Letters from the Dorm: how looking back on old emails reminded me of how far I've come

By April Xiaoyi Xu, Pomona College, United States
By April Xiaoyi Xu, Pomona College, United States |

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I have always had a liking for emails. It started around Grade Five, when I was first introduced to this wonderful way of keeping in touch with friends I met from around the world. Even, as it turned out, ones I have never met in person.

We sometimes look back at our past writings with embarrassment. This is true in my case, too. However, as much as it is painful in a way to confront the much less mature and far less confident version of me through my own writing, I have realised that doing so every so often is a great way of tracking my own growth.

A few days ago, an email brightened up a rainy day in Hong Kong, where I am for part of my post-college graduation summer. It was from celebrated children’s author Gloria Skurzynski, with whom I kept in contact for two years. She asked if I was still actively using my Yahoo! email and attached a lovely slide show containing selected emails from me back in the day.

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As a fan of Skurzynski’s series on US national parks ever since I picked up a copy of Wolf Stalker: A Mystery in Yellowstone National Park in 2008, I was delighted to be able to express my own love of storytelling and interest in exploring national parks to her via email. Skurzynski, a writer of more than 60 books for young readers, kindly and patiently listened to my stories.

Looking over my past emails, I blushed at some awkward use of English, but also took comfort in the progress I was making over time. They brought back fond memories of the old days when I would be allowed access to my mother’s laptop once or twice a week, heart pounding with excitement to see if my pen pals from abroad had written back to me. As time passed, I typed faster and wrote more logical sentences and paragraphs. It was on the same pink laptop that I started and finished writing my first novel: an adventure book intended for young readers of my age. Although I never had the guts to publish it, this endeavour did inspire a commitment to writing. The skills I unwittingly acquired from email writing, in hindsight, contributed greatly to my writing and editing activities throughout high school and university.

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It was lovely to reconnect with Skurzynski. Although I have never met her in person, email was what introduced me to this warm lady, who played an important role in shaping me as an aspiring writer.

Nowadays, there are many more options of keeping in touch and maintaining long-distance friendships. While I appreciate the fact that my friends are always only a phone call away and that I can exchange brief, short-form texts on a day-to-day basis, I still cherish the old-fashioned, extended emails at times.

Edited by M. J. Premaratne