Death by Hallmark
I have a deep-seated phobia, something I've never told anyone before. It's a fear greater than public speaking, greater than toxic shock syndrome, greater than that dream where I have to repeat high school and can't remember my locker combination or how to put on my pants.
I'm terrified of greeting cards.
Reading this post about them yesterday made me sweat. I could feel my palms become clammy and damp, my hands started to shake, and then my stomach started to feel just a little...well, squidgy.
To be clear, it's not the cards themselves that scare me. I love buying them and I love receiving them. In fact, send me a few if you're so inclined; I'm one of those people who saves them forever, cramming them into shoeboxes stacked precariously on the top shelf of the closet. Every so often, particularly if I'm feeling a bit down, I'll rifle through the boxes as if to quantify the love I've received through the years in terms of the dog-eared cards and hastily torn colored envelopes that marked celebrations and milestones of younger days.
It's the prospect of filling one out myself that freaks me out.
Being a writer creates a heightened sense of anticipation in your loved ones when they tear open that card you've just handed them. Your family will expect something a cut above the average "Love you Dad." Your acquaintances will expect appropriately droll bon mots about what it means to turn 34. Your best friend will look for effusive, gushing prose about how important her friendship is to you on this, the fourth day into the new year. (This tends to be the earliest day your Christmas cards arrive, the delay unmistakably correlated with your card-writing paralysis.)
And yet every time I open that newly purchased card and commence putting pen to paper, I am as blank and devoid of creativity as everything left of the fold.
Which explains why each card I compose always starts with the same banal phrase, "I can't tell you..." As in, I can't tell you how much you mean to me, Dad. I can't tell you how great it is to be 34. I can't tell you how glad I am that we have another year together.
It's true. I can't.
The worst to me however is the dreaded group card, the one that gets passed around the office--an advertising agency no less, where outdoing one another in the cleverness department is a job requirement. When that group card reaches my desk, I plow through the perfunctory signatures of the secretaries, the whimsical doodles of the art directors, the grandiose scribbles from the senior execs and carve out an unassuming little space for myself. I intentionally seek out an unobtrusive inch or two towards the left of the card. The less space the earlier signers have left me, the better. Because whatever amusing thoughts I believe I'm capable of conceiving, whatever Dorothy Parker-esque witticism I hear in my head, that which flows from my brain to pen to paper always is the same:
Happy birthday, Melissa! Hope this one is the best one yet!!Exclamation points. Three of them. The mark of a true auteur.
I've thought about it a great deal and I think what it comes down is performance anxiety (or whatever anxiety there can be in signing a stupid greeting card that's already mostly written for you).
It's like someone meeting me and saying, "oh, you're that writer who did that piece about that funny thing? Say something funny!" I assure you the opposite will happen. I've always said I could never be a good stand-up comic like Nate because I'm only good on the rewrite. I'd get heckled and snap back, "oh yeah? Well um, you're...you're...MEAN!" And then I'd storm offstage and stew in the green room for ten minutes, only to double back, grab the mike out of the next performer's hand and say confidently, "what I MEANT to say was, do you kiss your boyfriend with that mouth, sir?"
I can generally write my way out of anything given enough time.
So perhaps that's the solution: Time. Maybe I need to tell the office manager, "I'm sorry. I'd be happy to sign your group card for Carole in accounting, but I need a good three months notice." For friends I'd like to give myself a year.
Hm, how do you think they'll feel celebrating their 34th birthdays at 35?
Something tells me it's a win-win situation.