“Do you read a lot?” A then-new friend asked me a few months ago.
“No, not really,” I said, almost with guilt, because the question sparked a memory of an acquaintance who seems to finish a book a week, broadcasting her consumption via Instagram. In comparison, I am a practicing anorexic, selecting to sip and savor tropes at a deliberate pace. I read, re-read, and watch sentences slowly unfurl into rich, bittersweet storylines. By the time I lumber through the last page – and they have to be real, paper pages – I can’t think of peeling back the cover of a new book until everything inside has settled.
I didn’t used to be like this. Until a handful of years ago, I faithfully relied on my slim Kindle, a nearly ancient version featuring the miniature keyboard and absolutely no touch screen. You had to click through the pages, back and forth, via oblong buttons on the side of the device. “Flipping through” a book meant furiously clicking back a page at a time and hoping you’d land somewhere near that sentence you really liked but forgot to bookmark. And then repeating the process to get back to where you were. It made recalling passages nearly impossible. You simply couldn’t go back to something you didn’t have the foresight to highlight. On the other hand, it encouraged progression like any good electronic device; the meter at the bottom of the screen encouraged me to read faster, consume more, and hoard titles – instantly delivered via wi-fi! – in my slim, gray bank. I bought into it, becoming the ideal Amazon customer. I bought e-books because “they’re so much cheaper than the print versions,” and left them to hibernate. I became those people who buy books – print or electronic – as if purchasing literature would also include the instant download of the thought and intellect required to actually read and comprehend what was inside. Books, by virtue of their ability to be consumed in bulk, were the new intellectual status symbol.
Somehow, through this era of enarmorment with an “electronic reading device,” I was able to retain enough self-awareness to realize that I wouldn’t be able to read anything remotely thought-provoking in an electronic format. Those books remained out of reach, simply because recalling themes and paragraphs would either take several days to click back to, or the process would be so frustrating that I would invariably drive my head through a wall. This, coupled with the purchase of an iPhone that turned my life into a parody of human interaction, switching from screen to screen to screen to screen, finally broke me. I ricocheted back to real books, embracing the ability to literally thumb through creamy pages fat with words.
Recently, that focus on the real has leaked over to email, Facetime, Skype, texts. So much of our lives is filtered through a screen – both literally and figuratively – that communication, while instantaneous, becomes less meaningful. “It erodes,” Noam Chomsky once said in an interview, of the Internet, “normal human relations.”
Separated by most of my friends by an ocean and several time zones, it’s never clear whether anyone who is unfortunate enough to be closely associated with me truly understands my gratitude for their company. In a world saturated with emails and texts, lines declaring that partners in crime are missed, that five year old custom-made frames are still dearly loved, that I still think of that ride when, or how grateful I am that certain people stuck around until I clawed my way out of a vortex of depression, seem to risk getting lost in the deluge. And because I think the world of my friends, and because I am stubborn, I started to make postcards.
Measuring 10.5cm by 15cm, they’re small collages of memories patched together from piles of old magazines. They’re fun to make between food portraits, and layering paper on thicker stock gives them a nice, tangible weight. They’re real. Hand-made, hand-written, and hand-sent. Three have arrived at their destinations thus far (the wait is excruciating, compared with the click and send of email), with more (hopefully, lots more) on the way.
Fingers crossed they have their intended impact. And even if they don’t, each one is really the best 70yen I’ve spent.