I started with the homemade Christmas cards in ninth grade. Somehow I got it into my head to give a card to everyone I’d had a friendly conversation with that entire school year, and as that turned out to be 68 people and I couldn’t afford to buy that many cards (and didn’t want to bug my parents for a ride, anyway), I naturally decided to hand-draw each one. That got to be a little ridiculous, so in subsequent years I relied on stencils and stamps, and trimmed the list to people I’d had more than one friendly conversation with. In the past few years, my children have done the making (with some guidance). And I’m still making fifty-some each year, but now they’re for everyone with an up-to-date address in my address book.
I apparently started keeping this address book in my last year of college. It’s full of long-past addresses of college friends’ families, row after row of crossed-out changes as someone moved every couple of years, couples who have since split, older relatives who are now dead, people I’ve simply lost track of. But for every crossed-out address, new ones have been added. And as I filled out this year’s envelopes tonight, I smiled, thinking of each connection, old and new.
Eight cards are going to people I have never actually met before. Internet friends who, at some point, sent something through the mail, and now they’re immortalized in my address book. We all know internet friends are just as real as in-person friends (for that matter, so many of my once-in-person friends are now more internet friends. Some I communicate far more with over social media than I ever did in person!), but the act of writing their names on paper—guiding a pen into the shapes of their full names, not Twitter handles, and then an address that sets them in a place, a real street somewhere in the world—feels so refreshingly tactile. To be able to hold something in your hand and send it off, knowing soon they’ll be holding the very same thing. Someone you’re only aware of through pixels on a screen, holding the same paper you once held!
Each envelope will hold a homemade card and a copy of a what-we’ve-done-this-year family letter, but for me the most important part is the envelope itself. That’s where I act deliberately and specifically, thinking of each person as I write their name. This is for you.
And though sometimes I wonder what the point is, what people DO with the cards they get each year (I tried scrapbooking them once but soon got bored), I keep doing it, because there’s magic in that act of writing out addresses. It bridges miles, oceans even. It’s a little bit of me to send to you. And I’m glad.