In praise of the humble postcard

There's a very real difference between a postcard and an e-Mail

A word or two on behalf of the postcard.

I know — they’re hopelessly old-fashioned.  Went out with hoop skirts and Penny-farthing bicycles.  Imagine sitting down to ‘write a card’ to someone.

First, you have to think of something to say, then you have to look up their mailing address and finally you have to cough up – what is it, close to a buck now? — for a stamp.  Finally, you have to find yourself a post-box (good luck with that) to drop the card in.

Oh yes — and brush up your penmanship skills so you don’t come off looking like a drunk or a chimp playing with a ballpoint.

Put yourself through all that when you’ve got the option of hauling out your cell and tweeting them in a nanosecond?  Ridiculous.

And yet … there’s something about a postcard that no BlackBerry, IPhone or Android device can match. A postcard is from me to you — not from one URL to another.

And the fact that so much time passes between thinking of writing it and popping it in the mail means ‘consideration’ is involved.  You have time to think about what you’re saying.

It’s not just tap it out and press ‘SEND’.

There is one other, ah, factor that makes me personally fond of sending postcards.

I happen to have several thousand of them in my attic.  Unused.  They are blank on one side; the other side shows a photo of me under the banner BASIC BLACK.  I used to host a weekly radio show on CBC by that name.

I retired 10 years ago and while cleaning out my office I noticed three boxes of unsullied Basic Black postcards stacked by the garbage can. I asked the janitor what was happening with them.

“They’ll be shredded, I guess.”

A high, keening wail filled the halls of the CBC.  It was the wraith of my ancient departed Scottish grandmother wailing “Och, aye, ye’ll no be wastin’ those, laddie.”

And I didn’t.

I took those boxes home and for the past 10 years I’ve been scribbling on their backsides and sending them out to whoever tickled my fancy at the time.

A friend asked me if I didn’t feel a little weird, sending out postcards advertising a radio show that’s been off the air for a decade.

Not at all, I said. I look on them as tiny retro gifts from an age gone by which I send to people I admire.

What’s more, postcards impose necessary brevity that is almost poetic.

The reduced message area means you really have to think about what you write — no room for discursive ramblings about weather, your wonky knee or the hapless Blue Jays.

As for whom to send a card to — for that I take the advice of a writer named James Mangan, who says those postcards and letters matter a great deal — even if all they say is “Attaboy!”

“Write to the author whose story gave you a delightful half-hour last night” say Mangan.  “Write to the cartoonist whose strip you devoured this morning; to the teacher who inspired you twenty years ago, to the doctor who saved your baby’s life; to your old employer to show him there was something more between you than a paycheck.”

You get the picture.  There are dozens — probably hundreds — of people you’ve fantasized about patting on the back and saying “Well done” to.

A phone call is a bit over the top and a tweet or an email would just be, well, a tweet or an email.

Perhaps it’s an Air Canada flight attendant who found your missing wallet or a Paralympics wheelchair racer who made your heartstrings twang. A grocery clerk who smiled when you needed it badly; perhaps a politician who did the right, instead of the expedient, thing.

The world is full of people who are better than they absolutely have to be.

Won’t you send at least one of them a note or postcard to tell them so?

Attaboy!

 

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