How To Get Physical with Physical Correspondence
It is my pleasure to report that a standard black Sharpie marker works reasonably well for writing on a salted cod. I know
this because I once used a salted cod for stationery. The fish carried a short note to my friend Jack Roepers. I don’t remember
what I wrote, but I do remember the large padded envelope my fish used to swim through the postal system, and I believe Jack remembers the missive
even more vividly, since my cod trumped him in our escalating exchange of unusual stationery.
My sister sometimes uses birch bark as stationery. Thomas Jefferson did the same.
Today with the wonders of email, we can send a digitized
animation of a cod, and even the exaggerated sound of it swallowing up
some smaller fishbut not the actual cod itself. It’s time to remember
this and rediscover the true potential of physical mail. Not only can you
burst the bounds of normal creativity, but you can communicate with
remarkable effectiveness. As my friend Roger Hurlburt says, "It's a way to
create a closer bond."
Roger is an avid collector of fishing gear and an expert fly-fisherman. He once sent a card to a
fishing guide friend of his with an antique fly made by the legendary angler Joe Brooks. In addition to amazed appreciation, "I got an offer for
pizza dinner from it," reports Roger.
My sister, Joli Greene, is an
artist who sometimes uses birch bark as stationery. (Thomas Jefferson did
the same.) Normally she puts her calligraphied bark in an envelope but
will mail the bark directly if she finds a suitably flat piece she can cut
to postcard size. "People love to receive these natural things in the
mail," she says.
Physical mail is on the eve of a countertrend renaissance. Not just handwritten notes, but
the intensely physical objects with textures and smells.
Alexandra Stoddard, the author most recently of Choosing Happiness and the grande dame of
letter-writing, often puts a bookmark made from a piece of ribbon in with her notes. They are always written
with a fountain pen and in her trademark shocking-pink ink. Alexandra
reads no email at all; she carries on a huge, purely physical
My bet is that physical mail
is on the eve of a countertrend renaissance. Not just handwritten notes,
but the intensely physical objects with textures, smells (I’m thinking of
perfume rather than cod) and a surprising number of unlikely things you can fit
into an envelope.
Paper placemats with
maps are nearly irresistible since you can write things such as "We
ate rattlesnake here" and even draw an annotated
Inspired by my fly-fishing friend Roger, I spent 10 minutes with a few old magazines and cut out
images that struck my fancy. In another few minutes I had made up two
perfectly demented cards for friends, far better than I could have
purchased. (It’s amazing what a new caption can do for a photo.) Throw in
a ticket stub, and old trade show name tag, or whatever you have handy.
I have a particular fancy for writing
on things not intended as stationery. Paper placemats with maps are nearly
irresistible to me since you can write things such as "We ate rattlesnake
here" and even draw an annotated travelog. Bar coasters and matchbooks
also make surprising stationery for short notes home. (I wonder if an old
flip-flop would work...?)