You open one envelope. It contains a greeting card from 1995:
Another hill to climb...

...and you made it with flying colors. Congratulations

    Yes you sure did Stephen so now whatever you do may you enjoy your endeavours -- it's a marvellous world, every day there are new things to learn. I'm forever running to the dictionary to find out the meanings of words I've never heard of before -- mind you it is a shame that probably next week I'll forgotten what I have learnt but I think life is made up of starting all over again and to keep trying.
    I hope you all have a Happy Christmas and a good holiday. Keep up the KEYBOARD I enjoy hearing it and the piano played it's a change from the organ.
        Love and Care
            Jill Pittle :)

Well that's kind. Jill Pittle is a middle-aged woman -- she was one of those bad-weather friends, the opposite of a fair-weather friend. Have a look at this letter -- it seems to be from me to someone named John:

Dear John,
    It was surprising to receive a Christmas card from you -- almost as much of a surprise as your last letter of hurt-and-anger at the beginning of 1997. You never cease to surprise me. Well, I'm glad you sent the card, and if you want to be friends again, that's all right with me. How are you? What sort of interesting stuff has been going on in your life since you last wrote?
    I've been doing courses -- 1997 I studied Information Technology (Software Development) and in 1998 I studied Design -- it was a one year course which is meant to be a general introduction to many types of design and it leads on to other courses like Graphic Design, Industrial Design, etc. Next year (1999) I'll be studying electronic imaging, computer graphics, interactive multimedia and stuff like that -- the name of the course is "The Advanced Diploma of Arts: Electronic Design and Interactive Media", and I got the acceptance letter a few days ago. I think my career is heading in the right direction now, although I don't have a clear idea of what sort of job I'm going to end up in, after all the studying is finished. I'm not sure that I even WANT a job -- I'm pretty content with things the way they a now. Still living on the disability support pension.
    That Information Technology course that I did was all about computers -- how to operate them, how to program them, how to repair them -- and a whole bunch of other stuff, you can read some of the enigmatic subject names on the other side of this piece of paper. Anyway I didn't really enjoy it and I knew I would never want to become a computer programmer, but I did pick up some fascinating stuff from it... for instance, it introduced me to the internet, and over the past eighteen months I've become more and more involved with that. I've been chatting to people in internet chat-rooms, and corresponding with people from far-off places via email. Also I have my own web-site which I've been designing and re-designing ever since I got an assignment in the Data Communications Applications class, to design my own web-site. Do you have internet access, at all? As a student I have free access, on the university network.
    At the end of June this year I suddenly became semi-obsessed with a certain Australian band, "The Paradise Motel". They're not the sort of band that gets high on the pop-charts -- they play mostly slow, sad, mellow "hauntingly beautiful" music. I went to three of their live gigs before they went on tour in England. I couldn't follow them to England, so it was unfortunate timing, but they sort of introduced me to the phenomenon of live gigs. See, before The Paradise Motel, I never went to see any bands play live because I was afraid of the unfamiliar... but nowadays I go to see live bands frequently and it's a new source of enjoyment.
    In a few days I will turn 23. On Saturday I'll visit my parents house 'cause they invited me over for dinner to celebrate my birthday. My sister Melanie will be there -- Melanie is married now, she got married to a guy named Peter eleven months ago and they are happy together I think. One person who will be missing from the gathering is my sister Carolyn -- she has moved to England. Actually she went over there about the same time as The Paradise Motel did. Rumour has it that she (and they) will return to Australia at some point in the not-too-distant future.
    I'm still living in St Kilda, still enjoying my trips to the local beach when the weather gets hot around this time of year. I'm still doing drawings and a bit of electronic music -- my novel is still half-finished -- my CD collection has grown to 70 CDs -- I've been reading books like "Catcher In The Rye" by JD Salinger & "Nineteen Eighty-Four" by George Orwell --
    Thanks for the card, John, and for wanting to restore things -- I hope to receive a letter from you soon,
    Yours sincerely,
        Stephen Clark

And here's another greeting card -- this one's a birthday card from my parents, from 1998:

You're the kind of man...

...mankind could use more of!
Happy Birthday!

Check off birthday 23...  

Hope you achieved what you wanted this year, Steve... and that before birthday 24, you will have more happiness than you expect! You are an asset to the world.
        Much love from --
            Mum & Dadxxx

Y'know, this reminds me -- have you ever wondered what the world would be like if everyone were like you? I've wondered about what it would be like if everyone were like me, and I wrote a little something about it.

Here's a letter from my grandmother in England -- I received it in late June 1995 and found it very irritating:

June 16
Dear Stephen,
    Thank you so much for your letter which arrived a few days ago concerning your Grandpa's death. I don't suppose you remember coming to the 'Oaklands' in 1983 when the whole family got together and had a great holiday by the sea in Wales?
    One of Grandpa's major ideas is that everybody in this world should make a positive contribution while they are alive. That causes me to wonder if in your present set-up you are given any opportunity to use your artistic talents? You see you used to make beautiful labels for the Christmas presents that your mother sent us all -- I was so impressed with these that I used to cut them out and they have all been pasted into one of my photograph albums which has pictures of you and all your family in it.
    But I'm afraid you may have got yourself into a groove and it may need a lot of determination on your part to get yourself out of it. I must explain -- when I was studying child psychology as part of my teacher-training we were told that there are three stages in a child's life: 1. The will to live, when the newborn baby has only one thought -- to get enough food, warmth and air to sustain life -- and he will scream till he gets it. 2. The will to power when he will learn to manipulate people and his surroundings to get what he wants for himself out of life -- and 3. The will to co-operate -- a stage which not everyone reaches alas! but which will entail working with people for the good of everyone else -- but at the present moment you seem quite content to let other people do the work for you (so you are stuck in groove 2). I'm afraid you are going to find it very boring just being wrapped up in yourself and making no contribution to the world, becoming in fact, a drone.
    I shall continue to think of you as Stephen O'Shea which is a much more interesting name than Clark -- it's impossible to cut oneself off from one's roots, you know, whatever legal process you may have gone through. In trying to change your name I do hope you were not trying to distance yourself from your parents, to whom you owe, not only your life, but the years of love and care and help they have given you. Nothing can wipe that out.
    Well here I am in a very different place from the Oaklands. I had come to the conclusion that two acres of garden and five empty bedrooms were just too much to cope with in our advanced age, so I looked about for a smaller establishment, and have found something with suits me, and I am surrounded by very kind and friendly people who take me shopping and give me a lift to Mass and post my letters for me and altogether I am very well off -- and your cousins -- Meg, Karen, Giles and Piers who have all been schooled with the idea of making a contribution to the world come and see me quite frequently -- in fact Karen has been here in the past week, having driven all the way across France and over (not under!) the Channel and who has now gone north to stay with Meg in Yorkshire for a few days --
    So your prosey old grandma will look forward to hearing one day that your talents are going to be used and you will learn to co-operate with your fellow human beings. I don't suppose you get much opportunity to read the New Testament, but Our Lord tells the story of three men who having been given money, went away and put it to good use -- two of them did well. The third hid the money and did nothing with it, just buried it in the ground -- so don't bury your talents but put them to good use.
    I'd like to hear from you some day, and would you have time to make a picture for me?
    Love from

That letter didn't change my outlook on life in any way. But here's one that did:

Dear Mr Clark

I am writing to you about your claim for Disability Support Pension.

Your Pension will be $376.40 per fortnight starting from 25 January 1996. Arrears of $738.40 have been credited to your account.

Your Disability Support Pension starts from pension payday 28 December 1995.

How much you can be paid depends on your age and if you are living at home with your parents or away from home. Your rate of pension is based on the facts that you are over 18 years, but under 21 years, and living away from home.

Please read the back of this letter. It tell you about your Social Security rights and what you have to tell us.

If you want to know more please get in touch with us. Our address and phone number are at the top of this letter. Please have the letter with you if you call.

Yours Sincerely,
R Fullager
Regional Manager

When I received this letter from the Department of Social Security on January 10th 1996, I felt as if all my worries had suddenly been appeased and I envisioned that my life would be just fine from there on in.

There's more mail, but you're getting bored I can tell.

My Place