[October, 1994] Friendship Books
10/22/94“The city’s a fire, a passionate flame
That knows me by name.” – U2
Yesterday I found an e-mail message waiting for me from Julie Wilson, this girl in Nebraska. One of them was a form letter for her ‘zine Heaven or Hell. The other was a letter from her. We’ll probably trade ‘zine issues. I also have myself a new penpal from Australia, Edna. She lives in Tasmania and seems really nice. I returned an FB to her (actually, it was a sheet) and she mailed me a whole bunch of stuff.
I had this dream that I met this girl Mary Salardi (I don’t even write to her but I see her in lots of other FB’s) and told her that when she writes NIN she has to put the second “N” backwards. It was funny.
“I want to fly but my wings have been so denied” – Alice in Chains
I had to include this entry because it mentioned email. In 1994! When computers were still so intimidating and novel and I had my doubts whether I would become an avid user of one (Doogie Howser Diary entries notwithstanding). This was back before Google or Hotmail, when checking for “e-mail messages” was a multi-step process and addresses involved suffixes like “.ny.edu” that I had to write down in order to remember properly. Though it was around this time a new Internet service provider called America Online (later to become AOL) was starting to get adopted by non-luddites.
I still preferred my correspondence to be on paper, in stamped envelopes. Reading a person’s handwriting was so much more personal, and you could write letters anywhere, whereas I had to sit in computer lab to type out emails. Plus, back then something like friendship books (or FB’s) would have been difficult to do via email. In high school I had a friend who would make photocopies of all his letters before mailing them, and I always found it strange that he did so. Considering how uber-nostalgic I am, now I wish I had done the same, at least with some of my letters, if only to see what I left out of the diary.
A word on FB’s for those who didn’t have pen pals back in the day or those who spent more of their lives typing than writing by hand. Back before the worldwide web became ubiquitous, before it was easy to find people with common interests via websites, blogs, message boards, and social media, there were friendship books. Here’s how it worked: One person started the FB by stapling a few small pieces together into a booklet (sometimes a single sheet of paper was used, but usually they were booklets.). Their name and address would go on the cover and could be decorated with various photos/glitter/doodles (I was a fan of borders in funky nail polish colors because they were shiny and bright). There was usually a list of favorite bands, interests, and the types of pen pals being sought. Sort of like snail mail platonic personal ads. The friendship book would gets mailed to a pen pal, who decorated the next page with his/her (usually her) details and then sent it on to a different pen pal. And so on and so forth until person to fill the last page mailed the friendship book back to its owner. Ideally, the book came back with a few potentially interesting new people to write to. You could also start a friendship book for one of your own pen pals as a surprise for them.
I was initially excited to find new U2 fans through Propaganda, but that pen pal circuit was pretty incestuous, so FBs dedicated to the band had a lot of the same names in them after a while. However, there were always a few new folks in the mix, and the less obsessive fans with more varied music taste, had more eclectic FB’s. Once I branched out to more alternative music, the pen pals became even more diverse and interesting.
I wish I kept a few of these friendship books for posterity, because there’s really nothing like them today. They would have been a great time-capsule, of a period before communication became more electronic and disposable.