When I was an awkward little kid with a perchance for books and writing my own sci-fi stories about dragons and unicorns and wizards, I wanted a penpal more than anything in the world (except a horse, of course). I relentlessly trawled the ‘penpals’ section of my horse magazines and sometimes found somebody to write to, but they always ended up lagging off and ceasing to write back. And while writing to a stranger can be fun, its more meaningful if they’re a friend.
I’ve been lucky enough over the past couple of years to establish some pretty strong penpal relationships with friends. I’ve had postcards hit my PO box from all over the world, from the travels of my friends. I’ve posted letters and postcards from all across Europe and Ontario and British Columbia and the States- after sleeping on the grass verge beside the highschool in Banff, I get up and buy postcards at the tourist-trap coffee shop that we caffeinate ourselves in. We’ve sent back and forth little tokens and handmade gifts and stories. Its a really visceral, satisfying way to keep in touch- you know that the person on the other end has actually put real effort into this communication, to physically write it down and buy the postage and walk to the post office or one of the ubiquitous red post boxes. I pay thousands of kroner in Iceland for tacky postcards and stamps with the Northern Lights.
I get books from my fellow geeky book fiend; we used to lie under the trees in the Okanagan and read James Tate and smoke good dispensary dope. A planter who can’t return sends all of the staff in Hearst a care package and individual letters about our upcoming season. Tiger Balm, coffee, trashy romance novels, chocolates. I send a miniature hat I find at Value Village to a friend in Liverpool who had absolutely everything stolen on her cross Canada roadtrip, including her collection of miniature hats. I send crocheted snowflake ornaments and bad Christmas cards with taxidermied beavers to my besties. I send my baby cousin postcards from all of my travels, hoping to inspire within him an awe and curiosity about the world, hoping that maybe one day he’ll get to see these places that he has seen on glossy postcards with bizarre postmarks. I send a collection of Polaroids to a friend who has to leave the cherry season early- I’ve documented all of the weird moments of parking lot haircuts and banjo playing and mountain hikes and sent her the memories so she won’t miss out. My old boss reads a blog post I wrote about wanting to learn to sail and he boxes up several books about learning to sail and the sea and a copy of the Rhime of the Ancient Mariner and sends them to me, where I have so far spent hours poring over pages and enjoying the heft of a book in my hands.
My lowkey ulterior motive, as an aspiring writer, is hoping that one day, should I ever achieve the prolific heights I dream of, my collected letters and postcards will be sifted through and sought after in dusty attic boxes by those compiling a biography like archaeologists. The personal correspondences of writers over the centuries that have allowed us a more in depth glimpse into their creative process and personal lives and the context they provide, I find fascinating.
Get out your pens and papers and ask for your friends mailing addresses, and no matter where you are in the world, shoot off a postcard. Keep them collected on a corkboard or in the back of a notebook or in a manila envelope and cherish their weird, spidery handwriting or the coffee stains on the pages.