Yours uncorrectedly,

A collection of half-truths.

I have only the most everyday things on my mind, so I sit down to this letter as I might sit down to a diary—“rained on and off, had a pickle”—only hoping you’ll forgive the trivialities.

Went to the food pantry this morning with M., who came along on her day off. As they didn’t get a regular shipment in today, we mostly tidied up and sorted through piles of donated bags. A quiet morning. Went home and had a cookie.

For a good few weeks the air has been sluggish at home, but a nice breeze is slipping in through the windows today, and all at once the building has awoken. You can hear it moving about like an upstairs neighbor—a shudder in the roof, the light rattling of a window, a knock in the bathroom exhaust.

I’m dressed in light blue today, and I’ve turned dead against it. Somehow it makes me feel washed out. Lately I’ve been getting pickier about colors and eager to indulge in a few, whereas in the past I shied away from whatever threatened to pop. My tastes in color are ever shifting, but I’ve always felt welcome on the ruddy end of peach.

On the subject of throwing things on, I still to this day—despite much effort!—have no idea what I want in a shoe.

Went out for a nice lunch. The rain started as soon as we sat down and fizzled out just as we were ready to leave, only to start again when we got through our door.

Every time I glance at the bookshelves I think of paring them down. Take that book on the second shelf on the left, The Island of the Day Before—I’ll never crack it open again. But I bought it on a whim while traveling, just to have something to read on the way home, and it reminds me of a good trip—to Norway, as it happens. If asked I would say I’m no collector of stodgy mementos, and I could give many pieces of evidence to support the claim. But I’d be ignoring a small number of Things Lying Around that would, on hearing this prattle, upspring to fly in the face of what I was saying. None of them are of a pattern—or maybe I just haven’t discovered the key. This Eco is at any rate one of them; it is the one relic I have of a trip that looked for the world like it would go badly but sweetly didn’t, and I don’t want to give my relic away.

Had a pickle.

As I said at the start, only stray thoughts today. It's been a relief to have nothing besides them. Nothing feels final; I've found an interlude, and it’s all murmur and small-talk here.

Yours gabblingly, Mitchell Cooper

A hobby is nothing to be ashamed of, so I wish you wouldn’t write so shrinkingly about your own. I have ways to unravel, too. One in particular springs to mind.

It began with a book plucked mindlessly out from a row of old cloth-bound books with empty spines. I had no expectations. The book I chose didn’t raise any either, as it wound up being The Sign of the Four, a Sherlock Holmes story, and I’ve never felt much of anything at the sound of his name. But before I could slide the book back into its place I spotted the words “Printed in Gregg Shorthand” and paused to take a look inside. A few minutes later I was out of the must. The book was mine.

I had never thought of shorthand at all and could just as easily have left this foxed-over book alone on its little-browsed shelf. It was only by a whim that I didn’t and found my trustiest hobby. Others might go in for woodturning or crochet, but to me these are no less stuffy than my tachygraphy. Sure, there are no shorthand circles, shops, gifts to be made, or bees, but I can still scribble away with a will in the sun.

The Sign of the Four didn’t keep me too long, and even Gregg Shorthand was only one stop on the way to Callendar’s Cursive, Clive’s Linear, and several more, all easy enough to find thanks to library scans. I had no interest in becoming a spare-time stenographer who could take down speech in a flurry of pencil-marks, or even to hurtle over my own ideas with a running pen more quickly than I could ever type them. What I enjoyed most was how graceful it felt to write down a whole phrase in three unruffled strokes, together with the care it can take (even after much practice) to chisel the full sense back out of a page of cagey, homographic outlines.

Best of all, shorthand was something I could sit down to knowing it would never hound me out of my seat. It was from the first—still is—a rare untroubled act. Why that should be I can only guess, and I’d doubtless fall flat on my face with the guesswork. No matter the reason, shorthand invokes no possible end—no finish, no aim. There is nothing to be flubbed, found, or forgotten. No one will ever ask after it; even I’ll leave me alone. For many years I’ve walked gingerly among my stray thoughts and restlessness, treating their stings as threats to life, and there are many small things I set out to do for myself—cooking, reading, art—that will sometimes serve as fertile ground for restless shoots. Shorthand is one of the only things in my life that never does. It is always (at long last) restful.

I could go on and give my opinions on positional writing, the handling of the English rhotic, precision in marking vowels both medial and on the ends,—but to me a hobbyist’s opinion is a private matter, which like a new-risen idea should not be hurried into words, where it would miss the warm air that inflates it half to bursting in the speaker’s mind and appear instead exactly as it is, a sadly wispy thing.

Yours truncatedly, Mitchell Cooper

This is only my second letter, but already I feel I’ve said my share. You ask for more of me—more of what? After giving my name and a few half-lies I’m reduced to crumbs. Though if you insist, I suppose I’ll examine one.

Not so long ago I was trying on glasses at the optician’s, but after the first pair of frames I could make nothing of the rest. Each one was simply something other than the one before it. A more decisive method, I thought, would have been to try on a pair, take some notes, and then come back the following day to try one more, till you had exhausted all your options, all the while hoping the notes—of doubtful use to begin with—would one day be made obsolete when at last you put on a pair beyond comparison and knew at a glance that you had found your fated specs.

But that’s not a hope to believe in and it’s no way to live. I muddled on in the regular fashion, wondering without letup if the one pair only looked too bold because the last was too tired, the one too wide or the last too narrow. In the end I half-doubted my choice. So when the optician stood back and ordained that a smaller size of the same frames would suit me even better, I barely wavered a wink before giving myself over to his idea. His firmness freed me, so I felt, from my bewilderment. More freeing still was the solacing thought that I was then loosening up and not making such a slog out of trying to fit myself out for the world. I’d unwound myself a turn: I’d done well.

A couple weeks later the frames had come in—too small.

Another crumb, and an older one:

The airport had just the one terminal, the one four-square parking lot, the one gull glowering at me from the concrete base of a lamppost. My flight had gotten in that morning, and I’d already made my way to town to check into our room and try and catch up on a little sleep—try some eggs instead. The plan had been to take the bus back to the airport far sooner than I needed to, so as to leave nothing to chance. In the end I took an even earlier one. The gull soon left.


According to the arrivals board, the flight I wanted would follow a half-hour break. I paced around outside, occasionally looking up at the low sky or crumpling my face into a fine gust of wind. There would be no question which flight was hers.

So when I could just make out the roar of the plane—and when I spotted it in the distance—only a plane…

How could she be in it? I felt a build-up as to a laugh. I nearly burst with it.

Yours veeringly, Mitchell Cooper

Today I will ditch all hope of truth, clarity, and fine expression. These are virtues past question, but in my state I can’t afford to make them mine. It is cheering enough to know there are people out there who can speak the plainest truths in the sweetest ways, and who do so at least some of the time,—cheering, too, to know that the world is wide enough for both them and me, and that the difference between us does not determine our chances at kindly, contented lives. On top of it all to know—though how could I know things like that? That word “know” is no good, meaning a lie. Let it stay.

This is all a long-winded way to begin a first letter, if you’ll allow the conceit (the lie) that it is a letter. Who to? And why? As I’m unfit to answer those far more interesting questions I’ll stick to the more frightening one, who am I?

I am a man on a creaky stool and just now thinking of oiling it. This morning I was up at six and in my usual way felt an urge to spring into thought or action,—in my usual way made the less gratifying choice, thought. I think on my feet, roughly a thought to ten strides, to the rankling of our cat June. Sour June. Between his meals he is happiest when everyone around him is settled and he can half-doze knowing (“knowing!”) that there is nothing to be taken care of, that the only moving thing on earth is a starling outside. It’s a familiar enough feeling to anyone, but Barber—did I call the cat Barber?—takes it to an unhealthy extreme. I hope he won’t regret it someday. Though of course I set out to say something about myself, not Winfred; and not only is Tewly not me, I don’t have a cat. What I do have is a fondness for names which I only rarely feel for my own. Mine’s Mitchell.

Letters of lies, I know (“I know!”), are not always the most welcome kind. Rest assured that some lies in these letters will inevitably miss the mark. I am indeed Mitchell—as near as I can make out—and I have no choice but to leave some trace of myself in everything I do. It is that or do nothing at all. If you’re still uneasy, I will at least leave you with this one unabashedly honest and heartfelt admonition, delivered to you and me alike. (As yet it has only been a thought with me.)

Should you find yourself in the northern hemisphere as I now am and in similar climes, then for the sake of all that’s good in the world don’t wait till the season’s out to get hold of the freshest strawberries you can find and some angel food cake—to serve the cake in shallow bowls and chop at least a handful of berries over each slice—to let the juices soak into the cake—to add nothing else—to wind up speechless.

Yours springingly, Mitchell Cooper