This probably puts me in the category of a Kevin Costner sympathizer.
I’ve begun thinking in apocalyptic terms about what seems certain to be the demise of the US Postal Service. Admittedly, I’m a cultural throwback. I still think of writing as something that you do on paper, with your whole hand, in a cursive script that is elegant and intrinsic, like your DNA. I still think of community as consisting of people with bodies, using arms and legs and good manners to stand in line patiently at the post office, where we buy stamps, grouse about the three-penny price increase, see somebody we know, say a kind word, conduct our minor essential business, and go on our way, until next Monday or Thursday or tax season or the holidays.
I’ve noticed that they’ve started selling greeting cards in my little post office, which is ingenious, really, in a demoralizing way, since the only people who enter a post office these days are the sappy has-beens like me. People who saw those lame Kevin Costner movies in the 1990s predicting the disappearance of the post office, global warming, and the end of the world as we know it. And now we really do know it.
One of the cool things about my family is that I have cousins who grew up in Japan, and one who still lives there. Scattered visits and rare letters were the little we shared growing up, but I always appreciated their artistic sensibilities, which seemed so lacking in the rest of us clodhoppers. My cousin Debbie uses her considerable watercolor talents to practice a Japanese folk art called etegami. You can see her work here. Like all folk arts, etegami is becoming lost and impractical, since it is the art of painting postcards. Yes, postcards. You remember them, right? Postcards were the texts of the twentieth century. A little scrap of sentiment that arrived from a distance. You read it, turned it over, and used it as a bookmark or a coaster. It got spindled and stained. Postcards weren’t often kept, but the connection was. The connection was never lost.
Etegami is the art of ephemera: a one-time, one-off, simple drawing accompanied by a few apt words. Ideally, the drawing is bold and even awkward, spontaneous, original, intensely observed and heartfelt. It is human. All this is expressed on a single piece of paper that, once received, might become a coffee-stained coaster or grocery list. Yes, yes, this is how it really is! A hand brings ink to paper! The paper turns to dust! This is the beauty of our lives, what makes them precious, what draws us close. Nothing lasts but the love for what does not last.
I’m sharing my family fortune this week by giving away a set of etegami coasters by Debbie featuring fruits and this written reminder of seasonal time:
Be careful of the words you say,
Keep them soft and sweet;
You never know from day to day
which ones you’ll have to eat.
The coasters are so beautiful that you won’t want to use them. But do, so you’ll know the true value of what we cannot keep.
To enter the drawing for the coasters, leave a comment on this post by this Friday, Jan. 13. I will ship to the winner, anywhere in the world, via the late, great US Postal Service, which I love.