Sunday, December 19, 2010

Media Making: Snail Mail

cross posted from my Media Justice column

I love sending and receiving mail. This week I canceled class for the entire week (we only had on day of class but I gave that day off as a gift to my students) because I knew I needed some self-care. One of the things on my list of things to get done because I want and enjoy doing them, versus because I have to do them, is send the people I love and care for mail.

Now, when I write mail, I mean snail mail, mail that you have to put a stamp on, or walk to the post office, stand in line to get stamped, and put in the mailbox. Mail that you have to wait until the person receives it to know it arrived. It’s a form of art for me, a form of sending a message that someone doesn’t know is coming, or if they do, they have no idea when it will arrive!

Think about the last time you got a letter in the mail. How did it make you feel? I’m not talking a bill, or a reminder of some sort, or a menu from a restaurant, or a credit card application. I mean a letter, something that someone addressed to you and wrote a message in that they wanted just you to see. It’s thoughtful and it really is a way to make people feel special.

I know when I had my birthday I was really less than impressed when people sent me Facebook messages instead of sending me cards, especially when they had my mailing address! Perhaps this is me being old(er) but I really do think there is nothing like a tangible card that you can save and keep for as long as you like to remember that someone thought of you.

It was an amazing feeling when I realized I was not alone in my joy of sending mail. My homegirl Erika Lopez wrote in her first novel Flaming Iguanas this about mail:

I just wish people would write back for a few minutes and 32 cents.

I don’t think they truly understand the joy of writing a letter on cool paper, putting it in an envelope, and address it in a funky way that challenges postal workers. The stamp validates the whole thing somehow, and whew!-Putting it in the mailbox and hearing that blue metal flap swing shut is just about the prettiest sound in the natural world. /The universal sound of closure. And a canceled stamp is just about the prettiest sight. It’s almost love and sometimes it really is love. (Unless it’s a val-u pak of coupons.) It means someone thought of you for more than the fifteen seconds it took to dial your number and leave the message for you to call them back.

Plus mail is such a good deal.

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When I read this I thought “exactly!” There is still so much truth to this. Some of my favorite parts about sending mail are to be able to pick a stamp. There are several stamps that I love, for example the love stamps with the King and Queen of Hearts where you can put two Kings or two Queens for the same gender loving couple in your lives. I also love the Black Cinema stamps and the set of Abstract Expressionists stamps.

Then I love finding my wax seal and getting a long match and watching the seal drip on the edge of the envelope and putting my stamp with my initial in it and seeing the wax spread. I’ve been really proud of some of the mail I’ve created and sent. It really is a dying art form and I want to encourage you all to think about sending some mail sometime soon, even if it’s to people you talk to every day.

Recently, I taught myself how to make pop-up cards simply by watching a YouTube video. I made my first pop-up card and it was a hit! I’m working on two more right now, and you’d be surprised how easy they are to create! Not only that, but people really appreciate handmade cards, especially when they are different from 2-dimensional cards but most especially when they are personalized. Here’s the video that I learned from:

When I shared with friends that I was considering writing this column today on snail mail they laughed at me. The same people who love receiving mail from me, laughed at this form of media. I started to wonder what that is about. What is it about being thought of in such a way that makes people feel uncomfortable but brings them a sense of being special? I think it’s our society that does not always allow us to value the people we love and adore in the ways that make us feel joy as well. All of the consumerism, the big sales on tangible items, and the commercialization of many holidays seem to also play a role in this outcome. This idea that we need to show someone you love them by giving them something you bought, versus something you made. But it doesn’t have to be like that all the time.

Here’s some of the mail I’ve sent to friends that really makes me happy. Many of these cards were less than $1 to create. It did take some time, but what I needed was a newspaper or magazine (they give these away for free during rush hour in NYC usually), scissors and some tape and/or glue. I often cut up magazines and collect pieces of art from them or words and phrases to save for different mail I’ll send in the future. I usually keep them in envelopes and even if the only card I have is a holiday card from years ago, I can make a collage on the front. Here’s the first pop-up card I made (the people pop-up as do the balloons which move when move the card slightly):

Sometimes I make postcards if I have a ton of tape and make a collage and then tape it all around to laminate it and send. The more I wrote about all the forms of mail I send, the more I realize maybe this is really a dying art form, a dying form of media.

Here’s a postcard I made and even added a bit of grittiness by coloring my fingertips and putting my fingerprints on the card:

Giving really is a gift that we give to ourselves and to others. There’s no reason to wait for special days or occasions to give ourselves and the people we care for gifts. I encourage you all to send some mail the “old fashioned” way. Make a ritual out of the process and savor it and sit back and wait until the recipient has thanked you. It will be unlike any other form of thanks, I promise!

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