My family teases me that the highlight of my day is collecting the mail. It’s true; it’s sort of an obsession of mine, this six-days-a-week trip to our rusty, rural mailbox with its red flag and peeling green paint. Part of the allure is the quarter-mile walk each way, down a gravel drive through meadowland that passes one neighbor’s pond and another neighbor’s orchard, a lush organic farm just beyond and a view of evergreen mountain ridges both near and far.
In winter, the snow can melt and refreeze repeatedly into two channels of slick ice, and the trek then requires thoughtful placement of stout boots with decent tread. In spring when it rains, water often rushes down the ditch beside the road, threatening to crest and wash away the gravel. In summer, the heat can be unforgiving, radiating in thick, dry, suffocating waves. And in fall, well fall is usually just about perfect with its promise of shifting hues in the light and plentiful harvest.
Usually when I open the box and scoop up its contents, I’m greeted by bills or junk mail. Occasionally I’ll find a literary journal or magazine. But mostly, the mail is rather dull, which begs the question why am I so mail obsessed?
I think it boils down to Possibility. Every time I open that front-loading door and reach inside, there is the possibility that among the bills and junk, I will be rewarded, like finding the prize from the Lucky Charms box in my cereal bowl as a kid. Those days when a journal or magazine arrives are such days. But even better are the days—very few and far between—when I am surprised by a handwritten card from a friend.
This last week included such a day when a postcard of an Alaskan landscape painting by Sydney Mortimer Laurence arrived from my friend, Elizabeth, who lives in Fairbanks. In her pleasant and fully legible print, she wrote of skiing around the woodsy trails near town, camaraderie and friendship, and how the approach of spring brings deep thinking and analysis. This is the kind of treasure I welcome on my daily strolls to the mailbox, this illuminated possibility that could be lying within ready to brighten the day.
There is something fulfilling and profound about becoming familiar with someone else’s handwriting, a human trait at once individual like our own fingerprints yet depicting character in the way the letters are formed: curvaceous or blocky, a thin scrawl or deliberate as a firm handshake. Handwritten words carry a super-charge that type in email doesn’t embody, nor never will. It’s close, personal, like a whispered conversation.
The way of the old-fashioned letter in the mail has practically disappeared. Kids nowadays aren’t taught in school how to address an envelope. In fact, they’re not even being taught how to write in cursive anymore. Do they even teach handwriting at all? This shift to the digital makes communication fast and efficient, yes, but what of the charm of special stamps and stationary, postcards and pen-pals? I can’t help but feel the younger generations are losing something they don’t even know they’ve lost in this movement toward a more transitory existence. I mean, who prints and keeps copies of emails as a keepsake?
The awesome folks over at The Rumpus are doing their part in keeping the fine art of letter writing alive with their “Letters in the Mail” subscription. Each month, subscribers receive two letters in the mail, written by authors such as Margaret Cho, Rick Moody, and Aimee Bender, to name a few. Some are typed; others are handwritten; all are photo-copied. They’ve even started a “Letters for Kids” subscription with letters written by well-known authors of middle-grade and young adult literature. Their credo: “We’re helping people appreciate the post office at a younger age.” As to their motivation, this is what they have to say:
Six is pretty much the perfect age to start checking your mailbox. And if you’ve waited until you were ten, well, you’re four years behind but still, it’s not too late. And if you’re sixteen, that’s OK, there’s still something of the kid left. And if you’re sixty, well… OK. You’re young at heart.
I think that’s where it comes from, this obsession of mine. It started when I was a child checking the mailbox—an endearment, a joy, a possibility.
There’s one thing about getting a handwritten card in the mail from a friend. It’s called reciprocation. So full disclosure: my friend, Elizabeth, has written me other cards before this one I received last week, and I have yet to do my part and offer her the same moment of fun when opening her mailbox. (So, Triple-A, if you are reading this, please know that I have something special planned for you, and my saying it here binds me to follow through.)
As for anyone else reading this, I have an offer. With this post, I am initiating The Triple-A Project—handwritten cards in the mail. Leave a comment below if you would like to be on the receiving end of the Triple-A Project and then move over to the “Contact” page of this website (links are at the top and bottom of this page) to message me your address (messages are private and don’t appear online). I promise not to share your address with anyone, send you weird shit, or stalk you. I do, however, promise to send you a beautiful postcard with a groovy handwritten message.
Here’s to keeping alive the fine art of handwritten letters in the mail.