(I’d like to wish Mary Robinette Kowal a happy happy birthday, and hope that she’s had a fantastic time celebrating at Capricon this weekend. Since she’s off dealing with traveling through more snow and convention shenanigans, she’s asked me to contribute another Journal piece.)
Confession: I’m a total nerd (or geek, depending on which term I feel like using). And one of the characteristics I’ve found to be common among geeks and nerds is being, to reference The Simpsons, “The Collector.” This is a personality trait that can be a source of both fun and frustration. Fun, because there’s a lot of pleasure to be found in cultivating a collection of things you appreciate and enjoy: book series, comic book titles, action figures, games. Frustration, because you only have so much space and if you’re an organizing type like me, not having a definitive place for everything and everything in its place can get a bit like that itchy spot on your back that you can’t quite reach (and damned if it doesn’t move every time you get close to it).
Collections are a way of displaying parts of our identity. The second you step into our apartment, it’s pretty clear that my husband and I love books (the sociology/history ones are his, the graphic novels are mine, and don’t ask me which scifi/fantasy books belong to whom, because after 11 years, I don’t think I could tell you for sure). I have a particular fascination for Hanayama puzzles, which share space on our shelves with our ridiculous number of books.
And as I mentioned before, I also love stationery.
I currently have four separate stationery sets, none of which have been completely used up (as well as a set of Superfriends cards that have been collecting dust sitting in display behind some Star Wars action figures). One of them is in a lovely wooden box with a locking clasp that my husband got me for our very first Christmas in Chicago, six years ago. Even though I don’t write letters with nearly the frequency that I used to before my 20s, it never felt right not having any stationery on hand, just in case, and every time I would walk into a Papyrus (it’s a dangerously pricey prospect living within walking distance of one), I would find pretty sets that I wanted and hey, shouldn’t I buy one before it’s discontinued?
I love stationery paper that has texture, rather than a smooth surface – I find I have less ink smearing problems. But not pulpy paper – I like to use those Pilot Precise rollerball pens, and the ink has a tendency to spread and those fibers can be a little annoying to contend with. A nice “basket weave” texture is what I’ve found I prefer. I like border patterns/design elements – nothing too Laura Ashley floral, but I do like cherry blossoms, wisteria and plumeria, and if there are butterflies, dragon flies or hummingbirds, even better. I’m not a fan of a stark white color – that particular tea-stained/aged yellow is my preferred favorite, although a pale blue or lavender are also nice.
Matching envelopes are a must, and I really like ones that have a contrasting but complimentary inner envelope liner. Stickers for “sealing” are a nice touch, but not completely necessary in a set because it’s easy to pick up your own (using stickers with letters is an old habit from all the way back in childhood, but thankfully I’ve expanded beyond those early Lisa Frank ones*). Likewise, matching notecards aren’t an essential part of a stationery set for me to consider buying it – sometimes I think they’re unnecessary because I could never keep a letter short enough to be contained in a single card – but sometimes they’re just so pretty I can’t say no.
But I think what I really love about stationery is what I love about books: there’s a unique smell and texture to paper that just instantly feels “right.” Getting to handle a letter, both the writing and receiving, provides a physical connection to those words that’s palatably missing from email (and ebooks). I appreciate how email and ebooks have probably saved me an unimaginable amount of physical storage space (I can’t conceive of the number of shoeboxes I’d need to store my email correspondence if they were in letter form), but they still lack that special something that comes with tearing open an envelope and pulling out those handwritten sheets. They also lack that risk of slicing your finger open on said envelope, but that’s my fault for always forgetting to go for the letter opener.
*Additional confession: I’m still something of a sticker collector – I still have a box of stickers I’d been collecting since I was about five and yes, there are a considerable number of Lisa Frank stickers in there, mostly unicorns. Also, puffy stickers, which are something I don’t think I’ve seen much of over the years but I kind of miss.