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I was raised to write thank you notes. I remember sitting at the kitchen table while my mother washed dishes and letting my head roll around on my outstretched arm as I moaned about what to write. I was instructed to include a minimum of three descriptors in every thank you note. But how much could one say about a flannel nightgown from grandma? It’s soft? It’s such a beautiful color? I’ll enjoy wearing it when it’s cold?

When I moved to California, I was shocked at the informality of the culture. I remember seeing someone wearing ripped jeans at the ballet. It may have been a modern dance troupe, but what happened to dressing to show respect? The fate of the hand-written thank you note was similar to that of the dress code. Thank you notes were replaced by unpunctuated emails. I found the lack of formal manners startling and a bit rude. “A thank you note means more if you write them only when you really want to,” a friend offered her perspective. I agreed, but I didn’t know if I was ready to give up my old schema – writing notes for everything. Thank you notes represented a way of life where everyone was clear on his or her role. I had moved to San Francisco to reinvent myself, but to throw out all manner of decorum seemed extreme.

In time, what seemed extreme became liberating, no longer bound by “must dos” and “appropriate”. I had room to create my own code of conduct. I learned to see through a wider lens and I let go of a number of my old schemas – ones I had about how other people should behave and ones about how I should behave myself. I learned to shift between worlds without feeling as if accommodating to someone else’s was a compromise of the one I had created for myself.

I still write thank you notes, though they no longer represent an obligation of myself or expectation of others, but a choice.