I don’t know how long I’ve collected postcards. My mom probably has a story about it. It may or may not be true, but it will be charming either way. That’s how we do.
I think I remember deciding to collect postcards at the National Gallery in Washington. I was in the basement store that connects the old building to the new building, the building with the too sharp edge.
I had recently decided to be a person who liked art. I was a preteen so I was often making decisions like that about what kind of person I was based on my preferences. I had a vague suspicion that people who really like art don’t collect postcards, but I needed to be reminded that I was a person who liked art, and so I needed the postcards.
I remember Wayne Thiebaud’s pies and all the Rothkos and the Claues Oldenburg’s giant typewriter eraser outside, which is still maybe my favorite piece of art ever, even though I’ve seen and loved all the Caravaggios.
I grew up to be a person who likes art, just like I decided to be, and I still collect postcards, too.
It’s not that I want a reproduction of the art. I’ve read my Benjamin and I’m too smart for that. I want a reproduction of the memory of being with the art. I’m not too smart for that. I’m not too smart to think I can curate my memories.
It started with art postcards, but like all collections, it grew out of itself. Now I collect weird kitschy postcards from beaches and shitty chemical cities and weird old creepy cards of dolls. I send them to people all the time, but I have so many that I can never seem to make a dent.
I tell people that I collect postcards and so they send them to me. From Taiwan. From Scotland. From Bridgewater, Virginia.
The postcards I receive are my favorite.
It almost never matters what they say on the back. What they say is: I thought of you while I was in a place. I thought of you and carefully chose this exactly right thing and then I went to the post office in a strange place and had to count foreign coins to buy a stamp and I made a beautiful memory for myself and now I’m sending it to you and now we share it.
Isn’t that the loveliest?
One of my best friends recently hiked the Appalachian Trail and for her birthday I sent a stack of postcards each with a story about who I was when I found them and what that person would love about her. I spent all night choosing and rechoosing and crafting stories, trying to find just the right soft exclamation of affection.
I loved getting to rifle through my whole collection and choosing just what she would like and the honor of getting to do the choosing and the crafting and all the deep remembering and rechoosing and applying glitter to small moments I thought I had forgotten, smokey hooker cafes in Amsterdam and the Chrysler Building.
It seems like there are precious few opportunities to do that these days, to write a very few lines about you that tell someone how you feel about them all bundled onto a four-by-six memory of something sweet or neon or life changing or all of the above.
I want to do that for you.
Because I recently saw this play called Make Beautiful Things and it reminded me that I started writing for just that reason, to make beautiful things and also that somehow that sweet simple idea got lost and my writing became information and it became empowerment and it became confession and it became money and it became so so many things, a lot of them art and many of them not and some of them things that I am very very proud of.
And, as you might have noticed, I’m going through something of an identity crisis/healing crisis and I’m trying to reclaim the softer sweeter parts of me that have gotten covered over by the harsh screen of trauma. I’m not taking the screen off, but I’m pecking holes in it, holes that I want to fill with kindness and peonies.
I want to make beautiful things.
And if you’ll let me, I’d like to share them with you.