Narrative Art of Postcards
Writing postcards is a transcendent experience. The act of selecting the card and writing the words brings the mind and body together. It captures a thought, a feeling, an idea, a place, a simple moment in time and preserves it. Together, they are propelled into the ether as the card itself is thrown in to the postal system. It becomes not only timeless, but without the orientation of time to give it structure and form. It is as if your moment is hurtling through a black hole and at the end is every postcard that has ever been or ever will be written. Receiving the card is compulsory courage. The reader must step outside of themselves and join with the void.
I began writing postcards in December of 2011. Between 2011 and 2016, I have written approximately 650 postcards. It started off as a Christmas gift for my mother. She didn’t need any things. “Stuff” was just more stuff to clean and stuff to forget. Our relationship is, as with many mother and daughters, complex. I decided that I would use postcards as a way of reaching out to her and helping us to understand each other. I thought she would like that more than another thing to deal with. And so she did.
The postcards came from many sources. Some of them came from tourist locations. I ordered hundreds from an online company. I also made quite a few of them myself. When I moved abroad, I sent postcards through postal mail when it was possible. When it was not, I used the Postagram App to send them from my phone. These were not quite as personal, but they still conveyed the purpose. We are here. We are together.
The content of the postcards varied wildly. Sometimes they were nothing more than a smiley face. Sometimes they were rambling dissertations on books or movies. Many were memories of my life, and of our shared life together. I wrote things that were silly and I wrote the things that were heartbreaking. It wasn’t what I intended, but sometimes art takes you places you did not imagine. The totality of the cards forms a sort of memoir. If this It is a reflection of my life that is intimate and personal despite the semi-public nature of the postcards themselves.
The postcards are a little more than “semi-public. They have been the source of entertainment, and dare I say enlightenment, for many people. If they are a memoir of my life, they are also a catalyst of memory for others. The book Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir states that “Memoir is how we try to make sense of who we are, who we once were, and what values and heritage shaped us. If a writer seriously embarks upon that quest, readers will be nourished by the journey, bringing along many associations with quests of their own.” The cards have called for the stories of many. The workers at the US Post Office in Summertown, Tennessee know my mother as “The mother of the postcards” because they always get a little excited when they see one. Everyone passes it along and reads it before sending it on to her house in the middle of I-don’t-know-where-I-am, Tennessee. She keeps them in boxes on display and guests go through them, sometimes for hours at a time. Whenever I meet her friends, they act as if they know me, and in a way they do. They remember specific parts of cards I may have long forgotten and wait to tell me how it touched them and what memories it brought. When I started, I never knew it would be that way. I did not intend to touch so many people. It was only a gift for one.
I began to love the postcards for themselves as much as for the gift they were intended to be. When I travel, I keep a pouch of pens and stamps. I buy postcards along the way and I write in them, like a journal. No matter how many photographs I take, nothing brings back the depth of memory that those written words incite. What began as a gift, has become a gift to myself. If the separation of craft and art is passion, then these postcards are the highest level of art. They are infused with every bit of my heart, my sadness, my joy, my love and all of the things that make me, me.
 Baker, Russell, and William Zinsser. Inventing the Truth: The Art and Craft of Memoir. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1998.