Teaching Tarzan to write a letter

Yesterday, I helped my mother-in-law get set up on email for the first time. She got frustrated from time to time. Upon reflection, I decided that frustration was perfectly understandable. Imagine trying to learn to write a letter for the first time …

Me: Ok, to write a letter, the first thing you need is a piece of paper and a pen.

Tarzan: What are those?

Me: Paper is flat stuff that is made from tree pulp, sort of like a very small blackboard. Pens are sticks that write, sort of like chalk but smaller and in darker colors.

Tarzan: Is this paper?

Me: Ah, yes, that is paper, but you dont want to write a letter on that, thats my paycheck.

Tarzan: Why cant I use this?

Me: Well, thats a representation of money that I … uh, never mind. Just dont write on that. Look, heres a piece of paper that you can write on.

Tarzan: What about a pen?

Me: Pens are like little sticks. Do you see anything on this desk that
like a little stick? Uh, no, thats a ruler. Rulers are for measuring things. Uh, no, thats a toothpick, its for cleaning teeth, I dont know why its on my desk. Look, heres a pen.

Tarzan: That doesnt look like a little stick! Its grey. Little sticks are brown.

Me: I meant little stick metaphorically. Just use this. Uh, you have to take the cap off first. Ok, now write Dear Mom on the paper. Wait, you want to rotate the paper so that the short side is at the top and the long side comes towards you.

Tarzan: Why?

Me: Well, thats just how its done. I suppose you could do it the other way, but it would look a little funny. Ok, now write Dear Mom on the – oh, no, at the top. Well, never mind, we can just throw this one away and start over. Thats right, Dear Mom at the top. Then the rest of the letter.

Tarzan: Ok, Ive finished the letter! Can we go hunting now?

Me: Well, you arent really done. I mean, you are done with the letter, but now you have to send it. You need to put the letter in an envelope next. An envelope is a piece of paper that is all folded up to hide and protect the letter. Uh, no, put my paycheck down, we dont want to fold it into an envelope.

Tarzan: Wouldnt that work?

Me: Well, yeah, it would *work*, but it isnt the best way to do it, and besides, I want to keep my paycheck. Look, just put your letter into this envelope here.

Tarzan: It wont fit.

Me: Yeah, you have to fold it first. Um, it will work better if you fold it into thirds. No, the other way. There you go, now put it in the envelope. Good. Now seal the envelope by licking the paper here and folding it over.

Tarzan: You *must* be joking!

Me: No, really, thats how you seal the envelope. Look, if you dont want to lick it, you could get a little sponge and dish of water and use the sponge to wet the envelope flap.

Tarzan: Ill just go dunk it in the creek then.

Me: NO! Sorry, I didnt mean to yell. Look, Ill show you, *I* will lick it for you. See? Easy.

Tarzan: Ok, now can we go hunting?

Me: No, not yet, we still need to address the mail so that the postman knows who should get the envelope. So on the envelope, write Lady Greystoke – nonono over here. Well, never mind, we can get a new envelope for it. Ill take it out of the old one for you. Ok, heres a new envelope for you, see if you can put it in – thats good – and seal it.

Tarzan: I cut my tongue!

Me: Ooops. It does take a little getting used to. Ok, now write Lady Greystoke right here. Good! Ok, now we need to look up her address in the address book. This is my address book, and youll have to make your own address book and fill it in with addresses.

Tarzan: How will I know what peoples addresses are?

Me: Youll just ask them for their address.

Tarzan: How can I ask them if I cant write to them?

Me: You have to ask them some other way, like when you see them in person.

Tarzan: Why cant I just get a big book with everybodys address in it?

Me: Well, there are five billion people in the world, so it would be an awfully big book, plus people move all the time, plus some people wouldnt want their address in the book. Look, trust me, it works. Youll get peoples addresses. Ok, so underneath her name, write her address. Uh, you put the street address on its own line, then the city and state and ZIP code.

Tarzan: Whats a ZIP code?

Me: Dont worry about it, just do it.

Tarzan: Hmmpf. It would be a lot easier if I could just put Mom. Ok, its
addressed. NOW can we go hunting?

Me: Hold your horses. You need to put your return address in the upper left-hand corner of the envelope.

Tarzan: Whats my return address?

Me: Its how people can contact you. Your landlord should have given you a piece of paper with your address on it. Yeah, that looks right, now copy that to the upper left corner. Upper LEFT corner. Good. Ack! My desk! Put the cap back on!

Tarzan: Huh?

Me: Its very important that you put the cap back on the pen so that the ink from the pen doesnt get all over everything. Ok, now we have to put a stamp on the envelope, which is a way of paying for the delivery. You need a 32-cent stamp. Never mind why. You need to put it in the upper right hand corner, no, right-side up – so the 32 is right-side up. No, it wont stay by itself, you have to lick it.

Tarzan: Im not licking anything else, I cut my tongue last time.

Me: Oh, all right. Ill lick it for you this time. Tomorrow you can go buy a different kind of stamps that you dont have to lick.

Tarzan: How many different types of stamps are there?

Me: Well, theres stamps you lick and self-adhesive stamps, and different denominations of stamps, oh, and there are stamps from other countries but you cant use them.

Tarzan: Why not?

Me: Because our government doesnt recognize those stamps. And we cant use our stamps in other countries.

Tarzan: So do I have to use two different stamps if I send something to another country?

Me: No, theres an agreement with other countries that they will deliver mail with our stamps if they come from outside the country.

Tarzan: So why cant we use other countries stamps inside our country?

Me: They just wont, leave it be.

Tarzan: Ok, Im going hunting now.

Me: Just a minute, just a minute! How do you think the letter is going to get to your mother? Did you think it was just going to magically leap from the desk and get to her? We need to take it somewhere that the Post Office can find it.

Tarzan: How about under my pillow?

Me: Dont be smart with me, young man. We need to take it and either put it in the mailbox or take it down to the post office.

Tarzan: Isnt the mailbox where mail comes *in*?

Me: Yes, but the postman will take it out of the mailbox and take it down to the post office if it is already there.

Tarzan: Does that mean that if I dont take my incoming mail out of my mailbox by the time the mailman comes again, hell take all my mail away?

Me: No, it doesnt work like that. Look, it just works, ok? Just go put it in the mailbox, Im tired of arguing with you. Then go play in the jungle or whatever, just leave me alone.

Tarzan: *Sigh* Letter-writing is *hard*!

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