This is how it goes when someone asks me what I do here in Paris.
“I’m a writer.”
“What do you write?”
I smile, take a breath and say, “I write books, a blog and letters.”
Their eyebrows curl. “Letters?”
“Yes, I write a letter about life in Paris each month and send it out to people who have subscribed and want fun mail.”
“As in you MAIL it? In the MAIL?”
“Yes. Envelope, stamp, mail.”
They look off and come back and look off and come back again. “Why don’t you just email it.”
“Because getting an email isn’t as fun as getting a letter in the mail.”
“But it’s faster.”
“Fast isn’t what this letter writing gig is about.”
“All I get is junk mail.”
“I used to write that, too,” I say.
Their eyes narrow. They usually take a sip of their coffee, water or wine at this point. If they don’t have a drink in their hand, they take a deep breath. “So how do these people find you? The people who love fun mail.”
“Most subscribe at my online shop but some receive it as a gift from someone who subscribed them at my shop. It’s great for people who want to send a letter but don’t have the time, energy, or interest. I do it for them.”
“Do you write a different letter to each person?”
“Heck no! That would be a recipe for exhaustion and possibly resentment. Plus, I’d have to charge more. I paint a watercolor scene of Paris. I write a letter on it. I copy it. I personalize each letter with the receiver’s name. I mail the letter out. The next month, I make another letter and repeat the process.”
“So now it’s a watercolor. What is this? A painting or a letter?”
“It’s a painted letter.”
“And people subscribe.”
“To get a letter in the mail. People pay you to send them a letter about life in Paris.”
“How long has this been going on?”
“Since January 2012.”
“And how is it going?”
“I’ve sent out hundreds of letters so far.”
Their eyes bug out. “Are you freaking kidding me!?”
“People LOVE fun mail!”
They nod and the topic of conversation eventually moves onto something else, but they are distracted and not fully present. Half way through a talk about the elections, apple tart recipes, the merits of a medium-heeled shoe or favourite childhood candies, they pipe up. “I know someone who would LOVE to get a fun letter each month. How do I sign them up.”
And that’s how it goes.
I’m surprised at how complicated the product seems to be for some people. I guess that’s what happens when it’s a new thing. Well, subscriptions through the mail are an old concept (think magazines) but subscribing to a letter seems like a new concept. Here is another example. It’s Letters In the Mail from Rumpus.net and they send out a letter each month from a famous author. If you click the link and read the comments, they are getting just as many questions about it as I do about my painted letters.
“Are these ‘Painted Letters’ or ‘Paris Letters?'”
“So none of them are Painted Letters.”
“All of them are painted letters.”
“I don’t get it.”
Have another drink and watch this video.