On mail and mindfulness


Earlier this week I convinced a woman I had only met an hour before to sit on the front porch of my house with a big pile of beautifully-designed aerogrammes on her lap, and let me take her photograph.

I stood out on the footpath and zoomed in past the rusting fence, the spring-rampant flowers and weeds (and the three-day-old junk mail trying to escape my letterbox), and focussed on the pen in her hands, her head bent over the paper, the splash of colour on the aerogrammes themselves. She was super gracious, and super patient. I climbed up onto the stone foundations of our fence to grab a taller angle, and started shooting again. Click-click, click-click ("Thanks so much for your patience, just a couple more,") click-click.

When I was done, I offered to show the woman the photographs I had taken, to make sure she was comfortable with them. I hit "preview" on the camera, and it hit me back with a somewhat heartbreaking response: "no memory card."

Shamefacedly, I had to admit to this near-stranger that I'd just wasted her time and in fact had NO photographs at all. I just didn't have it in me to ask her to wait around while I went and got the memory card and then pose her and start all again. Instead, I pulled my iPhone out of my pocket and snapped one photograph - just one - so at least I could prove that this mail hero (or at least her hands and lap) really was here.

All in all it was a bit of a lesson on being mindful, which I absolutely wasn't, which is ironic given the nature of my conversation with the woman sitting on my front porch.

Her name is Jaki and she is one half of the two-sister team behind a lovely little business called International Girl (so-named because they're all about celebrating international community, and also because Jaki lives in Singapore while her sister Kirsty lives in Australia), bringing aerogrammes to the people. I first came across International Girl while doing some research for my book on snail-mail, and I kind of fell in love with their products AND their philosophy.

First of all, they're trying to revive the almost-lost art of the aerogramme. Aerogrammes are letters that fold into envelopes, creating a very lightweight letter to send, saving you money on postage. Back in the day, when people sent so many more letters so much more often, this was an important saving.

(Fun fact: aerogrammes, also known as blueys, are still provided free of charge to every member of the British Armed Forces, to help them stay in touch with their loved ones).

Jaki and Kirsty were lucky enough to grow up in a family that travelled a lot and, even when the girls were children, they spent months or even years at a time overseas. They would use aerogrammes to write to their grandparents back home in Australia, and to stay in touch with all their friends. Fast forward a decade or two and Jaki, then living in the United States and still wanting to stay in touch with her family by mail, discovered that aerogrammes were being phased out in the States. Cue adorable business idea that incorporates so many things that matter to me:

  1. Bringing back aerogrammes, to make it easy and affordable (and nowadays delightfully nostalgic) for people to stay in touch via hand-written letters
  2. Supporting artists by using their work to create a lovely, visual and graphic element to the aerogrammes, which come in sets of five different designs
  3. Further supporting other artists by donating a portion of the proceeds towards their work
  4. Celebrating diversity and international friendships, by featuring two languages on each aerogramme ("This was a fun project in itself because it involved finding and making friends who could do the translations for us," Jaki told me)
  5. Printing the aerogrammes on 100 percent recycled paper that is completely biodegradable and recyclable. This also gives it a lovely feeling of quality and substance in the hands, a step up from the flimsy, blue aerogrammes that I remember from my own childhood

International Girl aerogrammes celebrate the "slow culture" movement. I asked Jaki to tell me what this meant to her, and she said she could best equate it with what we might now call "mindfulness." It's about taking the time to really think about what we are doing, to mean it, to put our hearts into it. Writing a letter instead of banging out a text. Cooking a meal from scratch. Turning off the TV at meal times. (Turning away from social media and my phone in general when I'm with my children.)

You know what I'm talking about! We could probably all do with being a bit more deliberate and mindful, and giving more of our time to the things that matter.

All this, from a piece of paper that folds up into an envelope.

As Jaki picked up her bag to leave my front porch after the failed photo shoot, I was ridiculously awkward, because I really liked her. "Can I give you a hug?" I asked. "Because I feel like we are--"

"Kindred spirits," she finished along with me.