A BOX OF CARDS
Summer is the season of postcards. This is something that I can't objectively prove, but rather simply how I feel. Maybe it's because everywhere I look, I see people vacationing. (One of the earliest souvenir postcards dates back to the late-1880s, featuring a newly built Eiffel Tower.) Maybe it's because there is something light and breezy about sending someone a tiny handwritten letter. Your thoughts have to fit within a four-by-three-inch rectangle. The act is at once physical, permanent, and pretty low stakes.
I like it when people send me cards. I'll concede that, at least historically, I am not overly sentimental regarding this medium. I would hold onto a card for a day, maybe two, before tossing it into the recycling bin. (Sorry, friends and family: please don't stop sending them.) I'm not a person who has magnets on their refrigerator; even if I was, I'm still unsure if I'd put them on display. Of course, I want to be reminded that I am liked and thought of by others, but I also really dislike clutter.
Instead, I've started to keep cards in a small plastic bin that holds personal mementos and some miscellaneous paperwork. Stubs from concert tickets. Flirty polaroids from past flings. Certificates of authenticity for artwork hanging in my house. Some stray 1099-MISC forms. And postcards. Two are from former girlfriends. I read one and am reminded of wit so sharp and a relationship where I was almost always grinning, and the other offers a flashback of how someone's thoughtfulness can make it feel like you are floating. Other postcards I've kept are less nostalgic. Last year, an artist I bought an abstract watercolor painting from sent an invitation to his solo exhibition in the city. I kept both the postcard and the envelope addressed in his own writing to me. Maybe this will be worth something someday, I thought.
There is only one postcard in my possession that I have framed. It was sent to me by a famous author, an eccentric humorist who has spoken of how he sends thank-you notes to everyone who interviews him during his press blitzes. This fact does not make the card any less special to me. I keep it on my bookshelf.
"YOUR THOUGHTS HAVE TO FIT WITHIN A FOUR-BY-THREE-INCH RECTANGLE. THE ACT IS AT ONCE PHYSICAL, PERMANENT, AND PRETTY LOW STAKES."
Of all my paper memories, I treasure the mail from my family with newfound significance. A postcard from my mother thanking me for a gift. A birthday card signed by both my parents. Drawings from my nephews. A note and illustration my aunt included with a ceramic vase she made for me. These are all paper rectangles that, five years ago, I would have never kept. I used to toss birthday cards within minutes of reading them, ditching the evidence that I was undeniably older and only debatably wiser. As I've gotten older—as my parents have gotten older—I keep them. I'm never quite sure if that is the last time I'll get to see my mother or father's handwriting. I've even started to save their voicemails, too.
A postcard stops a moment in time like the sticky humidity of late summer can make an afternoon crawl to a standstill. The older I get, the more significant these physical and handwritten artifacts feel to me. My lower back is tight on most mornings, reminding me that even if I feel stuck in one place, I am not. Time is moving, and we shouldn't wait to treasure possessions large and small.
There is a Glen O'Brien essay I love where the late writer quotes the poet Michael Brownstein: "A writer is a guy who sticks it in a mailbox." I like thinking of the people in my life as writers. Family and friends and flirts. I hope that they keep writing to me. Especially postcards. And even when my back hurts, I will at least have something to read.
Tyler Watamanuk is a New York-based writer and producer. He has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, GQ, Vice, and others. He is currently working on his first book, to be published by Simon & Schuster in 2023.