Although I would not go so far as to use the cliché of ‘I was born in the wrong age’, I often feel that a modern existence is not for me. Oftentimes it feels characterless, inauthentic, or impersonal. I sometimes find myself lost in the mundane nature of contemporary living, particularly during busy moments. This routinisation and dullness have been exacerbated by living almost entirely online for over a year; everything from my academics to recreation has been within the confines of a screen. I almost don’t recognise myself without the technology on which I am so reliant.
For the reasons I talked about, I enjoy imbuing my very contemporary life with subtle, sometimes almost imperceptible, elements of the past. A few of these which I would like to elaborate on are antique collecting, letter writing, and the use of candles. Each helps me take back moments from modern life and make them slow, conscious, and intentional. Though subtle, these moments are integral to my life.
A love of antiques was passed down to me by my dad. His house is filled to the brim with beautiful findings from the antiques centre, and I notice how my small room is quickly heading in the same direction. I can easily spend hours perusing the thousands of items in my local antiques centre, admiring and musing over their individual histories. The writer in me loves to imagine whose hands have touched each item, and what their life was like. Sometimes I can find little hints; for instance, I own a copy of ‘The Basket of Flowers’, and on the inside of the front cover is penned a brief but loving message: “Annie Louisa Green/ A Present/ From Mrs Rylath/ 1886”. To me, a sentimentalist, this inscription is a sweet moment which has been captured in ink forever. I love to run my fingertips along the cursive and think of how Mrs Rylath’s fountain pen touched those spots 135 years ago.
This is evidence that antiques are items which have many lifetimes. My own personal memories are tied to acquiring or using them. By owning them, these pieces are imbued with an entirely new sense of sentimentality. Perhaps 135 years after I am gone, Annie’s book will end up in the hands of an individual who will continue to appreciate the lettering in the front cover as much as I do. Being surrounded by antiques, I feel somehow grounded. Not only do I love the irreplicable character they possess, but I also find them calming. They are items completely disconnected from modern technologies and are instead tangible things with curiosities and peculiarities.
Despite having written at length in a previous piece on the lost art of letter writing, I feel such a connection to it that I feel compelled to speak of it again, and how it has cultivated the slow, conscious, and intentional moments I spoke of at the beginning. I have spoken before on how letter writing has been lost to static and monolithic digital communication—undoubtedly the more convenient method of communicating—transcending geographic and temporal borders in an instant. However, I find the drawn-out ritual of letter writing to be one of its most attractive features. Consciously taking time from my day to pen letters to a friend, address the envelope, and include things such as short poems or printed photographs is just a joy. I find the ritual of it all cathartic and love the thought that another person might gain a moment of happiness from my letter too. I am a firm believer that letter writing is not an art form that should be left to rot in the past. I keep this from happening in my own life by intentionally carving out time from my week to pen a letter to a faraway friend or family member.
The following remains one of my favourite quotes about handwritten letters: “A letter always seemed to me like immortality because it is the mind alone without corporeal friend.” (Emily Dickinson). This certainly resonates with me, as I find writing a letter to be one of the most isolated of human acts, as it is only thoughts, paper, and ink, all of which are unable to be supplemented by capabilities of modern technological methods.
Although I am very appreciative of – and practically reliant upon – the wonders of electricity, I still enjoy including candles in my space. I enjoy reading and writing by partial candlelight; the flickering of the light which brightens and dulls the page is mellowing for me; staring into the flame is one of my most preferred forms of academic procrastination. I find it to create a sense of intimacy and gentleness which forms the perfect backdrop for letter writing. As seems to be the tendency with everything I have discussed, candles develop a moment of stillness in a world which seems, at times, unfathomably fast.
Overall, I enjoy finding little ways to breathe elements of antiquity into modern existence. Particularly when life can often feel altogether too suffocating, finding these few things in which I can be fully conscious has been a salvation.