The small pleasure of the postcard

Every morning, when I wake up, Leonard Cohen stares back at me. So does the Queen of England, a neon pink cat, and a small Tuscan countryside. They are the faces of the many special edition stamps on my postcard wall, a section of my room dedicated entirely to the letters I have received from friends over the years.

A variety of postcards grace the wall, from a photo of the waterfront at Trois-Rivières, to a watercolour painting of various root vegetables with the words “I’m rooting for you” scrawled underneath.

Normally, my postcard wall is a small pleasure, but these days, it has become an especially large one. It seems to quietly insist that there is a wide, expansive world beyond the walls of my Plateau apartment. As it turns out, I’m not alone in my growing appreciation for postcards and letter writing

Alana Dunlop, U3 Arts and Science, also started writing letters to her friend last April, when she moved back to her small hometown in Ontario. For Dunlop, her letter-writing was born entirely from the pandemic.

“It made being stuck at home more bearable,” Dunlop said. “I would check the mail every week to see if there was a letter.” 

Dunlop and her pen-pal also included trinkets in their letters. 

“I would put SpongeBob stickers over the envelope and we would include stuff we found in them,” Dunlop said. “She sent me laptop stickers and this little pamphlet with the Mont Royal cross on it.”

With nearly all of our social interactions taking place online now, it is refreshing to communicate through pen and paper. 

“It’s a lot more exciting to physically open something than to get a text,” Dunlop said. “It’s a great way to practice writing. In letters, there’s a lot more emphasis on writing well.”

Shelly Bahng, U2 Arts, shares a similar experience, having also taken up letter-writing during the pandemic. 

“[Before the pandemic], I would only write letters on special occasions,” Bahng said. “When the pandemic started, I made the decision to start writing more.” 

Bahng explained how she agreed with friends to write letters to one another instead of text. The proposition was born from a desire to eliminate the stress of having to text someone back immediately. Indeed, exchanges through letters can take us away from our screens, where we tend to spend a great deal of time these days.

“There’s so much pressure [with texting],” Bahng said. “I suggested letter writing because there’s a smaller expectation of any reply because we wouldn’t know when we sent it or if the post office was busy.”

Bahng wrote letters to her friend who had moved back to Toronto, sending stickers and any flat object that would fit in an envelope, including a key chain from Korea. For her, letters are valuable because they serve as a record of messages that might otherwise be lost.

“I have often thought about how these days, because everything is online, we don’t really send letters to each other so all of our conversations aren’t being archived [on paper],” Bahng said. “I was reading a lot of authors who had letter correspondences with each other. I wondered [if there] would there be any physical proof of the exchanges between my friends and I.” 

As our time in isolation stretches on, people are sending more and more letters. A headline from CTV News Montreal announced an unprecedented increase in stamp sales over the holidays. It turns out that the 14 Christmas cards I mailed to friends and family this previous holiday season were only a few of the thousands of cards Montrealers were sending. The letter in the mail—no longer a relic of the past—is making its great comeback.

As I drop my Mexico City-bound postcard into the mailbox, I join my fellow Montrealers in our excessive consumption of postage stamps. I gain a final glimpse of that small stamp that appears to have a certain kind of power we do not: Unlike us, it can go anywhere it wants.


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