Last week the artist Travor Paglen sent out a “cosmic message in a bottle” with his fascinating project, The Last Pictures. An archival disc of 100 photographs representing modern human history was attached to the side of the EchoStar XVI Satellite that was launched in to space. This satellite, like all the rest of the satellites we have sent into space, will orbit around the earth indefinitely.
Talk about Snail Mail! Paglen’s message may not be received for billions of years, when and if our space garbage is discovered by… someone.
In the meantime there is an accompanying book for those who want to experience Paglen’s project in the here and now of our warming planet. I can’t help but see this project through the post Sandy lens of the very real effects of climate change. It has begun and I am freaked out!
A new book by Beatles biographer Hunter Davies called “The John Lennon Letters” is filled with the postcards, letters, and notes of an apparently prolific and sometimes cranky correspondent. NPR ran a story this weekend with Davies about the book. Worth a listen and maybe a read?
Here is the book’s foreword:
“Under a cherry tree, there’s no stranger.” a Haiku by Issa and its warmth reminds me of John. John Lennon never minced words in his letters. It quite often came with little wiggly drawings, and you knew he was sending his heart to a friend. In an age when most of us are getting more and more into arm’s length communications, it’s a nice idea to send a piece of his thoughts expressed in his own handwriting to you and the universe.
Hunter, you did good.
Might I suggest Peekskill, New York?
If you’ve got kids, or just like trains and sweets, I recommend Treat Station. Its got a huge model train table, ice cream, pinball, old fashioned candy, and on the back wall, some vintage Peekskill postcards.
VSM and Church of Craft co-hosted a Valentine Making Workshop for adults on Saturday at Lotta Jansdotter’s Work+Space and it was fantastic! Making stuff in the company of excellent people is what I love to do.
And while I have been extremely valentine focused for the past few weeks, February is not just the month of paper love tokens criss-crossing the nation by mail.
Its also Black History Month. I wish we Americans of all ethnic backgrounds were more aware of the lives of African Americans every day of the year. But until that awareness manifests itself, this month is a reminder of the vast range of African American citizens’ experiences. And the experiences recounted by Jourdon Anderson is his 1865 letter to his former slave master took my breath away. What a letter! Please read the whole thing as it takes some fascinating turns from start to finish. It is posted by Letters of Note, which is a site worth bookmarking.
Anderson’s letter is further proof of the importance of letters as historical source material. First person accounts add so much detail and heart.
And we’re back to hearts.
This day symbolically bridges the old and the new, however arbitrary that may be. Spring buds and back to school are much more useful indicators of the new for me. In any case FOUR friends alerted me to Roger Angell’s “Life and Letters” piece in this week’s New Yorker that nostalgically looks back at the importance of paper mail. A lovely companion piece is Pico Iyer’s “The Joy of Quiet” in today’s New York Times, about the future and how we just might adjust our screen time to better serve our selves.
So in with the old, out with the new? Not quite. I stand by my belief that we can make room in our electronic lives for paper mail. We can aspire for balance between the best of then and now. And whatever will be next.
Viva Snail Mail!
Yesterday our mailbox was blessed with 3 pieces of 11-11-11 mail. A good old fashioned letter from my dad, a postcard from me to my son, and a card from my extremely talented friend, Emily Hass. So awesome, despite the postmarks beyond our control.
And my friend Hope Tucker emailed me a photo of the 11-11-11 postcard she received from me! When I make mail for people I imagine them discovering it amidst the junk mail and catalogs in their mailbox. But a photo gives me a glimpse at that arrival.
Viva Snail Mail!
11.11.11 or 11-11-11 or 11/11/11. Any way I type it, I like it.
This Friday is 11.11.11. This is a once in a lifetime date people, so send out some mail!
But, wait a sec. Its also Veteran’s Day which is a post office holiday, so your 11-11-11 mail can’t actually be postmarked 11/11/11. Bummer, right? Well before you get too discouraged remember that they don’t make postmarks like they used to. These days they’re kind of a smeary, grey mess with none of the clarity of the circular punch from the past. Sometimes I can’t even read the date on them. My suggestion to you is to write the date on your postcards and letters. That way the great-grandchildren and historians and archivists of the future can look at your mail and note the specificity of the day, marveling that you had the time and energy to set pen to paper on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the eleventh year of this century.
And if you carve your own 11.11.11 rubber stamp out of a pink eraser and then postmark your greetings I will marry you, even though I am already wed. With 11.11.11, you don’t even need to carve your text backwards!
Viva Snail Mail!
Apparently at a Senate hearing on Tuesday about the USPS’s financial situation, U.S. Senator for Missouri Claire McCaskill suggested to Postmaster General Patrick Donahoe that the USPS might consider a marketing campaign to promote the value of letter writing. Yes, that shit was on C-Span! No it won’t save the Postal Service but wouldn’t it be fabulous? While she was mocked by John Stewart on the Daily Show, I think we should shower her mailbox with gratitude.
Drop this woman a card!
The Honorable Claire McCaskill
United States Senate
506 Hart Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510-2504
And John Stewart, I still love you.
Earlier this week my amazing grandmother, Pat Wild, sent me an email about the late cartoonist Bill Mauldin, who has been honored with his own postage stamp. A few days later I was corresponding with a lovely pixel pal of mine, a distant relative named Annie Richtel, and she also told me about the Bill Mauldin stamp. The coincidence made me take notice. Apparently Mauldin was a World War 2 infantryman and cartoonist for Stars and Stripes, a newspaper for the U.S. military that is still in publication. Since he was drawing from the trenches, so to speak, his perspective on the hardships of war was very specific- he knew exactly what his readers were going through. And they loved him for it.
OK, the crazy thing is that this stamp came out over a year ago but these two women, who don’t know eachother, both brought it to my attention this week. I would never have paid attention to Bill Mauldin and his stamp if I didn’t correspond with people who are of his generation. And the association is even closer for Annie. One of Mauldin’s recurring cartoon characters was modelled after a soldier named Irving Richtel, her brother in law.
Even though I love receiving paper mail from my grandmother (usually carefully cut out clippings from her local newspaper) I am so impressed with her for embracing email. While my grandfather continued to use his typewriter until his death last year, Grandma made the digital transition for herself and her peers years ago. She started a computers for seniors program on Cape Cod that was a huge success and she is now developing a program to encourage seniors to use social networking to offset their isolation. Annie, who is 94 years old, seems pleased as punch to be corresponding by email. Perhaps she has been influenced by (or has influenced) her grandson, Matt Richtel, a technology writer for the New York Times. This experience has made me even more committed to inter-generational correspondence, in any medium that works.
Annie and Pat, when I am your age I hope to be as receptive to new technologies as you two are. I also hope my grandchildren reply promptly to my paper mail.
This weekend I found this article in the New York Times about a postcard that was sent in 1977 and received in February by a woman in Manhattan. It was not meant for her so she tracked down the intended recipient as well as the sender, re-uniting them after they had fallen out of touch. Great sleuth work. I was reminded of those stories about discarded, stolen wallets found so many years later in the walls of a theater or office building and returned to their owners.
So my question is, where do you think this postcard was languishing for the past 24 years?