When San Francisco-based artist and filmmaker Ivan Cash decided to create a project that involved handwriting emails, he figured it would be a one-time experiment. Soon, though, he had so many requests that he had to enlist the help of hundreds of volunteers around the world to help him write. In all, more than 10,000 letters were sent, and Snail Mail My Email has become an annual, week-long event that takes place each November. If you can’t wait that long, however, the project’s letters are also available in book form. Here, Ivan talks with us about his dream Zen pen pal, in-the-moment correspondence and why including plastic dinosaur toys with your notes is pretty great.
Tell me about your snail mail project and how it came about.
I’ve always loved letter writing, but when I lived in Amsterdam during 2011, I found I was working all the time and not writing enough letters. When I quit my job just six months in, I decided I needed a project to help immerse myself back into the world of letter writing. I also wanted to use my skills in advertising to share the magic of snail mail with others.
What is your favorite step in the process of written correspondence?
Waiting for a person to get my letter or waiting to receive a letter that’s on its way. Or maybe it’s the feeling I get when I come home and receive a personalized letter in the mail. The suspense and excitement of holding the letter in my handsand then tearing the paper to open it up and then receiving such a direct channel of love from someone, even if it’s not a “love letter,” taking the time to write a handwritten letter in this day and age conveys some sort of affection. It’s like being a kid and opening a present!
If you could be pen pals with anyone in history, to whom would you write and what would you say?
I’d write to the Buddha! I’d mostly ask questions and try to soak up his wisdom.
To whom do you most often write?
This varies quite a bit, it goes through waves. I have friends in college who I still write with. I have a friend from when I lived in Cape Town, South Africa over six years ago who I still write with. I write to a former girlfriend a bunch. I also write to people I’m working with on projects to thank them for their hard work!
Describe the most memorable letter or postcard you have ever received.
When I was a child, my older brother Julian, who didn’t live with us anymore, would send our family the weirdest mail. Sometimes it would be a large bouncy ball, or a plastic dinosaur toy, with the message and address written on in paint marker. These were so playful and showed me how malleable letter writing can be!
What makes a particular letter stand out from a stack of cards?
I pretty much find any letter that’s personalized to me to be inherently interesting. Even ones from years and years ago totally take me back to a moment in time. That’s the beauty of letters. They capture such a true, honest essence of life at a particular time.
Do you have a favorite stamp or stamp series?
I appreciate just about any art/culture-based stamp. The series of photo-based stamps of workers in the Industrial era have been making the rounds for me lately, and I’m a big fan.
What makes your correspondence distinct?
I try to be playful and silly but also brutally honest and in the moment. My goal in letter correspondence is to share a slice of my life with someone else and to give them insight into the way I think and feel at the date and time that I’m writing. For instance, right now it’s 12:30 am and my back is sore because I’ve been typing on the computer in a bad posture for too many straight hours, but soon I’ll find sleep and that will be nice, though I’ve been meaning to go to bed earlier and wake up earlier.
What do you think classic correspondence will look like in a decade or two?
Every single email in the world will be handwritten and sent out by a volunteer through the Snail Mail My Email project! Just kidding. Maybe quadrocopters will deliver mail in 10-20 years from now?
Do you have a question for Ivan or are you interested in being featured in Post Script? Email our Crane Concierge at firstname.lastname@example.org.