Inspiration Soul Stories

USPS Releases Go Green Stamp (An Ode to the Letter)

Sven Eberlein
Written by Sven Eberlein

Last week the US Postal Service released its newest stamp series, Go Green. It’s a series of 16 stamps designed by Eli Noyes, a 68-year old farmers’ market going, veggie growing, composting San Francisco artist and designer.

While the word “green” has become a bit of a cliche in recent years and suffered a lot of abuse at the hands of clever marketing slogans cashing in on our collective desire to be more environmentally conscious, these messages are really spot on. The first thing I always look at when someone is going “green” is whether they’re trying to sell me stuff. Sure, there are things we need, and the lower the environmental footprint the better, but too often the stuff that comes with the big eco sticker attached isn’t really needed in the first place. In this case, out of 16 tips, the only thing it’s telling me to buy is local produce. Not bad.

Each of these stamps is like a public service announcement that all combined lay out a road map for personal choices reflective of a deeper shift in behavior and consciousness. Choosing to walk or letting nature do the work may not sound on par with the complex systemic problems civilization is faced with, and yet their very essence carries with it much more than a specific item on the green checklist but a fundamental shift of how we relate to the world around us. Adjusting the thermostat or turning off the lights when not in use may seem like a drop in the bucket, but what’s much more significant than the hard numbers of energy savings is the radical realization that energy is precious and worth being conserved.

Each of these stamps deserves its own showcase, and I’ve written about most of the themes espoused in one form or another. However, since the argument could be made that the very idea of physical mail is incompatible with sustainable practices, I’d like to use this space instead to make the case for a dear old friend of mine…

The Letter!

airmail

I admit it, I have a soft spot in my heart for this wrinkly artifact of communication. And, just to get it out of the way: I’m not talking about junk mail or bills — God bless spam filters and electronic bills — but that organic, handwritten piece of mystery whose mere presence in your mailbox brings a smile to your face. Sure, there’s probably an app for love letters somewhere out there in cyber space, but will it ever tickle anyone’s heart the way this one tickled mine?

letter-nevsnielrebe

Yup, that was my first love letter, with my name spelled backwards, from my cousin, wax seal on the back. It’s still there, at the bottom of a huge pile of hundreds upon hundreds of letters that I received over the years until they stopped coming about ten years ago. How many emails or facebook messages will be saved on my computer 30 years from now? I don’t know, with growing “clouds” and ever-expanding hard drive space maybe more than I would ever know what to do with. But will any of them connect me back to a particular time, place and feeling as this one does?

letter-footsteps

There are many advantages to instant communication, tweets, pokes, and IMs. We can now send anything anywhere anytime, and nothing needs to ever be left to chance anymore. However, it’s this very immediacy and almost clinical delivery we’ve become accustomed to that’s also shrinking the space needed to evoke the less literal and more sublime lessons of life inside a human body. Embracing imperfection, accepting the unknown, being patient with each other, and giving ourselves time to reflect are increasingly becoming lost arts. This response letter I received from a family in India whose picture I had taken on a trip and sent in the mail took over two years to arrive…

letter-India1

…but the message was timeless…

letter-India4

I try to be thoughtful with my electronic correspondences, but really, most of it is still fairly inconsequential chit chat. How much time do I spend each day on deleting barely read emails and updates, skimming over endless announcements, and engaging in proforma back and forths? In the time it used to take me to write a decent letter to a dear old friend I can now have 20 simultaneous conversation threads, and in the time it would take to get a response I can now add hundreds of new friends, followers, fans, or whatever slightly errant word from the old school physical world we use for these new kinds of cyber relationships. While I now get a whole facebook wall full of happy birthday quickies, nothing still beats an original b-day song composition on the back of a letter.

happy-birthday

You may ask what good could possibly arise from slow, inconvenient, and delayed communication? Well, if I were a letter, I could think of a few things to ask the emails and texts of the world: “When was the last time you were opened with utter anticipation and joy? Have you ever been carried to the post office in the nervous hands of a secret crush? Sat in a treasure chest of childhood memories for several generations? Traveled across oceans and mountains? Been smelled, licked, or made into a drawing? Read over and over? Hung on a wall? Picked up soggy in the pouring rain? Put in a bottle and thrown in the sea? Been graced with unique fonts for each of your journeys?

letter-tubertop

Yes, sure, it’s paper, and paper is trees. And yes, flying and shipping mail across the country and the world burns CO2 and uses up resources. But there’s another dimension to being “green” beyond efficiency and carbon counting that I think gets neglected too often. Feeding our souls, our inner poets, artists and muses often gets left out of the equation because the “results-oriented” world we’ve created only measures in tangible units, whether it’s parts per million, click-through rates, or dollars and cents.

How does one measure the environmental impact of an afternoon of writing a letter, of putting down one’s thoughts on paper, of tuning in deeply with another? In the most quantitative sense, you could say it’s a few hours of having our energy-consuming devices turned off. On a more visceral level, it’s a way of slowing the frantic activity in our head, focusing our attention, tapping into our deeper reservoir and seeing what’s there. Writing a letter is like a meditation, an invitation to connect with our soul’s unspoken knowledge, with the question of who we are in the grand scheme of things.

letter-womenseye

As with so many of the choices we face, it’s not an either/or thing. I love and appreciate the ease and convenience of digital communication, though I’m not sure how much paper and energy it’s actually saving us. Even if only every umpteenth email or word document gets printed out, it seems that the mounting volume of information we hurl through fiber optic cables into ever more high-powered servers keeps outpacing any potential energy and resource savings we may have gained by going digital. We seem to have become so fixated on volume and quantity that much of our communication merely echoes the chatter in our head, as if every thought, no matter how fleeting and inconsequential, needed to be broadcast into this world. Everybody’s talking, and nobody’s listening.

That’s why I think writing a letter can be a good exercise. What would you write if you had three or four pages to express your internal processes of, say, the last six months? Or six years? How would you convey it to someone near and dear your heart who you hadn’t seen or talked to for that long?

More than any radical earth-shattering eco epiphanies, these are the questions the USPS’ Go Green stamps evoke in me. There’s something so beautifully simple in Eli Noyes’ illustrations that draws me in, yet upon getting closer I realize it’s the symbolism of the stamp itself that beckons me to get back to basics: to cherish the tactile and sensory experience of putting ink on paper, to take a break from life’s many distractions, to awaken my inner muse, to take the time honoring friends and loved ones, and, with a bit of patience and luck, get to know myself a little better in this grand puzzle called life.

letter-me

I can’t seal this one without including my musical ode to the letter…

Think Again

Woke up this morning got a thought in my head, I dug out a pen, wrote it down on a pad
scribbled a note, drew up a scene, the words came pouring out of me

A proposition, a press release, a poem, a reminder, a string of ideas
a story about life on the brink, the whole page covered in ink

Down the street to the mailbox I went, an envelope in my hand
a letter stamped and addressed to the Department of Curiosity

From the mailbox down to the central hub, tossed in a pile and covered up
then shuffled around and sorted out, the time had come to go travelin’ about

Letter of mine, letter of mine, travel the distance through layers of time
red or white or black or blue, my mission is to contact you
from state to state, land to land, a hundred times exchanging hands.
by ship, by train, by plane, by foot, your postal code will get you through.

Over the mountains, across the sea, through cities and towns when finally
a sign says on the destination door: “This address don’t exist no more”

Return to sender and back in the pile, adjusting the outcome, changing the style
I’m tossing the words, licking the glue, I’m sending this one out to you

Sleet or snow, sun or rain, the message must go out again.
I send the letter to the care of curiosity living everywhere.

And now, bestowed with dinks and dents the letter gets in the whole world’s hands
from the continent’s heart to the edge of the coast, they all read the curiosity prose:

I want to learn what I learned and unlearn it again, find what I found and then lose it again
listen to those that I don’t understand, find us all an open end
I want to wake up the past and let it sleep again, fight for a cause and surrender it then
be all the change that I possibly can, turn it all around again

o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o~O~o

Also posted at Daily Kos & Tuber Creations

Cool links
Letter Writers Alliance
Letter Writing Workshop in Chicago this Saturday

About the author

Sven Eberlein

Sven Eberlein

17 Comments

  • You have ignited my longing to sit down with a blank sheet of my favorite stationery and pen a missive to someone I love. There was always that ritual of carving out time to write actual letters that is tangibly missing from my life. Ahhh, and another reason to sit quietly and focused with a cup of tea at my side – meditative sips between sentences and shifts of topic.

    • Yes, and since hardly anyone is used to getting letters anymore, the great thing is that you can make people twice as excited and happy about receiving one. But like you said, it’s a matter of carving out the time, since it’s not a regular routine for most of us anymore. Starting out with short ones could be a good first step…

  • Postcards a great first step, and I tend to sprinkle those liberally when the muse strikes. It’s the longer missives that are more difficult to leap into these days, especially when talk is (literally) cheap. For pennies a call, why get a hand cramp? But you know, a real cramp in the hand from an active conversation is worth it. It’s better than carpal tunnel pain and other computer-based injuries that we inflict upon ourselves when we communicate these days. In fact…I’m going to turn off the computer…now!

    • Yes, indeed Lee. I had forgotten how many places I’ve lived in. One time they even changed the street name on me. 😉 And Grandview was truly special, it really lived up to its name.

  • Oh letters. How I adore the handwritten letter. THe energy of the person as they tell their story. THe time and expense of mailing mail. THere is no replacement for a thought that was thought 5 days ago and reaches you today. I love this Sven. A great reminder.

    • Yes indeed, Miss pauliegirl. There’s something about the time lapse that lets our thoughts and feeling ripen, perhaps like a good wine taking on added nuance and complexity. Great to hear from you!

  • And without the letter, who would care about getting on a postage stamp — a proverbial measure of success?

    There is a wonderful, 700-page book called “Letters of the Century” (America 1900-1999), Edited by Lisa Grunwald and Stephen J. Adler. It opens with a letter written April 5, 1900 by Joel Chandler Harris to his son. I typed it verbatim (forgive any typos) below as I think you’ll find in it a kindred spirit.

    Excerpt – Intro:

    Through his Uncle Remus books, featuring popular characters like Brer Rabbit and Brer Fox, Joel Chandler Harris (1848 – 1908) introduced Americans to folk stories, proverbs, and slave lore he had heard as a child in Georgia. Harris was prolific as an author and loyal as a correspondent. But as this letter to his twenty-two-year-old son Evelyn attests, he was one of the many in the century who would be premature in mourning the loss of the letter-writing art.

    Excerpt – Letter:

    Dear Evelyn: Your letter was waiting for me when I came home, but was not the less interesting because I had seen you in the meantime. We usually say more in a letter than we do in conversation, the reason being that, in a letter, we feel that we are shielded from the indifference or enthusiasm which our remarks may meet with or arouse. We commit our thoughts, as it were, to the winds. Whereas, in conversation, we are constantly watching or noting the effect of what we are saying, and, when the relations are intimate, we shrink from being taken too seriously on one hand, and, and on the other, not seriously enough.

    But people no longer writer letters. Lacking the leisure, and, for the most part, the ability, they dictate dispatches, and scribble messages. When you are in the humor, you should take a peep at some of the letters written by people who lived long ago, especially the letters of women. There is a charm about them impossible to describe, the charm of unconsciousness and the sweetness of real sincerity. But, in these days, we have not the artlessness nor the freedom of our forbears. We know too much about ourselves. Constraint covers us like a curtain. Not being very sure of our own feelings, we are in a fog about the feelings of others. And it is really too bad that it should be so. I fear I am pretty nearly the only one now living who is willing to put his thoughts freely on paper even when writing to his own children. This is the result, as you may say, of pure accident. I am really as remote from the activities of the world, and from the commotions that take place on the stage of events as any of the ancients were. It is the accident of temperament, for I am very sure that the temperament has been moulded by circumstances and surroundings. All that goes on has a profound significance for me, but I seem to be out of the way, a sort of dreamy spectator, who must sometimes close his eyes on the perpetual struggle that is going on.

    [the letter continues about other topics]

    Your loving
    Daddy

    I recommend this book to anyone who loves letters: ISBN 0-385-31590-2

    • What a delightful excerpt, thanks so much for this Ruth. Reading it, one could almost believe they were living in the early 21st not 20th century. Perhaps it’s just that the wisdom of our elders that tells us to slow the pace is universal across across time and place. Interesting that his son’s name is Evelyn, reminds me of a Johnny Cash song…

  • Thanks for sharing the stamps–I can’t wait to buy some now, and your precious letters with designer envelopes. Very touching.
    Everyone over 50 probably remembers the letter–and misses them like you do. I know I do.
    I loved your song, especially this line: “Letter of mine, letter of mine, travel the distance through layers of time.” In all great love stories and those about moving through time, there are letters–not emails or text messages. 🙂

    • Pam, maybe we’re just dinosaurs from another time, but I feel like anyone who’s never written or received a letter has missed something. Btw, enjoyed our little resume booster exchange today. 😉

  • Once mail art was one of my major creative expressions.
    But in the last , I noticed here in France, that beside the ecological image promotion, the structure itself was systematically degraded to please a manager determinism who does care more about short sighted profit concepts, as about the idea of public service.
    Reducing of post offices.
    Change of work conditions.
    Increasing costs making the sending of post another class division.
    No more flowers on my envelops for good reasons.
    I remain creative in the letter.

    Communication seems to lose his spontaneity and privacy is vanishing away, because of the effects of profit interests impacting all options.

  • antiphonsgarden, may I ask how much it costs to send a domestic letter in France? Here in the U.S. it’s 44 cents (about 30 Cents Euro) which seems really cheap to me. I know it’s more in Europe but I haven’t sent a letter from there in a while, so I’m curious to know.

  • I will tell you, as I mostly use the simple stamps who keep their values.
    I used to send the collection stamps appropriate to certain situations, but less these days.The costs of a stamp increase permanently, few cents each time.
    The sending of parcels seems more and more a luxury and I send them with hope instead of trust.

  • Go Green Kids: An innovative effort to save Mother Nature
    An initiative by Green Yatra (An NGO).

    We believe that the younger generation is our future and has the potential to be change makers. It is this belief that fuels our campaign. Go Green Kids is a National environmental educational yet practical Non for profit initiative for children and school students aged between 6 to 18 years, where we hope to develop and deliver practical and logical approaches toward aspects of their daily lifestyle, environment, the ecosystem, natural resources, global warming, pollution, eco-friendly tips, nature protection and conservation, and how they can contribute, support and inspire their Parents, Elders, Friends by adopting a green lifestyle and in the process to help & preserve Mother Nature. The Go Green Kids initiative concerns with making children aware and helps in sensitizing their minds so that they may be proactive in caring for our environment.
    We are opting reverse/ retrograde approach to Save Mother Earth, through this Initiative where children will teach and inspire their elders to Go Green in daily life and can win cash prize of Rs. 2, 00,000, scholarships (Same amount of prize schools also can win) and lots of other benefits… Completely Free. Each and every student will awarded with a participation certificate as an encouragement which will be life time asset and credential to them.

    Our vision is to form the largest network of young students from around the country and world that would not see environmental preservation as a chore, but would understand its importance and act willingly toward a greener present and future. We planned to accomplish this through our campaigns, talk shows, events, dramas and plays, site visitations, Eco- Natural picnics, tree plantation, workshops, audio visual presentation, scientific researches and international online forum and activities (includes blogs, website, online community, groups, and forums), where we will discuss various environmental issues like global warming, air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, smoking, alternate energy sources, alternate transportation, waste management, and a greener present and future. We also want to provide a platform for green ideas, concepts, and education that supports underprivileged kids. Our unique content does not only focus and prioritize on theoretical concepts but also on real facts, figures, images, videos, and scientific research.

    To participate in Go Green Kids, children has to register, login in our website http://www.greenyatra.org/ and give online test or download question answer sheet on resources section give the test and summit/upload fully filled question answer sheet or mail us on ggkids@greenyatra.org. They can also enjoy reading interesting ways to save Environment in daily life, fact, reality on every aspect of environment in our Knowledge Tank section. We have try to make test informative, interesting rather than bookish and boring because we want make kids aware and inspire to adopt green lifestyle to save Earth.

    Spread the Word
    Thanks

  • Sven- I wanted to let you know that this post is beautifully written. I loved every minute of it!! As a fan of mail, I agreed with all of your statements. I especially loved the part about comparing an email to a real letter. Just wonderful!

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