The romance of the mail

I find that I often confess my love of the postal service with a small degree of embarrassment. I mean, who, in this day and age, really loves the mail? Who thinks of it as anything other than the purveyor of junk, coupons, and the yearly stack of birthday and holiday cards?

I do. And I admit it, happily, with as little shame as possible.

I find a certain romance in the postal service. It’s the way people have communicated for the longest time. Furthermore, it’s the way that writers got their work out there until the advent of the Internet and submission management systems like submishmash. I always remember the story of Katherine Anne Porter, who wrote one of her stories (“Flowering Judas” perhaps?) in one sitting, put it in an envelope, and trudged down the block in the snow to get it in the mail before midnight (back in a time when mail was still picked up at midnight – doesn’t that sound wonderful? Midnight! The rush of that one last person, tearing down the street or through the parking lot in the dead of night to make that final pick-up, to send off that love letter, that college application, that bill payment, that short story that will be, definitely, this time, the one that gets published.)

You see what I mean? It’s romantic. The postal service is romantic. Nothing stops the mail. It runs in every weather, and takes a break only for holidays.

I love the post office. I’m one of those weirdos who likes waiting in line at the post office, watching people carefully pack their packages to be sent away. I tend to enjoy people watching and eavesdropping, and the post office is prime real estate for that activity. And furthermore, I like the questions. Delivery confirmation? Insurance? Stamps? Such efficiency! Such determination! I will get your piece(s) of paper across the city/state/country in a timely manner with as little damage as possible, they seem to say. And I believe them.

For the longest time, I thought my closest post office was the one on the corner of 38th and Colley Avenue. It took me forever to find that there was one in Ghent, just a few blocks from my apartment. No matter. I still go to the 38th Street location. The postal clerks are always the same:  a tall, older white gentleman who will talk your ear off if you let him and who has a habit of singing as he enters your zip code; an older African American gentleman who maintains a more mellow countenance, asking you the formal questions about insurance, confirmation, stamps, etc. with a quiet, though friendly, manner; the short woman with big hair (the higher the hair, the closer to God) who seems to bustle around behind the counter, never really manning a register but always appearing just at the point when the line has become long enough for the natives to get restless.

Yesterday, I received a letter in the mail from my friend Auzelle. At one time or another, I have exchanged letters with several of my friends:  a former roommate from my internship in Provincetown, MA; my friend (and current roommate) when she lived in Maine; my friend (and former roommate) in Missouri; Tayari Jones, an author I admire who taught me in a workshop in Provincetown; my old friend from college who used to live in North Carolina. For years, I have exchanged letters with my Granny, sharing recipes and memories about the past. When my girlfriend deploys, I’ll write letters to her on whatever ship she’s on, wherever she is in the world. I love writing letters. I have a drawer with stationery and cards just waiting to be filled up and shipped out.

This letter from my friend, Auzelle, caught me on just the sort of day when I needed a letter. It started out as a day where I needed cake, but since it was one of my fellow teacher’s birthdays, the cake was taken care of. And when I came home, there, unannounced, unexpected, was the letter from Auzelle.

Auzelle is another old friend from college. We used to walk around the man-made lake at Clayton State University and talk about poetry and writing and the people we would become, the books we would write. We had one specific bench by the old student center where we would sit and drink coffee and think very deep thoughts, the kind of depth customary to 19- and 20 year-olds. We scooped up literary identities and appropriated them as our own:  Mark Twain, Emerson, Thoreau, and Sylvia Plath and Anne Sexton (when we were feeling particularly angsty). As we’ve gotten older, post-college, we’ve struggled together in trying to find ways to hold down jobs, live our lives, and still be writers with that same spark of passion and hope that we had when we were undergrads.

This letter I received was full of that same passion and hope. I feel a bit ridiculous because I keep having the same revelation about writing over and over again:  passion and hope are essential. I may not always like writing, but I am always passionate about it. But when I lose hope, when I get stuck in the mire of self-doubt and defeat and the feeling that everything I say is seriously dumb, then I can’t write. The words won’t come. I need hope. I was happy to find it in my mailbox.

I generally love letters, and I have really enjoyed getting letters through a website called “Letters of Note.” They send a daily letter from (I think, usually) a famous person. Today, appropriately enough, they featured three letters by Charles Dickens, but the letters are varied, coming from scientists, musicians, writers, etc. If you’re a little romantic about the mail, like me, you should subscribe.

I also just purchased a subscription to “Real letters, in the mail,” which is a weekly letter sent by one of the authors at The Rumpus. I haven’t gotten my first one yet, but I’m psyched to get them. Yeah, there’s email. Blah blah blah. Give me stamps, and envelopes, and the crisp newness of a notecard, the crease of which hasn’t been opened yet. Give me pens and cramped hands. I don’t mind. And while you’re at it, give me hope. Lord knows I need it.

One thought on “The romance of the mail

  1. Have you heard that this month is the “month of letters”? Here’s Kelli Russell Agodon’s blog about it:

    She’s also sending out Valentine’s Day cards to all who ask (because, as she’s written, Valentine’s Day is the poets’ holiday). I’ve already asked, and so have that mail coming my way. 🙂

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