The Art of the Note

With the United States Postal Service on the verge of bankruptcy, and the kind folks at the Cotuit Post Office telling me they need my business to stay open, I write this paean to the mail of snails in the hope that one of the last best things in the world — the handwritten note — survives.

I think Guy Kawasaki once wrote that a handwritten note sent in congratulations, condolence or commiseration is infinitely more heartfelt and well received than a ephemeral email, tweet or blog comment. I was never a big thank you note writer as a kid, but for over a decade I’ve tried to do my epistolary best by keeping at least a half-dozen blank note cards and stamped envelopes in my briefcase or bag. My handwriting sucks (so I print), but it only takes a minute or so to jot down a few words that will be remembered for a far longer time.

In the late 1980s, after writing a cover story for Forbes and winning a couple prizes for it, a friend of my late father wrote me a note that said, in effect, if the old gent were alive today he’d be very proud of you and how you’ve turned out.  I don’t think any praise has meant more to me in my life. Would I have the the compassion to put pen to paper and do the same for some other young person beginning their career and finding their first success? I hope I would.

In the mid-90s Henry Kissinger wrote me a sarcastic letter in the mistaken belief I was the editor in chief of Forbes because the magazine had somehow screwed up the facts concerning him, Richard Nixon, and a bottle of wine consumed in China. I hung onto that one too.

I write on notecards I order from Merrimade, an old WASP institution that used to be based in the Merrimack Valley and was owned by one of my neighbors growing up in Andover, Mass.. They sold the company to Crane years ago, but the quality is the same, and where else can you order note cards with your name on it, or the name of your country estate with a little yacht emblem? (I am stealing the idea of naming my future country estate “Morningwood” from my pal Ham Freeman)

I send them to friends when they get promoted or take a new job, when pets or grandparents join the invisible choir, or just to say thanks for helping me out. Takes but a minute, keeps the postman employed, sticks it to the email demons and can yield tweets like this one. My favorite note of all time, courtesy of Christopher Buckley is this unprintable gem.



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