On Postcards

Any deltiologist worth his or her salt will tell you that postcards are the cat’s pajamas, the bee’s knees, and the eel’s ankle. And postcards have been around almost as long as the modern postal service; in fact, the earliest American printed postcards (or post cards, pick ’em) hearken back (Can one hearken forward? Shakespeare seems to think so.) to the 1840’s and 1850’s–soon after the first stamped letters appeared. Many early postcards bore advertisements or political messaging.

Today, most folks associate postcards with travel and the sending or receiving of the message, “Wish you were here!” and then rarely meaning same. Postcards depicting tourist attractions and other travel-related ephemera appearing on one side became popular with the ready availability of cheap travel in the early 1900’s due to the pervasiveness of railroads and followed by the rise of the family automobile and the network of state and national highways in the western world. Grandpa and Granny could see that the kids sure had a grand ol’ time at Coney Island or the World’s Fair when a hastily scribbled postcard arrived via Rural Free Delivery. Thus, the card itself became a travel souvenir.

On the other hand, in India, postcards began as simply a cheaper way for the masses to transmit greetings amongst themselves. Even today, the rates for sending a postcard via the fine folks at the United States Postal Service run a few pennies less than it costs to mail a letter. The USPS sells pre-stamped postcards by the bundle–a good deal for a quick note to a chum or chumette whilst stuck in traffic or at lunch or waiting for that bus/train/plane.

The typical postcard measures 5 inches by 3 1/2 inches, although some novelty cards vary from this basic model. Copper (metal) postcards, wooden postcards, and even coconut postcards can be found in various places globally. Novelty cards, “saucy” cards (slightly off-color jokes on one side) or even “racy” cards (originating in–where else?–France) are often found, still. The range and types are vast, and collectors often fight over the choicest samples.

The gentleperson would do well to send a handful of these a month to good friends. As stated in the post on note cards, remember to not over-fill the writing side of the card. If the writer uses more than thirty or so words on a postcard, then the writer should have considered sending a note card or even a full-blown letter. “Hey, there! The dog is in a “chewing the furniture” phase–let’s go shopping for some new stuff this next week!” or some such is about all a postcard should carry. Any more than than (or any meatier) requires more than a postcard.

The TL:DR of this post can be summarized thusly: Think of postcards as the Twitter(tm) of the postal world.


On Travel

What does travel to do you? It changes your insides, yeah. But what does it do to my mind? It tosses the sandbags overboard so the balloon can soar. Suddenly, I’m above the ordinary. I’m competent, supremely competent. I’m walking a tightrope over Niagara Falls. I’m one of the great ones. I’m Michelangelo, molding the beard of Moses. I’m Van Gogh, painting pure sunlight. I’m Horowitz, playing the Emperor Concerto. I’m John Barrymore before the movies got him by the throat. I’m Jesse James and his two brothers — all three of ’em. I’m W. Shakespeare. And out there it’s not my insular, small town any longer: it’s the Nile, man, the Nile — and down it moves the barge of Cleopatra.

Even the tyro film buff will know this writer stole and adapted the above from Ray Milland’s character, Don Birnam, in Billy Wilder’s The Lost Weekend. As a reminder for the uninitiated, the character spoke the lines above about alcohol because he was a hopeless dipsomaniac. He could as easily have been speaking of travel.

Like alcoholism, travel is an addiction. Like alcohol, travel alters reality–usually when one needs it the most. It resets the horizon, it cleans the pipes, it takes us out of ourselves. Travel changes us, or, at least, the experiences one encounters whilst traveling should.

The McDonald’s of travel, or the Wal-Mart of journeys, if you prefer, is, of course, modern-day cruising. Truly, these floating mega-resort liners have a place in the quest for The Great Distraction that many mistake for travel and seek today. True, this writer has even rather enjoyed several “voyages” on them, albeit a few short weekend jaunts and one grand trans-Atlantic crossing. However, these floating, sometimes neon-clad bars/casinos/hotels often fail to show us something fresh, something challenging, something different than the world with which we surround ourselves during most of the year. The beds, the food, the shopping, the simple sterility, the puerile entertainment, and the overly-efficient mass-production of it all speaks to a world and even a culture we already know well (even if the odd shore excursion is taken).

Some package holidays would also fall into this fast-food/mega-store category of travel, especially the “all-inclusive” trips that whisk you to some foreign shore where you never leave the compound and get blistered because, “I never burn at home, so I didn’t think I needed sunscreen,” all the while verbally bludgeoning the pool barkeep to, “Hit me again,” as he enables you to actually become Don Birnam. Offering little that is new to us, we can’t be surprised when we get home to find that there has been little that has changed in us. Then, we start to count the days until our next uninspired and uninspiring “vacation” because this past one left us so empty and, in fact, made us almost more emotionally and spiritually dead than when we left–which was why we took the damn vacay in the first place.

No, travel involves experiencing something there that we can’t get here, something a gentleperson cannot find at the local Walton’s Market or the nearby McMeat. Perhaps that something is the experience itself, but not in the usual sense, perhaps. A quick look at a thesaurus shows that many synonyms of the word experience explain what this writer means when discussing the benefits of travel, and they explain it far better than his words are doing now: Background, context, involvement, participation, reality, understanding, exposure, seasoning, forbearance, and even savior-faire and sophistication, if those types of things appeal to you. This is what experiential travel shows a gentleperson. And they are all things this writer finds he needs in his life.

That’s what true travel should do for one.

Carry on.

On Etymology

Sticks and stones can indeed break bones, but words can also hurt, heal, invigorate and inspire.

Fr. Lovasik said, “Kind words are a creative force, a power that concurs in the building up of all that is good, and energy that showers blessings upon the world.” The good Father was on to something there, it seems. Choosing the right word in a situation can sometimes make the difference between heal and hell. That is why word origins have always been a pet interest to this gentleman.

Poe knew this, too. He wrote, “Words have no power to impress the mind without the exquisite horror of their reality.” Their reality is manifest in their meaning, their origin, their birth. We are creatures of our society, prisoners of our language. We use words passed from our culture and heritage and often borrowed from others. Yet, in knowing which word to use correctly, our world can become almost limitless. “The limits of my language means the limits of my world,” Wittgenstein observed.

A recent example of this came in the form of an American football game on the telly. The announcers waxed rhapsodic about a certain college team being a juggernaut. The word stuck a chord in my gray matter, and I leapt to my etymology dictionary to see where the word originated.

This writer seriously doubts that the announcers, versed as they were in the sport in which they reveled, knew that they referenced a, “huge wagon bearing an image of the god Krishna,” when they called the team in crimson-lined jerseys a juggernaut. Yet, in the way in which sometimes happens to blind squirrels when they happen upon a nut, these jocular jocks lighted upon the perfect metaphor. The elephant-mascotted team they so described stood atop their particular level of American football as the Lord Krishna of that particular sport.

A workable etymology dictionary exists online, but if one fancies a tangible copy of such, Mr. Bezos purveys these in his virtual shop daily: The Etymoligicon and The Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology. Of course, a readable copy of the OED would suffice as well.

This writer shall leave you with these two gentlemen–gentlemen who know much more about the power of words than he. First, Confucius: “Without knowing the force of words, it is impossible to know more.” Lastly, Socrates: “The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms.

Carry on.

On Keeping Field Notes

Unless a gentleperson works as either something not unlike an ornithologist or as a reporter for, say, Field & Stream, the phrase “field notes” references quick note-taking when away from tablet/computer/home. Thus, when on public transportation, taking a trip to the local supermarche’, or, especially, travelling, the use of a good field notebook is often required.

The brainstorm, the random thought, the tableau that insists on being sketched, the overheard story, the book idea that strikes like lightning–all of these find a cozy home in the field notebook. This writer recommends finding a notebook that fits your coat or shirt pocket and making it part of your daily carry.

Your humble narrator uses the Elan brand of 5.5″x3.5″ graphed field book (see photo above).  The company produces dotted-paged and lined books, also. These fine folks from Moultonborough, New Hampshire, produce a book that fits into his travel wallet easily (about the size of a passport, actually), and they sell through exclusive purveyors nationwide and on the site of Master Bezos. For under a sawbuck in the coin of the realm, an ink slinger can get five such notebooks for use in the field.

Graph paper works best for this writer. It allows for the shakiest of hand, i.e. self, to draw straight lines if one is making a sketch or attempting to plan a route. The graph paper boxes also keep writing from the vagaries of size that can often occur when jotting hasty notes, thus insuring ease of reading later in the study or office, hours after the moment has passed, and this writer no longer has to become a character from a spy film and think, “In what code was this written?” In short, the graph paper makes this writer’s notes neater.

The set of five notebooks shown here comes in khaki (2), black, orange, and yellow. Two staples make the binding; this writer prefers staples in a field notebook since those pages may need to be removed. Stapling makes this easier. In addition, the paper in these notebooks hold the ink from the Preppy Platinum pen with the medium nib.

Carry on.




On the Sending of Holiday Cards


Perhaps this writer sends the wrong signal by beginning a post on holiday cards with a full-chested sigh. On the other hand, the writing and sending of such cards has become so much the chore these days. And such a wonderful and traditional way of wishing some gentleperson(s) a happy Christmas and/or holiday season should never be a chore to one. Yet, we often take what should be a wonder-filled way of reaching others and turn it into a task that we dread as the holiday season approaches.

When we finally force ourselves to actually write the cards, many of us rely on the sometimes hackneyed and/or often syrupy prose sometimes found in purchased cards in stores. Now, dear reader, please understand that this writer has nothing against the assembly-line and most probably sincere fond wishes proffered by those fine folk at Hallmark(c), but the holiday season and the coming of a new year bring us a rare (as in 1/12 of the year) opportunity to express our true feelings for friends, loved ones, and others in our circles of love and laughter. In short, such is too important to be left to the generic greetings penned by a stranger.

No, the gentleperson of letters will endeavor to choose appropriate cards for the recipients. Choose a card with a good design. And as with many things, the more simple, the better. Religious cards have their place for the right person or two, but the safest and best choice might be a winter scene or some similar secular holiday motif. The card should not be too large–the 6″x4″ size should suffice for our purposes–and the envelope should not be overly adorned with baroque angels or festooned with images of fir garlands.

Often, this writer receives a printed letter from a chum who has put together a summary of the year’s events. These usually begin, “Our Dear Friends,” and often include a recapitulation of the significant other’s hernia surgery or an update on grandma’s phlebitis. Those are areas of concern and possibly prayer, for sure, but hardly the stuff to share with a chum and family during this festive time, and it’s almost insultingly impersonal, even if the writer includes the fact that the vacuum still finds the dog’s baby teeth in the odd corner every now and then. What the so-called “holiday letter” means to the reader is that the writer is, in effect, saying, “Yes, I know I should have written a real letter some time during the year, but please accept my attempt to make up for not writing by sending this printed personal newspaper.” The practice is simply not in the spirit of the moment.

The true holiday card is the one carefully written with love and true, warm, feelings. A true holiday card should warm the cockles of the heart as a hot toddy might on a cold December evening. The true holiday card might inspire someone to a kind deed or stir a good thought for a friend who took the time (but not trouble, since writing to a chum is hardly trouble, mind you) to wish another gentleperson a happy holiday. Keep it simple, and keep it appropriate to the season.

Carry on.



On Seals and Sealing Wax

Little Jackie Paper brought his friend, Puff, the Magic Dragon, sealing wax (and other fancy stuff), so this gentleman thought it appropriate to speak of sealing wax and seals in this space.

Seals and the wax upon which they leave their imprint were invented around 5500 years ago in Mesopotamia. Kings and dignitaries have used them in the intervening six millennia, and we common folk have used them off and on in the past few hundred years or so. Many official government documents and court papers still find the use of wax seals. This practice amongst us common persons was necessitated by the fact that letters themselves often formed the envelope and needed to be closed. Additionally, the earliest envelopes had not gummed surfaces for sealing, and this called for sealing with wax when the contents of the letter demanded privacy. Like letter writing itself, the use of wax to seal an envelope has fallen out of fashion, but, again, like letter writing, sealing letters is making a return to the desk of the gentleperson.

These fine gentlepersons can instruct the neophyte on the use of seals and wax. Some videos on that site offer instruction. The site is offering wax and seals for sale which are adequate to the task, but this gentleman advises one to look around the interwebs before buying and trying.

Please note that the wonderful gentlepersons at the United States Postal Service will humbly ask for a few more coins of the realm than is usual in order to deliver a post with wax on it for the simple reason that the automaton that sorts the various posted items cannot handle the raised wax. Thus, the sealed post message must be hand-cancelled and processed. That small increase in retainer is worth it, in the mind of this gentleman at least, because the gentle recipient who turns over the sealed envelope and discovers a beautiful seal on the closure of the letter feels a thrill run up his or her spine.

This gentleman spent a pittance to obtain a small but swell thistle seal (see the photograph above) and two short lengths of wicked crimson sealing wax. This writer chose the image of a thistle as an homage to his Scots ancestry and because Edinburgh is one of this writer’s favorite places on earth. This writer also enjoys the swirling of the blood red and the black of the burned wick and feels it creates a beautiful palette for the seal itself (Although the purist would say that the presence of the black in the wax is declasse’.).

Certainly, one has every right to say that such an artsy-fartsy practice is reserved for those with more time than common sense, but this gentleman finds the use of a wax seal adds a certain panache to a world growing exponentially obsessed with the mundane.

Carry on.

On Note Cards

When one hears “note card,” think not of index cards; of index cards think not. No, we write today of the enveloped, folded note card that one carefully pens and then entrusts to the public servants of the various postal services to be hand delivered, for a small retainer, to another gentleperson or persons.

A nice, simple note in the mailbox works miracles sometimes. The little old gentlelady who used to live down the street or the old chum who finds himself on Queer Street might need a kind word and often rejoice in the reading of such. The note card brightens the day, soothes the soul, and touches the heart. It sometimes affects the receiver, also.

This gentleman made a goal of dashing off (not too off, mind you) five note cards a week in this year, and most weeks the gentleman met that goal. He penned thank-yous to companies for fine service, congratulated politicians on smart/good decisions (i.e., those that mirror his own, of course), and he reached out to gentlepersons with whom he had not contact for some years. Some recipients acknowledged the effort, and some did not. The thought, as the young people are wont to say, counts.

A suitable, thick-ish creased white card stock, sold on the interwebs by Master Bezos, serves this gentleman’s needs quite well. The card takes the ink of the gentleman’s daily writers with ease, and the white simplicity takes little away from the words inside the fold–as should be. Nothing ostentatious suits most gentlemen. Perhaps leave the flowery designs to those who need distractions from the message of the missive. (Note: This gentleman is aware that a missive is a longer letter than a note card, but he could not resist the alliteration here. Carry on.)

The cards provide ample room to tell the eager reader on the other end about how much he or she means to the gentleperson writing the card. It allows for a bit of intrigue but not too much. Such details should be reserved for a true letter. No, the note card is simply that: A note. “You occupy my thoughts today,” or “Remember the good olden days?” or “Hope you and the Thaumaturge were able to put you back together,” & etc. Nothing too heavy, mind you, but strong feeling should flow from ink sac to paper from your strong writing arm.

Worry little that you write yourself into a corner in the note card. It happens to all gentlepersons. Write your way out of it, as others have advised. A mark through, while taking space, is better than a faux pas. Hopefully, you can say what you wish to convey on the one quarter of the note card without resorting to filling any of the other quandrants. Too much on a note card and, again, both writer and reader find themselves wishing a for a letter.

Which way the card opens to the reader (id est, the way the card reads/the way the writer put the words on the card) remains the choice of the writer, of course, but this gentleman prefers that the card open up rather than to the left. Menus should open to the left, if they must open at all, and, of course, books should. Note cards should not, in the humble opinion of this writer.

This gentleman’s note cards find themselves enveloped by a size A6. Again, white or off-white should suffice for the gentleman. Leave colors to the libertines. Envelopes, too, may be procured on the interwebs, but an impecunious gentleperson will most likely find some at the local Walton’s Mart marketed under the brand name Case Mate.

Writing a note card takes five minutes and brings the reader much more than that in happiness. Not a bad return on the time investment, what?

Carry on.