Death by Hallmark

I have a confession to make.

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.


Blogger something blue said...

My coworker signed a birthday card going to our bosses boss "Happy Birthday Daddy-O." I loved her even more after that because it truly embarrassed our boss. He almost went out and bought another card!

I say just make your signature illegible and then pretend you were out of the office when the card was circulated. Another option is to write something so confusing that they will try to decipher the hidden meaning for weeks.

5/9/06, 2:25 PM  
Anonymous Melissa said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who saves all cards.

I think it's the pressure. The pressure to be witty and amazing and loving all in a tiny amount of space. All mine read the same way, Happy whatever, hope it's great.

I'm better in person than on cards.

5/9/06, 2:45 PM  
Blogger gingajoy said...

I am SO with you on the office card thing. I invariably a) find the most prominent place to wrote my bon mots, and then b) write something like "let's make it a good one!!!" or "you're HOW OLD???"
And they eat that shit up (or so I lie to myself).

5/9/06, 3:06 PM  
Blogger macboudica said...

Cards are way too much pressure. And the worst is when I am trying to write something to my husband....you would think I would have something meaningful and profound to say to this amazing man who is absolutely wonderful in every way. But that is about all I am able to say, especially if there is a card in front of me blankly staring at me to put something down on its stark, empty, white page. How dull.

5/9/06, 3:18 PM  
Blogger toyfoto said...

I make myself scarce until the card has circulated to the point that there is only room left to initial it.

5/9/06, 3:18 PM  
Blogger Pattie said...

I always buy a card that already says everything I want it to, so the only thing left is to sign it. It's taking the easy way out!

5/9/06, 3:45 PM  
Blogger GIRL'S GONE CHILD said...

Dude. I have the same phobia. In fact, I literally "forget" holidays just so I'm not expected to write an essay or a freaking poem or whatever and with Mother's Day around the corner? My palms are sweating too. As far as the group card. I was always the one who anonymously drew a picture of a penis and laughed quietly to myself for three hours. Perhaps not the most mature alternative but beats some crummy "may this year be the best EVA! Have a bitching summmaah!" or blah-blah-whatevs.

5/9/06, 3:51 PM  
Blogger Mommy off the Record said...

Ugh, I hate the group office cards too. I have 2 office baby showers to attend today and the cards are circulating as we speak so I won't be able to sign them since I am working from home for most of today (he he, I really am WORKING from home right now. I'm just currently on my mandatory 15 min break.)

5/9/06, 3:52 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

I love getting cards always. As for giving them I usually only get them for my Mom and my sister, and I spend a lot of time finding "the right one". Because I found my birth family 9 years ago that gives me something to mention. I also like to mention how much I appreciate them and what difference meeting them has made in my life. I like writing personal things that express how I feel more than I do talking about it, that could be why it is easier for me.

5/9/06, 4:08 PM  
Blogger Carrcakes said...

I can't imagine anything more inducing of writer's block than forcing a pen in a writer's hand and demanding they be creative. Couple that with the audience of an office group card and you get the above mentioned symptoms. I don't know if there is any way out of this sticky situation. If you find one, please let me know.

5/9/06, 4:10 PM  
Blogger mothergoosemouse said...

Get drunk before you write in a card. You'll come up with ALL SORTS of interesting things to say.

5/9/06, 4:11 PM  
Blogger Marie said...

You know, you have a child... just put a crayon in her hand and let her scribble on the card. That's all you need now. At least for family. Slide in a recent photo of the little cherub, too. You'll be good as gold. Trust me. They'll gush. They may even frame it.

5/9/06, 4:22 PM  
Anonymous motherhooduncensored said...

Hilarious. Seriously, the office card thing is sooooo bad. "Have a great day!" or "Hope this is a great year!"

The key is to be the FIRST one to write something. But then again, you won't have any one to copy off of.

Strike that.

5/9/06, 4:38 PM  
Anonymous dorf said...

Seems to me the problem is that card writing professionals really say it all-and it probably took them 3 months to rewrite it. It's just like responding to your blog. I'd love to be brilliant, clever, even lusty; but you've already done the brilliant thing, and all I can do is read the responses that say LOL or hahaha or whatever, and think:Why can't I be as creative as Mom101?

I think the answer is to get a blank!

5/9/06, 5:09 PM  
Anonymous Kvetch said...

I have to admit that I have gone through more than my share of cards not being satisified with the sentiments I write on cards - or even the way my handwriting looks. I actually throw them away and start again. Hallmark's dream customer, yep, that's me.

5/9/06, 5:26 PM  
Blogger Her Bad Mother said...


That's all. DITTO.

5/9/06, 5:31 PM  
Blogger Wendy Boucher said...

OHMYGOD! I have the same problem. Probably for the same reason. It takes me weeks, WEEKS I tell you, to write out a card to my satisfaction. So I just cut and run. Love, (or something less) Wendy. Period.

5/9/06, 5:43 PM  
Blogger T. said...

Hysterical. Because it is true. Who knew that when I decided to become a professional writer that my family would expect prize worthy prose in their greeting cards? I can't take the pressure, so I normally "forget" to pick up a card.

Sometimes taking the easy way out really does pay!

5/9/06, 5:55 PM  
Blogger Mega Mom said...

While I can spend hours grazing through the card aisles in order to pick out the perfect card, I never seem to have trouble filling it out. I've just figured out that is because I'm all talk and no quality. I'll talk your ear off and in my head I'm saying shut up you moron, do you think this person finds that even remotely interesting? Don't you see that glazed look?

5/9/06, 6:26 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Chicky said...

I find that if you fill up the space with doodles and exclamation points the reciprient of the card feels as if you've written more than you actually did.

Or maybe that's just wishful thinking.

5/9/06, 6:27 PM  
Blogger Blog Antagonist said...

LOL, one of the advantages of being undiscovered...nobody exepcts me to be brilliant, or even literate. Often, when I say something half intelligent, I get these stares of surprise. Apparently, the presumption is that I am not excessively bright.

I hate cards, except from people who I know selected them with real consideration. They are a waste of money, but I buy them grudgingly for those I love who love them. I usually sign only love, me. What a racket.

5/9/06, 6:43 PM  
Blogger Emily said...

See, though I psychoticly collected cards for years I also HATE filling them out...I have no idea how some people can actually purchase the blank cards...I mean Hallmark couldn't even come up with an appropriate reply to the picture on the front, you think WE can?!

I just say 'with love', sign my name and sometimes even draw alittle smiley face..

With Love, Emily :)

See? That's happy, right?

5/9/06, 6:47 PM  
Anonymous krista said...

Ah, I thouroghly enjoyed that post mom 101. I LOVE writing in greeting cards. love it. Words flow from me like a silly 16 year old girl gushing to her first love.

My husband however, feels like you. It takes him about 5 weeks to send a simple thank you card to his aunt or something.

Reading this makes me feel like I am sitting in his head.

5/9/06, 7:36 PM  
Blogger mama_tulip said...

I inherited the greeting card writing gene from my mom, who amassed a large and extensive collection of greeting cards for any and every ocassion, that I inherited and am pimping out with pride. I love writing in greeting cards -- my favourite kinds of cards are blank, so I can create my own catchy phrases.

5/9/06, 7:40 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

I think it's funny that a little ol' card scares you, yet you obviously don't have any problem when faced by the blank blog template staring you in the face. I have the opposite problem!

Hey, and if you send me your home address I'll send you a note. I give good card, and I promise I'm not a stalker -- just ask Kristen. ;-)

5/9/06, 8:40 PM  
Blogger Dawn said...

My fear? The condolence cards. I got nothing. and "Dude, that sucks" seems inadequate, somehow.

5/9/06, 8:53 PM  
Blogger Jozet said...

Well, not only am I a writer (erhem, albeit pro bono at the moment AND one who can't spell her way out of a bag) but I did spend years performing comedy improv. And yet take me off the stage, ask me to speak in public as myself...nope. No go.

And write something funny on cue? I'm with ya there.

In fact, if anyone is waiting for the punch line, you'd just best move along...go ahead...nothing to see here.

5/9/06, 8:53 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

I love the kid scrawl trick for family-- in fact I JUST DID IT just now on all our Mother's Day cards.

My other clever trick this year was to MAKE THE CARDS. As in, I bought totally blank cards from Archivers, got a couple of stamps and some little metal heart charms and some gold tissue paper, etc., and made them by hand. I figured effort that got me out of writing anything insightful on the inside, AND it was cheaper than buying Hallmark, AND it was actually probably faster than trying to find eight "perfect" cards for eight different people at the store while trying to keep a small child from tearing everything off the racks. Score!

5/9/06, 10:23 PM  
Blogger Jaelithe said...

Okay, I meant "that effort," not "effort that." See, I am also much better on the rewrite . .

5/9/06, 10:25 PM  
Anonymous Izzy said...

I approach card-signing like taking a spoon full of cod liver oil or Milk of Magnesia, which is to say...really quickly while trying not to think about it too much. Works well most of the time.

5/9/06, 10:30 PM  
Blogger Veronica Mitchell said...

On every card I have ever received from my mother, she has sratched out the actual words printed on the card and re-written her own. The first time my husband received one of these, the card said "Thinking of you on your birthday" and she had scratched out "birthday" and written in "daily marriage walk." So I had to explain first, that this is just the way my mother is, and second, what "walk" means in Baptist-speak. I'm not sure he has ever recovered his confidence in my mother's sanity.

So don't be profound. Be quirky. It's more memorable anyway.

5/9/06, 11:20 PM  
Blogger MommyWithAttitude said...

This is so funny! I will totally stare at a card until they start ice skating in hell trying to think of something to say. I'm not even trying to be witty or brilliant... just trying to think of something that doesn't sound completely stupid as I'm writing it.

5/9/06, 11:26 PM  
Blogger sunshine scribe said...

Oh I am so with you on this!

I usually sign my name illegibly, just add it along with someone who wrote a great message (as though it came from both of us) or hide from the whole thing.

The pressure. The pressure.

5/9/06, 11:36 PM  
Blogger Lisa said...

I hear you... The group card... ughh!

And I JUST had that dream last night! Where I have to repeat high school and oh my god, wasn't this my locker 15 years ago? I can't remember the combination! And where did I put my class schedule? And WHY do I need to go back to high school if I have already finished college?

5/10/06, 1:25 AM  
Blogger Susan said...

I hear, no wait, feel, no, no, hang on, I'll get it, share your pain. Card writing, blah!

5/10/06, 8:18 AM  
Blogger Andrea said...

Just pretend the little phrase you want to write is the beginning of a blog post. You're brilliant on your blog, so that should come through in the card.

Or just tell people you get paid to write, so if they want you to write them something profound, they need to contract you out and open their wallets. Otherwise, it's Love, Mom-101 and Fam.

5/10/06, 9:55 AM  
Blogger Boutros said...

GAH, Dawn, I am so with you. The condolence card is awful, especially if you're not religious. Church people can always write, "You're in our prayers."

5/10/06, 10:33 AM  
Blogger DaniGirl said...

Bah, if you can't conjure up something sentimental, go the other way. Have a rubber stamp made up with your name on it, maybe something in an officiously blocky serif, and just stamp your name into the card. First and last name, maybe with some made up initials or at least Esq. after your name.

(I say this because it's not the words that scare me, but the handwriting issue. I am so attached to my keyboard that I go into paroxysms of fear at the idea of actually holding a pen and writing something out longhand.)

5/10/06, 12:07 PM  
Anonymous Chantal said...

It's not coming up with a witty or thoughtful line or two that scares me. It's how blank and white and clean the page is. I get freaked out that I'll make a mistake and have to use white out or scratch it out. I go to start about 50 times before I work up the nerve - and always make a mistake on the first letter.

5/10/06, 5:52 PM  
Anonymous andrea from the fishbowl said...

Do what I do. Write big. And doodle.

5/11/06, 1:33 PM  
Blogger Mrs. Davis said...

I hate signing cards. I ususally just do the "Love, Amy" thing, and enclose a couple pics of the kids to distract from the fact that I haven't written anything else.

I love shopping for cards, though. I have one of those ridiculous card organizer boxes with a pocket for Birthday, one for Baby, etc.

5/12/06, 4:21 PM  

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