Billy’s Lost Mailbag: The Birthday Card Edition

As promised, I’m continuing with Billy’s Lost Mailbag today.

Yesterday, I unearthed a pile of 2011 Holiday Cards, or Christmas Cards if you’re into that kind of thing. They had been carefully set aside during the usual December deadline crunch, and temporarily forgotten soon after we counted down to 2012.

It appears that it’s also been a busy Spring, evidenced by a similar stack of unopened birthday cards from this past April, mixed in with the unopened Holiday Card pile. Not quite as reprehensible as being six months behind on Holiday cards, the birthday cards have been patiently waiting for only about six weeks.

Before we get to the birthday cards, however, you may find yourself asking, “Billy. Seriously. Don’t you ever open your mail?”

In light of my Billy’s Lost Mailbag disclosure this week, I have to admit, it’s a fair question.

A little background. I’m not the first to say we humans are inundated with an ever increasing amount of correspondence on a daily basis. In email-land alone, I have five separate email accounts that have some sort of “billy” before the @. There are even more with other words before the @, such as info and studio, for example, that get redirected to one of the billy accounts. I get thousands of emails a day. Luckily, I have excellent spam filters and I rarely see communication that isn’t legitimate, but that still leaves what can be hundreds of emails a day to sift through.

Then there’s the general postal mail. You know, the monthly 20% off Bed Bath and Beyond flyers, Pottery Barn catalogs, coupon books, election flyers (in season) and other junk mail. Occasionally there is the odd bill that hasn’t been automated or made paperless yet.

And then amid all of that postal noise is actual correspondence. From actual humans. Humans who have taken the time to write. Lick the envelope and put a stamp on it. The courageous few who have decided to take the time to write instead of type. And then find a mailbox and deposit it for delivery.

These humans truly go the extra mile. They deserve some extra recognition for their trouble. Much more than a passing glance before being dropped in the trash bin.

So when the mail arrives at the studio, it is sorted into one of three piles:

Pile #1: This must be dealt with more or less immediately or something bad will happen. Usually involving a deadline of some sort.

Pile #2: This is junk mail and has been granted a brief respite in the temporary junk mail pile before continuing on to the trash bin in a few moments. If this junk mail has been disguised as Valued Human Correspondence (see Pile #3), in an deceptively unmarked envelope and has wasted a few precious seconds of my life while I open the envelope and confirm that it is indeed, junk mail, then it doesn’t even get the brief respite in the junk pile. No, a mental note is made to never do business with these shady people and it is deposited directly in the trash bin with extreme prejudice.

Pile #3: Ah the third pile. The best pile of all. This is Valued Human Correspondence. A letter or card that deserves some care in reading. Not a hasty glance or skim. But an actual sit down to absorb in a leisurely manner, perhaps over a cup of coffee, pausing to feel the texture of the paper and relish the penmanship. A personal note that someone has taken more time and care to send than a text or tweet or Facebook update or email.

Pile #3 is always warmly anticipated. It’s the good stuff.

The Pile System is a great system.

Except when it breaks down.

And it can break down far too easily in the noise of that ever increasing correspondence crush I mentioned above we all experience. Pile #3, as much as I treasure it, can be unfairly neglected from time to time. It makes me a bit sad when that happens.

And this evening, I took great pleasure in opening the birthday cards that had been squatting in Pile #3 for the last six weeks or so since just before April 29th. I gave them the reading care they required. Mental notes were made to write their authors back. Sooner than later. A flood of memories surfaced about friends, some of whom I haven’t been with in the same area code for a decade or more, yet they have taken the time to write.

You see why I so love Pile #3.

Jill’s 2012 Billy Birthday Card

And while all of the birthday cards and letters are equally loved and appreciated, there is one that I most look forward to receiving. The annual birthday card from my friend Jill.

I really don’t remember the last time I was in the same room with Jill. Perhaps the 90s? Could it be that long?

Jill lives in Nashville these days and has become a bit of a legend with her uncanny ability to never miss a birthday. I’ve spoken with mutual friends who, like me, haven’t physically seen Jill in years, yet every year, like clockwork, there’s the birthday card in the post.

How does she do it? How does she remember, or find the time? And I say the time because she doesn’t pop into the local drug store and grab the first Hallmark that seems mildly appropriate. No, she makes these cards. They’re funny. They’re creative. They’re relevant.

And as an added bonus, Jill always reminds me exactly how old I am, because I stopped keeping track of that bit of information a decade ago. It’s not a, “nah-nah you’re old,” tease. No, it’s a very kindly, “I know you don’t keep track of such things as your age, but it might come in handy if someone asks you how old you are and you know the answer,” kind of caring reminder.

The photo above is Jill’s 2012 birthday card to me. Yes, I appreciated it so much that I photographed it. It’s just that good.

And that my, friends, is why Pile #3, sometimes becomes Billy’s Lost Mailbag. It’s not that those cards and letters aren’t appreciated. Just the opposite. They’re so appreciated that occasionally they have to wait, sometimes months apparently, until I have a half an hour to give them the time and attention they deserve.

Thank you all for writing. Really writing. It always makes me smile… eventually.

Next, what a year of networking looks like.

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