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.



Author: David Churbuck

Cape Codder with an itch to write

7 thoughts on “The Art of the Note”

  1. I whole heartedly agree with you. I regularly send out handwritten notes to my business contacts after meeting with them. This “old fashioned” gesture seems to make a positive impression and I am always happy to do it because it is such a pleasure to put pen to paper. Using a good pen on high quality quality paper is one of life’s little pleasures.

  2. This is so true, the best book I read this year was Saul Bellow Letters, it was a collection of Saul’s handwritten notes, gems like

    June 27, 1971 Aspen
    Dear Kate and John
    This is to greet and bless Sarah Berryman on her arrival in this gorgeous wicked world which has puzzled and delighted my poor soul for fifty-six years. I expect the planet will go on a few billion years yet and she will thrive on it.
    Love to you all.

    Such simplicity, such brilliance, I agree that we don’t know what we are missing. Handwritten notes rock!

  3. Thanks for the timely reminder, David. My box of notecards is within arm’s reach and there’s a bouquet of fountain pens at the ready — but when did I last put pen to paper? I’ll make a point of it today…

    You’re right about the enduring impact of a well-written note. Like you, I keep an “archive” of those memorable, hand-written notes and letters — where someone I respected (or loved) wrote just the right words at just the right moment. It’s a high standard, but one that I like to keep in mind when penning my own notes. (Every once-in-a-while I have the rare pleasure of seeing one of my notes propped up on a friend’s desk, or pinned to a bulletin board — long after it was sent. How many emails enjoy that kind of lasting impact?)


    PS: A recent note to my sister brought a return gift that you might enjoy: John Kralik’s “365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.”

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