There are many excuses for not sending holiday cards. Here’re mine:
It’s been many years since I purchased a greeting card, because the greeting card industry has become insulting. It pushes homogenized sentiments and condescending condolences that are marketed as if buyers were monkeys. While card aisles and displays are perfectly convenient and, yes, could come in handy someday, I must say I did better in a prison cell with magazine collages, glue sticks, and agitated screamers to my left ‘n right.
Yes sir or ma’am: I heavily promoted my “John has turned over a new leaf” brand by mailing handmade greeting cards to friends and family who were on the fence about me. For one, I was determined to prove that my imagination would never be replaced by swastika tattoos and institutionalized hatred. Watching the arrival and transformation of so many gullible young men into seething and explosive monsters positively inspired me to trade even my meals for whatever I needed to stay creative, expressive, and weird.
And there were just certain things I couldn’t re-embrace upon returning to the civilian world. First among them, coincidentally, was store-bought greeting cards. Why? Because I was fresh out of the joint one day and nudged toward a cousin’s birthday party the next. I looked at the clock, gathered the things I’d need (accessing real scissors was a plus), and never looked back.
All these years and hundreds of greeting cards later, the only downside has been visiting my parents during the holidays to find my own card among their others, displayed writing-side out (as if the interior sentiment were the thing!). Apparently my mom is uncomfortable with the idea of guests commenting on the one that’s “different.” My cards are as professionally made as the Thomas Kinkades, yet the images I choose are antidotal to forced-marching-to-the-glowing-Christmas-cottage.
But never mind all that self-congratulatory poo, here are my excuses for not lifting a finger this year:
1. The polite, contemporary approach to holiday greeting cards is to send them to both professional contacts and loved ones. Considering “Mr. Creative, Expressive, and Weird” can’t bring himself to allow hands other than his own to accomplish this goal of giving, that sounds like a lot of goddamned work.
2. Today’s generic, bulk-order holiday advertisements for parenting prowess, prestige, and private property have desensitized us. Christmas cards feel like junk mail with niece and nephew faces. Put another way, “traditional” family holiday greetings have become like those notepads that get distributed in neighborhoods everywhere by real estate agents. So my excuse here is that my efforts deserve better company on a mail truck.
3. Who really looks at these things? And by “look” I mean worship, ’cause who doesn’t secretly expect or hope that their holiday card will be given some dopey award? (Now there’s an idea!) Problem is, few have the time to ever truly appreciate your vision – unless they call terrorists “Japs” and reside in the assisted-living wing of So-long Gardens.
4. We’re lousy with social media principles these days, and they’ve trained our expectation for immediate recognition. But lemme tell you something, Snowflake: if you hope to spark some admiring crisscross family-chatter about your snail-mail greeting, you better see “saturation bombing.” See also “a lot of goddamned work.”
5. I don’t know about you, but I can’t write the exact same greeting over ‘n over again to those I care about. I’m compelled to descend into particulars, to individualize! (Result: when I sign copies of my book, people make fun of me for taking so long.) To me, blank holiday cards are daunting, especially a pristine stack with my chosen image, fresh from the printer. Plus my wrist gets sore after well-wishing number six, so I’ll have to continue these later. And who knows what evasive reasoning I’ll invent in the interim?
6. With so many interesting designs and historical figures to memorialize, buying stamps is usually fun. But during the holidays, when I’ve got 30-50 cards going out, what will I pick? Keep in mind that I’m applying self-sabotaging social media expectations to my carpet bombing of Christmas cheer. So should it be socially conscious or funny? Harvey Milk? MLK? Hot rods? Birds? Nevada statehood? I’m tempted to buy sheets of Charlton Heston and dissentingly turn him upside down. Believe it or not, the dude was once cool. (Sorry Obama, but you’d get the same treatment for the same reason.)
7. In John World, each unit (including applied stamps) must be a self-contained, highly personalized reflection of my exacting standards. Sometimes, like when I chose to use black linen and gold foil-lined A7 invitation envelopes, costs can skyrocket. And naturally I have to buy a lot of extras, because if quality inspection reveals a sloppy letter “R” or an address number woefully inconsistent with people-are-going-to-see-this holiday penmanship, I’m quick to crumple and toss. Envelopes aren’t cheap, and I have to factor in do-overs when submitting my initial printing order. So hell, I don’t need an excuse to decline spending all this money on ingrates.
8. I like to set up shop on my thrift store coffee table beneath my TV so I can watch reruns while working at being sincere. Of course this drags out the whole project and invites interruption and mistake. But not this year. This year it’s back to basics: back to 1982. If I can’t play it on my turntable – if it’s not made of vinyl – it doesn’t get played. There will be no electronic accompaniment of any kind. I will force myself to sit, mute and disciplined, like an Opus Dei enforcer, and remain dedicated to the task at hand. I’ll rely on my Catholic breeding to ensure that each recipient feels the seasonal glow of my rigid, festering, and chastised heart.
9. This excuse is the one I’m most tempted by, and if I think about it too much I just know I’ll use it. Stupid Facebook, e-mails, and even Instagram and Twitter are now acceptable forms of mass holiday cheer dispensing. They are easier, faster, and could give me damn near instantly what I’m seeking in the first place: recognition, praise, gratitude, compliments. I mean, I’m no better off than anyone else: I, too, have been trained to seek prompt feedback and encouragement. Joylessly tapping on a keyboard – maybe pasting in a Christmas wreath jpeg– would do the trick just fine, and I know it. I could even have Apocalypse Now or episodes of Deadwood running in the background while I clicked right past Christmas.
10. Oh look, it’s December 10 already! Seasonal etiquette dictates that cards arrive by mid-December. Well there went those good intentions.
Yet having spent four holiday seasons behind bars, during which time I felt lucky to be issued a new plastic Christmas fork, I remember sending out my pathetic, handmade convict Christmas cards – and doing so happily.
Dropping ’em into the housing unit mailbox and getting teased by fellow inmates who’d made much less of an effort (if any) was half the fun. Whatever acknowledgment I hoped to receive wouldn’t arrive for months, yet I was still eager to do the legwork, to make cell house bargains to get my precious glue sticks. The sense of accomplishment was empowering. Besides, if this persistent, cross-eyed buoyancy worked for the British during the Lightning War, why not make it work for me?
Despite everything I had to deal with during those days (you know, loneliness, self-pity, dodging sicko predators, knife attacks that popped up like jacks-in-the-box, navigating territorial gang boundaries, remembering courtesies universally extended to Aryan master race dick-heads – small things), the act of letting someone know they were worth taking my eyes off my surroundings long enough to say “Happy Holidays” was a really solid place to stand.
I never cared whether my recipients wept over my incomprehensibly beautiful, handcrafted artwork. I was just grateful to have someplace to send it. A lot of guys don’t.
So I guess if I could do it then, I can do it today.
Here’s to supporting the Postal Service.