Monday #17: Cards and Bards

I never sent out holiday cards last year.  I don’t really know why, I just didn’t.  And, I still feel badly about it, but I haven’t even gotten this year’s cards ready yet and it’s already December 20.  I am working on it, though, and hope to have them mostly finished up by the end of the day.  I think as long as they arrive by December 31, they are officially still holiday cards.  At least that is the theory I am sticking with.

Do you like getting cards?  I do.  I mean, let’s face it, it’s some of the best mail we get all year, right? Yesterday morning I ran some chilly miles with two friends and we had an entire conversation about the cards we’d received so far; how many, what the most interesting ones were and, in general, what makes a good card.  Coincidentally, all of us agreed that, over the years, we’d received fewer and fewer cards.  Is it the continually climbing postage rate or are we all just too busy?  I’m pretty sure my outbound lapse last year didn’t do much to improve my current inbound numbers.  I’ll admit that one of the things we groused about was the card that comes with that 12 pt., single-spaced, double-sided holiday letter containing an entire year’s worth of all the really great things someone’s kids have been up to in nearly play-by-play detail.  You know the one… you haven’t received a phone call or an email from them in years but they seem certain that everyone wants to spend 20 minutes reading an essay about their vacations, their children’s potty training achievements, lost teeth, ballet performances and outgrown trousers.  Listen, I don’t want to make anyone feel insulted here, but they’re really just so perfect and boring and wordy… and, well, I mean, don’t we all facebook anyway?? Dang, get a blog.

This is not to say that I don’t like to hear about what people are doing or see snapshots.  And, I do quite like the photo cards because it is always interesting to see kids grow up.  I also like funny cards that have a silly holiday joke, a goofy picture with a cute dog in it or something, or a play on words.  My absolute favorite “cards” are the ones that are in the more handmade category.  Now, I know, I know… people don’t have time to make each individual card by hand for everyone, but over the years I have received quite a few cards from people (and not all artists!) who might, for example, make one and then either copy it themselves or have it printed through one of the many online printers. I also appreciate the time some people take to put in a personal message.  I produce a line of greeting cards that are all blank on the inside and it always astounds me that there are people who won’t buy them unless they have a pre-printed message inside.  Isn’t your personal feeling kind of the whole point of sending the card?  You can tell I’m not a Hallmark kind of gal.

One of my favorite, annual, holiday card senders is a client of mine from long ago who makes a photo montage out of 12 snapshots of her family’s year and writes six accompanying rhyming couplets, a line for each month.  She glues the whole thing onto a regular 8.5 x 11″ sheet of paper, makes color copies and sends it out in a business sized envelope.  This is a rather no frills greeting but I truly enjoy it more than many of the others I receive.  Why? It takes time to make a good rhyme!

In a recent interview, one of America’s best rhymers, Stephen Sondheim, talks about creating lyrics to some of the most famous songs of all time.  In the interview, at marker 7:50, Sondheim talks at length about rhyming, how it creates both expectation and surprise and how it can pack a dramatic punch to a line or multiply its comic effect. Anyone who has ever read aloud to a room full of children knows the power of a well-crafted rhyme, as well as the effect that rhymes have on the ability to memorize things.  Have you ever been driving in your car only to hear a song from 30 years ago that you remember, word for word, as if you’d heard it yesterday?  That’s rhyme power!  To see how powerful a rhyme can be, just try to keep your thoughts clean in this cute, viral music video from The Arrogant Worms.

I’ve been conducting writer’s workshops with kids for several years now and something I really enjoy is helping kids craft rhyming couplets.  It seems like such a simple exercise– to take a word and think up a bunch of rhymes is easy-peasy, lemon-squeezy, right?  But a rhyming poem becomes like a little story and, like Sondheim says, striking the balance between too few and too many words is the magic of lyrical poetry.  I love to watch the way a child has to turn their wheels to keep the sense of their story while landing the rhyming words they want to use at the end of each line.  It’s wonderful to see them engaged in searching their mind for synonyms to make the match, to solve the language puzzle that is rhyme.

I just finished a semester of Spanish at my area community college.  Like many of you, I took Spanish sporadically throughout high school and college and, to make things more difficult, I shuffled it up with French.  This year I decided to commit to finally working on becoming bilingual. (I’ve given myself ten years, by the way, to achieve this goal).  Now, not only am I and my over-40 brain amazed at just how challenging it is to learn another language, but I am utterly humbled at the complexity and vastness of words.  Words!  In my day-to-day communications, I now find myself stopping to notice colloquialisms, slang, and elision with new enthusiasm.  I pay closer attention to the varying speeds of people’s speaking and the way all we speakers arrange our sentences.  But, the writer in me who is compelled to rhyme realized something cool:  having another language in your pocket opens up all new possibilities for rhyme and creates a whole, new language puzzle to work on.  Because, while two words in English rhyme, those same two words are not likely to be rhymers in another language.  I think this is exciting just to think about!

Rhyming is also contagious and beckons the playful into the fray.  I was delighted to discover this when I created a silly album on Facebook called “Soup.” And, who can ever forget the infectious, quotable rhyming from one of the best movies of all time, The Princess Bride?! Finally, I would be personally remiss not to at least mention Shel Silverstein, rhyming guru of my heart.  But, now I’ll take heed from another famous rhymer, Theodor Geisel, and bring this Monday missive to a close.  For, “the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” Although, it really wouldn’t be right to forgo my own cheerful, holiday wishes to everyone who celebrates a winter holiday of one type or another.  Alas, my card has not been made (yet!) but the rhyme is ready, friends.  And, speaking of cards, did you know that one of the cheeriest calls of our North American songbird, the Northern CARDinal, is? “What cheer!  What cheer!” I love that!

Celebrate snow,
Celebrate sun,
Celebrate friends,
Celebrate fun,
Celebrate laughter,
Celebrate joy,
Celebrate family,
Celebrate toys!
Winter cheers are good for you.
Give some, get some: Yippee! Wahoo!
Then, carry them with you all year long.
With those cheers in your heart, you won’t go wrong.
May those days be good ones with smiles galore!
And, here’s a wintery CHEER,
From my heart, to yours.

TRY THIS WEEK: Cheer!  Give some.  Get some.

About Dar Hosta James

I am an artist living in New Jersey. I write and illustrate children's books, paint, draw, blog, coach, teach and speak about creativity.
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5 Responses to Monday #17: Cards and Bards

  1. allen says:

    Hey Dar!
    I just wrote my first some a few days ago and it actually rhymes!
    It’s a rap song for the owner of Integrity Auto here in Penna.
    Here are my lyrics. I am kinda proud of this. (Insert tear jerk and sniff)
    For clarification, one of the mechanics is nick-named Matt Damon.
    Happiest of Holidays!

    Integrity Auto/ your broke down car
    The shop to go that ain’t too far
    They got Matt Damon/ he’s da star
    Chris and Mark twist wrenches ya know dat’s par
    Abby’s delicious the one who’s hot
    Tool in hand /show ya what she got
    Ball joints, lubricants do it all
    Joan in the office she’ll take your call
    Preventive maintenance/ beta than busted
    Integrity Auto da one to be trusted


  2. Eleanor Jolley says:

    I just couldn’t find a card I liked this year and I’ve decided to recycle papers that I get in the mail during the year and get to making my own next year. How’s that?
    I think it could be a challenge and , also, very pretty and interesting to see what accomplish!


    • Dar Hosta says:

      Wow! That’s great, Elle! I am doing my own “upcycled” card this year… will post soon. Carla Sonheim does a workshop with junk-mail and it is great stuff. You can even use your old phone books for making painted paper for collage.

      Um, can I be on your mailing list?

  3. Paragraph writing is also a excitement, if you
    be familiar with after that you can write if not it is complex to write.

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