in states banning abortion had ways of getting to free states. I might join a new Underground Railroad if that's what it took to help keep women from dying from unsafe illegal abortions again, okay? And (I know this is getting off topic and it isn't even addressed to all of you) shut the hell up about abortion being dangerous and traumatic, because 1) it's still safer than childbirth and 2) I for one am living proof that they're not going to leave every woman who has one crying and wishing for the child they could have had, assuming they stayed safe and healthy and didn't miscarry. Okay, I can get back to my main point now.

Long term, I'm worried about my ability to keep living here, United States of America, because the writing on the wall seems to be that we might soon be paying taxes only to support international imperialism instead of to take care of our citizens. Call me a socialist if you want, but I'm not particularly interested in being ruled by a government that thinks guns are more important than feeding and sheltering and providing for the health of its citizens. Maybe that makes me an anarchist, too. Whatever. My point, United States of America, is I'm still a part of you, even though I'm not a rich white Christian male imperialist capitalist bastard, which seems to be what we're stuck having in charge today. And for your information, I'm by far not the only non-white, non-rich, non-male, non-heterosexual, non-Christian, non-capitalist, non-imperialist motherfucker out here. I'm pretty sure we're the majority, even if your last election's popular vote didn't reflect that too well.

Have you noticed that I haven't once yet called you America? It's tempting, don't get me wrong; I want to quote that Ginsberg poem with all my heart, but that abbreviation happens to ignore the inhabitants of all the other countries on this continent and the one to the south, and that's pretty poor form if you ask me. Just a thought.

I'm running out of steam, so I'm going to finish this letter here and send it as is. Long story short, U.S.A., is "Howdy. I'm still here." For now, we're stuck with each other --- I hope we can play nice, because it turns out I don't want to take my ball and find a new home.


Started 2 November 2004, first posted 20 January 2005, last updated 6 June 2014.

19 January 2005

4. Dogs

Dear dogs,

I know you can't read this, but would you please stop shitting in my yard? I want to turn it into a garden someday, and I'd really like to grow edible food in it, so yeah. Quit it already!

And while I'm dreaming, if you could please tell your people that it might be better to take you out for a walk, like for instance to the dog park less than half a mile north of my house, instead of just letting you out at night to roam the streets unsupervised, so you're completely free to shit in my yard because you couldn't read a "no pooping" sign even if I posted one? That would be great.


Started 8 November 2004, last updated 19 January 2005

3. God

Dear God,

I can't send this letter for obvious reasons, but I probably shouldn't even be writing it at all because frankly, I don't really believe in you. Which is not, as far too many people seem to think, that I think nothing is sacred — more on that in a bit — it's just that I'm sick and tired of people shaping that sacred in their own image, and not even all that well, or maybe too well, I don't know.

Fact is, as far as I'm concerned the universe is just too big and awesome and complex for our puny little human minds to understand, but we don't like to admit it, so we invent order for it, even if it's an order that can't possibly be big or complex enough to be anywhere near the truth and simultaneously something we're capable of understanding. That complexity thing's a bugger for sure and I had more to say about it which I've already forgotten. Maybe I'll remember and add it in later, or maybe I'll just have to write a sequel to this letter, even if Alice Walker already did the "letters to God" thing way better than I'll ever be able to in The Color Purple. For now, I'm done with the part of the letter that addresses the idea of the god I don't believe in, a guy in the sky who's all-powerful, all-seeing, and all-knowing, though it's a little unclear if he's all-caring or even a little caring, and people somehow still keep going to church and fighting wars and making each other's lives miserable over it.

The next part of this letter is addressed to what I do believe is sacred, and when I say what that is it'll be clear why this is a letter I can't send. See, as far as I'm concerned at the end of the day the only truly sacred thing is our human capacity to be good to one another and bring out the best in one another. If you want, you can call that love, and then you can say that God is love if you like to quote the Bible and banter around with really loaded words. There ya go. If anything is sacred to me, if anything gives life meaning or whatever — which is probably fodder for at least another paragraph — it's the fact that despite all the awful things that people do on a daily basis, to each other, provoked and unprovoked, so on and so forth, we also do good to each other, just as reasonably and unreasonably. Who needs an ineffable, inscrutable Lord that moves in mysterious ways when we have each other, friends? Not me.

And so yeah. Dear goodness which I sincerely hope is inherent in all us humans — please don't stop. Please don't go away. Please, continue to give me signs that you exist, because stupid little things like that are ultimately what give me hope that maybe the human race won't destroy itself and maybe it actually shouldn't destroy itself. Please, let me continue to find that God-nature or Buddha-nature, or love, or whatever, in real people. And maybe let me continue to hope that we can all begin or continue to find that goodness and love in each other, instead of projecting all our hopes and dreams and fears into an imaginary friend in the sky. Let me continue to dream that people are capable of being good and loving without priests who tell them to impose their beliefs on each other, and that someday maybe we can all at least act as though there's magic and sacredness in all of us, and there's no need to complicate things with a not-so-shared hallucination of holiness separate from this physical world we inhabit. If you ask me, not that anyone did, that idea of a god that I don't believe in is at once too simple to explain the universe and overcomplicates human affairs all at once.

I don't know how to end this letter. I don't want to go back to addressing the idea of the god I don't believe in, much as I'd like to ask protection from Its followers. Nor do I want to address specific gods I don't believe in, or the religions that claim to follow them, because this letter is probably offensive enough without getting personal. The one idea I keep coming back to is a sentence I've seen attributed to the radical Catholic priest Daniel Berrigan, one of those people whose story makes me think that maybe organized religion isn't always all bad, but I digress. "Deliver us unto each other," he prayed, and that I think is a hope worth praying and dreaming for. Imagine freedom from the guy in the sky, the great cosmic daddy who tells us how to behave or else, and instead living with the knowledge that all we've got is each other. Is it a bleak way of looking at the universe, this thought that we're the only god we've got? I think maybe it explains a lot that's wrong with the world: We humans kinda suck at being God. The good news is that we're all that's stopping us from getting better.

I guess that means it's go time.


Started 22 November 2004, posted 19 January 2005, last updated 6 June 2014.

18 January 2005

1. Definitions, an introduction.

epistle ...A letter, esp. one of a literary, formal, or public nature....
epistolary ... 1 Of or pertaining to (the writing of) epistles or letters.... 2 In the form of a letter or letters; contained in or conducted by letters.
epistolography n. letter-writing
from The New Shorter Oxford English Dictionary. Lesley Brown, ed. Oxford, England: Clarendon (Oxford University) Press, copyright 1993 Oxford University Press.
Dear Reader,

Welcome to my letter-writing project, the initial goal of which is to write and publish letters that are impossible for me to send. I like writing letters, but I often never finish them, which makes it hard to get them in the mail. Sometimes I find myself composing letters to inanimate objects, or fictional characters, or abstract ideas, most of whom can't read. But enough excuses! Regardless of the many reasons I might not be able to send a letter, I hate to let that stop me from writing. So my hope for this project is that having a place to post those unaddressable letters (puns intended) will free me to write them.

Think of these letters as works in progress; I'm likely to rewrite anything I post a few times even before I publish it here, but likewise nothing I post here is by any means final. Part of the point of writing this stuff down is it gets me thinking about what I might have missed, other thoughts to include in my letters.

Another nice aspect of this project is that many, in fact most, of the letters I will be posting here are letters to which I do not expect to receive replies. If I can't send a letter, it's unlikely to reach its addressee, for one thing. For another, abstractions are unlikely to receive, much less respond to, my messages, and I'm fine with that. These letters are intended to be one-sided, even if that somewhat defeats the purpose of framing them as correspondence. (A fancy rhetorical name for this trick is "apostrophe", but I've already cluttered this introduction with enough dictionary definitions.) The one exception to the unsent/unsendable rule is, of course, this introductory letter, because it's addressed to anyone who reads it. As such, it is guaranteed to reach its intended audience.

On that hopeful note, on with the futility of the letters I can't send.


11 January 2005

2. 2004

Dear 2004,

Goodbye. I know, I know, technically you've been gone a week and a half, but I only got around to the traditional New Year's Day meal of blackeyed peas and collards on Sunday, and anyway, you're still on my mind.

I want to say you were a pretty good year, but I can't exactly ignore the fact that you ended pretty poorly. I mean, first there was that stupid U.S. presidential election --- that wasn't very 21st century, was it? I hope not. (In fact, it was a pretty bad election year overall for the U.S., but I've got other letters to write about that.) And then there was the South Asian earthquake and tsunami disaster, eclipsing ever so much other news both good and bad. We're all going to have to wait and see, of course, but I think that last is most likely to put you in the history books, which is a bummer, to put it mildly.

Personally, ignoring the troubles of the world, I did all right in 2004. My partner and I bought a house, for one thing, and I'm still loving it into this new year. Also I held a job for an entire calendar year, January through December, something I'd never done before. Not a full-time job, but then again I don't really want one of those. And sure, it isn't a job even remotely related to my pricey college education, but so far it's a hell of a lot more fun than any job I've had that did relate to all that schooling and stress. Hrm. A hint of bitterness there, something to think and probably write about, but not in this letter; it's way off-topic.

Back to 2004: I began and ended the year in the company of good friends! My friends are awesome, no two ways about it. I got a piano! I started a garden! I lived with people and cats that I love! Despite all of these good, exclamation-point-worthy things, I was still prone to fits of severe depression! Okay, that last was a sarcastic exclamation point. Back to you, 2004.

Is it even fair to judge a year by its events? I suppose they're really all I've got, and what I'll remember the year by, which in itself is a kind of judgment, memory being selective and all. Besides, it's not like I'm blaming the events on the year; that's almost as pointless as a writing project based on letters that can't get replies. But enough with the self-referential cuteness.

Perhaps my biggest disappointment of 2004 was the fact that I didn't do anything lasting and creative. My job throughout the year was playing with food, and I made a lot of awesomely tasty things outside of work, but I didn't really get any writing done. I did, however, get the idea of writing letters, even letters I couldn't send, so at least you helped me find the seeds of something, even if I didn't get it started until 2005. For that, 2004, I thank you.


idea: 14 December 2004, writing: 11 January 2005, posting 18 January 2005, last update 6 June 2014