Sunday, June 7, 2009

The beauty of postcards: the joy of participation

There is a beauty in postcards. Not all postcards have beauty, like the ones of old motels or strange brownish meals at diners. But like in all art, some postcards which are beautiful, which are perfect for the person and occasion. That is part of what I like about postcards but also what is painful for me in sending them. Each postcard is unique and each is one that I will likely never see again. I spend my time to find the most beautiful and perfect postcard, and then I send it away, never to be seen again.

The majority of postcards, either bought or donated are never used. They simply aren’t up to a particular need or standard. This is NOT to say that I do not LOVE getting donated postcards and stickers. I DO, because the great majority of the BEST postcards, from Barcelona, Australia, German, Japan, Tasmania, the US and Canda are donated, as are the best stickers – making a Dr. Suess stickered postcard was only possible due to donation of stickers. And in this picture there are postcards donated from four people, from Tasmania, the UK, and the USA. There are postcards there which required us to get an Amazon Germany account (in our bad German) in order to get a particular book of postcards. Without the donations and without hours of searching and sorting both online and the postcards themselves, I could not find the right postcards at the right time for people.

There was a period where I felt, after learning that I was dying, for sure, no joke, medical certified and yet still no medical help coming, that I was ALONE. And in this feeling of isolation and grief, I asked myself, and I asked publicly, “Do these postcards even matter?” Over six to seven months I had spent over $2000 in just one source of postcards (or that was the arrangement – the actual amount of postcards became less and less). And I believed that I was selling things off on ebay, trying to raise money and for what? Did this matter?

I realize that as a person who IS dying, and who has a presentation of chronic conditions which you might find in a combination of five to six chronic conditions combined, my concerns are rather focused. My brain damage, something I find of great humiliation, particularly when referred to because most people have no idea what it is like being aware of brain damage. Nor are they aware of trying to do, in five or 10 times the amount of time, something that was effortless, easy and quick for you before, and knowing that about yourself. So no, I don’t have to worry about overtime at the office, or whether I will be playing Wii, or going out with friends. Despite sending out over 2,200 postcards, I personally don’t actually get a lot of mail from different people, maybe 4 or 5 postcards every 7-10 days if I am lucky. I do not have people who come to see me. I also have no TV, I have no game systems, I do not rest, I do not play, I put everything into my job, which is communicating what is it like to die, in a day to day way, and this, sending out postcards and ‘surprise gift packages’. So I asked people, anyone to help me, as Stamp Oasis, the highest quality of Rubber Stamp which I use on the postcards, were being discontinued. And for a donation as little as $4 at A Girl’s Gotta Fly, I could get one, indeed for $20 I could get 5 plus a free one and free shipping. This was something that was extremely important to me. No, it was not what most people were focused on, as they get groceries and think about summer vacation, and work. But this wasn’t just my work, this was my LIFE’S WORK. And I wanted to know if it mattered?

And while people talked about enjoying getting the postcards, which cost on average about $4 each, by the way, no one donated at all. Not $2.50. Nada. And so, in a post called Postcard, I prepared to shut down the postcard project. Because while I might have committed to send out postcards it seemed and felt like I was the only one who wanted the best postcards for each person, the ones which amaze and astound. And then to make the back of the postcard into a story, a communication: not merely a scrawl of my name. That is often what I had received in the few postcards which came to me: no words just a signature, or a ‘Nice here’ and a signature. There was, I realized no way to compel the love of Cheryl, Linda and I for a combined 50-80 hours a week in order to send out love. Particularly if no one care.

I was burnt out, I was broken. And then one person made a $5 donation. A person I had never sent a postcard to, I had not heard of before but because of that $5 for Rubber stamps, I decided to go on. And then, over the days of the following week or two, other donations or emails of encouragement came in and every single name was noted. There are postcards I call, ‘specials’ because they are so rare, expensive and beautiful that I only send them to special people. I decided that every person, from the $2.50 donation to the $50 donation for the postcard project was that week going to get a ‘special’ – a card which I have to buy from a Japanese supplier, and has a transparent card embedded in it telling a story. The cards are available randomly, you have to buy them right away as they go out of stock almost immediately and cost between $5 and $10 plus shipping and the month for them to arrive. On the back, there were an printing of promotional transfers, of which I had a limited amount. I had to use rubbing pressure to transfer each kimono onto the card; rubbing for about five minutes. I, or we, sent every single ‘special’ postcard I had this weekend because I wanted people to know what was important: I had fallen, and they caught me. They made me believe that what I did mattered.

I wish I wasn't dying. I wish I could go get a job and this would be just an interesting hobby to quit as I get more invitations out to dinner. Except I am dying and I want to believe that the effort I take makes a difference. That the care I put into things to make sure they come up to the highest standards, makes a different. With the donations we were able to get an exciting variety of Stamp Oasis stamps, Rubbernecker, PSX and a couple other stamps which I hope will make getting a postcard from me more exciting in the future. For example, here is a sunflower. I struggled for two weeks to get a good imprint of the sunflower – it seemed cursed as every time I tried it came out just a little (and sometimes a lot) wrong – but I did it! And I hope that the light of the Sunflower and summer bursts out of this postcard for this person. We were able to make Gardens in which to have peace and joy. We played and frolics with these new stamps and we worked hard.
For me, I have to communicate now more in images than words. Not just because of my brain damage but because writing is so difficult for me, using the major muscles creates pain that is so severe it wakes me up, it stops me from being able to sleep. There is a physical cost to these postcard, and I take it willingly, because I believe that this effort makes a difference. That I tell a story of caring and love to those who are lonely or like me, chronically ill, and of caring and joy to those who want a postcard to make their life richer. I try, not to avoid writing but to increase my communication by telling stories to people – for instance this is going to a guy and has what I call the ‘Monster and the Bunny’ postcard, and I really wonder which will win (go bunny go!), plus the bats in the old house.

I try to honor the people who send me postcards, and who send me postage stamps. I try to make sure that they get special postcards telling them that I appreciate the joy they allow me to give to others. Or the possibility of joy, as I will never know for sure what difference they make. The same for those who donate toward the postcard project.

It has been a difficult month, with a lot of new names; we did a weekend of couples, and strong women, families, trying to find the right postcard. A good postcard of couples love is difficult to find, and is it sad but happy to see it go, hopefully to the right home. We did 39 postcards the first week. Which considering I was very ill is a good number indeed.

The second week I was not just ill I was, um, well, saying goodbye. I had so many close calls and being revived that it only seemed a matter of days. So I sent out packages, and I sent out postcards, and both Linda and Cheryl said to me: NEVER AGAIN! Because I sent out, with the help of Linda packing and Cheryl doing Envelopes, 32 packages. And I would have sent more, I still have the ones to children, and the ones to New Zealand left to go. There are another 15 packages left to be done. But the problem was I lost half a day because I stopped breathing on my own for two hours; I was too weak to go on, and so when I did have strength I drove myself. At past 5:00 am, when every note for every package was written, every card put in the envelope, I looked at Cheryl and said, "I guess that means tomorrow we do postcards." I was sort of joking. She said, "I guess so." I think she was joking too. But we did 28 postcards that day, and I wrote until I couldn't move the left side of my body.

So this week I prepared ahead of time, I did the matching, I sorted the postcards and so only the stamping, the drying the stickering and the writing was left. We did the stickering together, as well as the stamping. With so many new stamps to play with, Linda says we will have to split them into three groups so all the new ones get a fair play. There are some I haven't shown which are amazing, such clarity and power!

I hope it is as fun seeing all the different images to make up the back of a postcard as it is to create it. So we set out 50 postcards to dry and then in the evening, I was in the study, and writing, and writing, and writing. While I accept help stamping (though some weeks I do it all on my own), I usually do all stickering and writing myself. I do now appreciate the diversity of stickering that Cheryl and Linda bring to the project. Cheryl is particularly good with childrens postcards and Linda is very good at creating little scenes: Asian Gardens, or butterfly farms, in which stickers and stamps go together. Much like the way the donations of different postcards allow me to send out postcards I never would be able to find on my own; the work of Linda and Cheryl help us create postcards that I never would be able to do on my own. That is not just due to my limitations (in body and mind) but that three minds are more creative than one.

I am still burned out, probably more so than before. And I am still dying, as Linda says, "Running on empty." But in three weeks we did 118 postcards, and I think we will do 150 for four weeks. And this is not because of my overwhelming vision or will; it is because one woman I have never met or emailed sent $5 for me to buy a rubber stamp, knowing it would make me happy and it would make the people who got the stamping on the postcard happy. I continue because of her, and because of the friends I HAVE made through postcards. And while I may lose my sight for much of my days, I will try to continue; even if I am just propped up, oxygen tubes in, and me asking Cheryl, "Are the Killer Whales near the postcard yet? Do I push down now?" Yesterday, the amount of things I dropped is beyond counting, and yet, we go on. I go on. Because this is my life work, and I believe it matters.