By Nathan Leslie
Those who teach know it is, by most measures, a seasonal job—as intense and fleeting as a month-long stint working retail at a mall nook at Christmas or a summer mowing grass in suburbia. Intensity is fine, but it interrupts a writer’s flow; personally, I’ve always struggled maintaining a consistent writerly rhythm during the semester proper. Teaching 15 credits at a community college is heavy lifting and at times between August and early May (outside of grading the thousands of pages), I’m left bereft of words and sometimes, frankly, weary of them. As a result, I almost exclusively compose during the summer and holiday breaks. This is not unusual. But this semester I decided to trick myself into a writing project, at least a morsel or two, when I can.
I stumbled upon the idea of this postcard project when a Facebook poet friend began a similar venture a year or two ago. I thought, Why not do my own fictional version? It will force myself to condense my writing and be selective, force myself to stay active in some small way and be selective and I can share a modest story or vignette with one person—a kind of gift. Who doesn’t like receiving real mail these days?
I thought long and hard about how I would go about doing this; initially I intended to send postcards to anyone, off the cuff. Postcard spam. But so far I’ve been working with those who expressed interest (via Facebook) in receiving a freebie story—about 35-40 brave souls at this point.
So far I’ve constructed 11 postcards—I say “constructed” because I’m attempting to work with color and shape as much as with the words themselves. Plus I have to consider the postcard itself to make each one a unique item, 1/1. The process has been amusing and different than what I normally do in the summer—hunching over a pad of paper or typing on the computer—a briar patch of words. This postcard project has more to do with glue and scissors and images and matching what I see with some aspect of the story I’m sharing with the one reader (easier said than done). The postcards themselves are a mish-mash—some are art postcards from museums or galleries, some are miscellaneous postcards I picked up at coffee shops or movie theaters, but most are so-called “vintage” postcards bought in bulk.
Why must I worry about declining readerships or evaporating bookstores? If I find one reader who cares, who finds him/herself smiling and nodding into the mailbox, my job is done. At any rate, I consider myself the reader. The rest of you all can join in, if you care to. Plus, these postcards are interesting and unique—relics really. Who sends postcards anymore? But does this mean we shouldn’t?
As for the stories, I’m thinking of these as charcoal sketches (why should painters be the only artists who have a chance to sketch something out?). They could be complete, but most likely they aren’t, and I’m considering all of them for further elaboration and development. We’ll see what happens. It will be an interesting ride. I’m hoping to create 80 of these suckers. We’ll see if I can. Friend me on Facebook if you want to follow the project.
Nathan Leslie’s seven books of short fiction include Sibs, Madre, Believers and Drivers. He is also the author of Night Sweat, a poetry collection. His first novel, The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, was published by Atticus Books in 2012. His short stories, essays and poems have appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, South Dakota Review, and Cimarron Review. He was series editor for The Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years. He is currently the fiction co-editor for Shale, a fiction anthology.