Reading List

Thursday 29 July 2010

Excuse this scribble

Dorothy's message to Grandma is a great example of how a postcard can capture a single moment. Not content with just telling her grandmother she's in London, she uses the physical act of writing to bring her experience to life. The bumpy scrawl gives the reader the sensation of being on an underground train somewhere beneath Edwardian London.

There are risks for us here though. Just as we've learnt to understand photography's limits in telling us the truth, we must be a bit circumspect about how much one card can ever tell us about the past.

Although perhaps more honestly so than photographs, postcard messages are of course very subjective. While space restrictions encourage people to keep to the facts, the sender will always give us their version of events. We can't be sure but I suspect Dorothy may well have hammed up the jumpiness of the train for her Grandma's enjoyment. The neat address certainly suggests she regained her poise at some point :)

More generally, postcard messages may also encourage us to fall foul of what Susan Sontag called the 'atomizing' of life.

Sontag was wary of photos; seeing them as no more than thin slices of space and time. She felt there was a danger that by relying on photos, people create histories of freestanding moments (or 'particles') rather than remembering life as it is - continuous. I know when I think back to my favourite holidays or childhood, it's often photos which come to mind first rather than memories of the whole experience. The same reservations must apply to postcardese.

But, as Postcardy and Debs explained the other week, if we are wanting the truth it may be best to look to the top right hand corner. Our friend the tilted stamp is back. A clear, undeniable sign that Dorothy loved her grandma.

Sunday 18 July 2010

Strangers over time

As well as your weekly postcard daydream, below are two great web projects for you to have a think about.

The first is Postcrossing - the site that has inspired 4 million cards to be sent from stranger to stranger across the world. The second is Richard Renaldi's project Touching Strangers.

Both ponder momentary interactions between strangers - and the undeniable connections we have with everyone everywhere. 

Renaldi's strangers meet for the first time when they have their photo taken together - often appearing to be from completely different walks of life. With Postcrossing, strangers are first and foremost separated by geography.

I guess for Postcardese the defining axis is time. We're here at the start of the twenty-first century while our strangers collate their thoughts at the beginning of the twentieth. But that doesn't stop feelings of real empathy being triggered by what we find on the cards.

Take Connie. I know she and her exam stresses are long gone, and I know I will never meet or speak to her, but I still can't help being moved by the depth of her anxiety.

PS Finding myself in New York through work this week, I've found Richard Renaldi's image of Cheikh, Ailoun, Gracy, Terry and Pape especially comforting. Thanks Richard.

Sunday 11 July 2010

Enjoying the confusion

I went to see Life Game at the Lyric Theatre in London this week - a show where a group of actors recreate defining moments in a person's life. The twist being that the actors only meet the person for the first time at the beginning of the show. The whole night is improvised.

As the show went on, we got to see replays of the guest's first kiss, when his dad first came home wearing a wig and all manner of family arguments. It was great fun.

In fact, the night flew by. Partly I'm sure due to an almighty tension in the theatre from no-one (including the actors) knowing how the night would pan out.

That delight in knowing something unexpected is going to happen reminded me of the feeling of reading a new card. You can feel your eyes widen, your mind cogs stir and an enjoyable sense of confusion play with your head. 

And so, this week I'm not going to introduce the new card at all. No tips or clues. None of my own thoughts to cloud what you think lies behind it. 

You are free to enjoy the confusion in full ...

Friday 2 July 2010

Take One

I said I'd let you know how Sunday's message reading went at my poet friend Valerie Jack's.

Well, it was a lot of fun. The stage was the roof of Val's houseboat! (No really, it was.) The sun did its bit. And everyone got merry on Pimm's, good chat and some cracking verse.

For my contribution I used 12 cards, reading each message twice - once as the sender and once as the recipient. So for 'Come home at once', I tried to give the sender a sense of urgency, and the recipient an air of confusion.

I suspect this was a touch ambitious given my acting skills, but it seemed to get across the ambiguity inherent in communicating through postcards.

Lots of new ideas after the performance. A teacher wanted to use some of the messages to help give a creative writing class. Another woman, thought it would make a good show for the Edinburgh fringe ("with a bit of practice" - duly noted!)