I entered this contest today, and two thoughts are uppermost as a result:
1. The contest is co-sponsored by the National Association of Letter Carriers, so in order to enter you actually have to submit your work to the vagaries of the US postal system, which turns out to be quite a frightening experience. You take an envelope you've spent hours working on and months thinking about to the post office and turn your precious baby--the original, mind you; the lone version--over to surly, contrarian postal workers. I took mine to the main post office, because it is the only place in Chicago you can have an envelope hand-canceled anymore. The clerk there told me No, they didn't have the stamp I wanted (they did); No, I couldn't touch the stamp (I could); and No, there was no way they could hand-cancel the letter (they could--the supervisor cleared that up). I was standing there, trying to remain helpfully mellow while I twitched and nervously clutched my entry, thinking...what the freaking hell. This may be the biggest post office in the whole world, and you can't hand-cancel an envelope. I felt like the contest was demanding I have more faith than I should in this clanking, mercurial, fire-breathing Gargantua of a bureaucracy. But in the end I had no choice: I gave the clerk the $.62 for the stamp, she took it off to The Back to have it hand-canceled then pitch it into the fiery depths, while anvils sang and chains rattled, and that was it. The full scope of individual civic involvement in an independent agency of the federal government in all its humbling glory. Oh please treat my letter well.
2. I've said it before and I'll say it again: calligraphy is not for wimps. You need large brass ovaries. You also need the caution of an eye surgeon or a scrimshaw artist or a bomb technician. Enormous risk-taking for which you have to be in charge of all the safety mechanisms. It's like jumping out of a plane or something, facing a blank page with permanent black ink in an implement in your hand. Brass. Big clanking brass ones. Not TOO stressful. Oy.