Ever since I was a picky little gay boy, I have been fascinated with stationery. I
recall in third grade taking a workshop in my elementary school’s library about how to self-publish books through my hometown school district’s fantastically encouraging program where elderly volunteers would hand-bind books for schoolchildren to then write in and distribute. Specifically, this program enabled me to earnestly start a series, “Dogs in Space,” where a spaceship shaped like a femur landed in the backyard of a little bespectacled boy who liked to a read a lot and who had no friends. Obviously, my psychological projection continues to this day in my writing, only now it’s coupled with years of study of Socratic logic, Immanuel Kant, Carl Jung, and a bunch of neat words culled from vocabulary lessons in high school and writing classes in college.
As a boy, I loved the feel of paper. I loved the smell of freshly bound books, the crisp way the pages would slap together, the rugged edges of American history biographies, the visual pleasantry of luxe-creme sheets riddled with deep set fonts hammered into them. New books purchased through the Scholastic fundraiser every year in my school district were shiny, glimmering rectangles just waiting for a little boy or girl to escape inside of them. And, I escaped with disturbing regularity away from being made fun of, away from the fact that I had crushes on my male peers, and away from the fact that I, quite literally, had no friends as a child. Instead, my friends existed in my imagination; I would take walks and have conversations with Badger from Kenneth Grahame’s “The Wind in the Willows,” seeking Badger’s gruff counsel as to whatever manufactured circumstance was going on in my life. Later, I would quietly ask William Shakespeare what, exactly, he meant by the way he seemed to weave, quite deliberately, certain syllables together. And, as an adult, I hear George Orwell constantly berating me for going on and on and on without saying a damned thing of import or substance. These characters and writers came into my life when I most needed them, they are my most trusted counselors, and they have never failed to equip me with the escape necessary to cope with life. More poignantly, unlike alcohol or drugs or sex or overeating, this coping mechanism strengthens my arguments, directs my thinking, and makes me a better human being without risking injury or worse.
In addition to books themselves, I developed an unhealthy fascination and obsession with stationery, specifically personal letterhead and Moleskine notebooks. Even now, I carry a small Moleskine notebook in my vest pocket along with a fine tipped Pilot G2, always blue and never too fine, to write the various telephone numbers, names, websites, email addresses, story leads, and bizarre facts accumulated over the course of a standard day here in Philadelphia. I have spent literally hours in Blick, Paper Source, the Papery of Philadelphia, and Utrecht poring over the choices before me: do I stick with chartreuse for my personal letters? Will people find blue paper difficult to read off of, even with a lighter colored ink? Why do people still feel it’s okay to use glitter pens? These questions plague me, and they’ve led to the most amusing and satisfying interactions, in a retail setting, I have ever had in my life. Indeed, the folks at Paper Source know me by my erratic pacing back and forth amongst all the colors in their storeroom, they know how intolerable I am when it comes to picking out my personal fonts, content of letterhead, and tactile fickleness. Specifically, I refuse to purchase anything that I deem to feel too much “like it’s from Staples.” Is the customer always right? Perhaps, but he’s always insufferable.
Gleefully, I’ve watched aspiring brides insist on what their wedding invitations must look like to the complete ambivalence of their groom counterparts; I’ve laughed at the divorce announcement cards; and, I’ve gone through great pains to pick out just the right card for my father’s birthday, just funny enough, not too mushy (after all, we’re men), and, always, minimalist and ironic. Each time someone appreciates my writing by donating to this site, I ensure I locate a physical home or work address for the reader and spend time every Sunday writing personal notes, letting my mixture of cursive and block letters express my diction and emphasize words without the trite and, quite abused, “quotation marks.” And, I always sign off with my initials or, in the case of people I know intimately and personally, “Josh,” always underlining my name in a process that I liken to colonial Americans affixing their personal stamps. Walking down Market Street late at night or early in the morning around Third Street, I pass by Benjamin Franklin’s post office and feel the warmth of human spirit radiating from this ages old building, awesomely appreciating that the First American sat naked nearby in his front window to freely and fully absorb the morning air.
And, I read with great confusion and disagreement the stories, seemingly put out with regularity akin to the equinox, about the death of paper, the complete irrelevance of newspapers, the destruction of the publishing industry, the fact that people think it’s okay to send e-vites instead of taking the time to write out, by hand, the addresses and names of their party guests (it’s not.) Sadly, I hear that Barnes and Noble plans on closing stores, I read that Philadelphia is figuring out whether or not to shutter more libraries, and I receive more and more presorted standard mail rather than personally affixed first class stamped mail in my post office box everyday. (Comcast Business Class, I hate your abuse of paper and your seeming tacky taste in regard to the quality and clumsy nature of your solicitations.)
So, against this tide of modern disrespect toward the printed and written word, I obstinately refuse to print out computerized personal letters opting, instead, to take the time out of everyday necessary to write, longhand, my correspondences. I refuse to rely solely on email, a whimsical and thoughtless and, dangerously, too easy to send mechanism, to communicate with my friends, family, and colleagues. Instead, I regularly purchase new envelopes, new cards, new stamps, and new pens to dispatch my opinions, my affections, and my criticisms to those who would be kind enough to read them. And, I always take the time to think about what I am about write, permanently, onto the beautiful physical sheet before me. Doing so enables me to touch the shoulder of George Orwell, of Henry David Thoreau, of Benjamin Franklin, of Voltaire, and of Guttenberg himself.
Besides, there is nothing more satisfying than engaging in a writer’s argument, sarcastically and figuratively beating your friend (and eager foe) with words, licking the envelope, affixing the stamp, and bounding out the door, finding the nearest mailbox, and forcing your words into the metal contraption. That satisfying slam of the mailbox door is something that you only get when you engage in this practice, and it is something that I treasure (while simultaneously saying a Hail Mary and asking that the recipient not take my words personally but, instead, in the playful and one-ups-manship manner they are intended.)
Words are precious things. They are specifically chosen by any writer, whether he is professional or not, to mean a certain specific thing. The least we can do is afford these words the respect of pretty paper, first class stamps, and physically writing them down.
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