Garrison Keillor’s “The Writer’s Almanac” reminded listeners Wednesday that May 1 was the 191st anniversary of the first self-adhesive postage stamp, issued in Great Britain. Our country followed suit in 1847, with two stamps, one for a nickel and one for a dime, Ben Franklin on the cheaper one, thrifty fellow that he was. Since then, our postal service has issued thousands of designs and denominations, commemorating people and events that mean something to Americans. Designing handsome stamps is one thing our government has excelled at, and I have admired and then licked a good many of them during more than half a century of writing and mailing letters.
I'm writing this column in support of our beleaguered United States Postal Service, which gets beat up upon almost as often as public school teachers. Critics say that the postal service costs too much, that school teachers aren't worth what they're paid, and to me those critics are dead wrong on both counts. And now that I've included education in this column, I would like to propose a series of beautiful postage stamps commemorating the tens of thousands of public school teachers who aren't paid nearly enough for the marvelous gifts they provide.
So, can we get together and support our postal service? Let's buy stamps and stationery and ballpoints or fountain pens. And let's buy dictionaries to get our spelling right. A handwritten letter, mailed with a real stamp, is still the very best way to express one's self, and an email is the worst, absolutely. Surely, you've noticed that it is almost impossible to appear to be the person you hope yourself to be in a hastily tapped out message that arrives at the recipient's computer in the same impersonal font in which everything else arrives. No matter what you've said, no matter how much civility you've intended, your email can come off as impatient, abrupt and, sometimes downright rude. I'd guess that half the emails out there are apologies for what was said in the email just before.
Our feelings are important, and fragile, and ought to be offered and received with patience and care. Shelby Foote, who wrote his million-word, three-volume history of the Civil War, was asked why he'd written all those words with a hand-dipped ink pen, and he said, when you use a pen like that you have to think about every word.
Go buy some stamps, please, and give the Postal Service a little boost. And while you're out and around, pick up a box of thank you notes. Even the cheapest are better than an email. And if you really want to save some money, you can almost always find a few unused ones, complete with envelopes, at a garage sale. I guarantee you that your handwritten note will make you feel far better than any hundred emails you could knock out while you're sitting at Starbucks with your BlackBerry.