If you are ever looking for me over the spring months, I can often be found in greeting card shops or the card section of department stores and pharmacies. Between Easter, Mother’s Day and a big cluster of family birthdays in those months, the search is always on for the perfect greeting cards.
Even though there are many alternatives available in the electronic age, giving a card is a ritual I still enjoy and to a certain extent, I take to heart. I think it is an opportunity to offer someone a well-deserved tribute and a gesture of kindness and celebration, in a world where positive energy is sometimes in short supply.
You would think that as a writer, the most natural thing would be to pick out a nice blank card and then just create the perfect personalized verse inside. You would think that for someone who has been referred to as “relentlessly cheerful” and as a fountain of clichés of encouragement, creating a card would be a breeze. But it is not.
For some reason, I feel incredible pressure to not only make it good, but to make it perfect… after all, these are words that will be sitting on their mantle for a few days or weeks. If I screw it up in any way, there is a matter of posterity to contend with. In attempting to do so, I would probably fall into analysis paralysis and working on the verse of a card longer than the card would actually be up on the mantle.
That being the case, while finding a card that offers the perfect words may seem like a lofty goal, it can be time saver and can definitely be worth a few dollars.
I am not above picking a card with a cute pun, a light joke or one that perpetuates an appropriate cliché of some sort, I have bought a few of those. But because I like the ceremony of the experience, I prefer the opportunity to patiently peruse the card racks (sometimes to the point of going into a trance) until I get to that “Eureka!” moment.
I sometimes find card shopping an uplifting experience especially when I find very funny cards, maybe not appropriate for the folks for whom I am shopping, but creative masterpieces nonetheless that really tickle my funny bone. Live in the moment, I always say, so I enjoy the journey and keep going! At first I might try to hold myself back by not trying to laugh out loud to myself and look like a fool, but then I realize I am having fun, it is a card section after all, and then I keep reading and laugh out loud. It is cathartic.
Then there are the cute ones that make me go “awww” (much like my reaction to cat pictures on social media), sometimes looking at the same one a couple of times, putting it back, checking a few others. With an open mind, an open heart and a little patience, the perfect card can eventually find me rather than the other way around.
There are times where lady luck is shining over me and I find three perfect cards in minutes, while other times, it may take weeks of looking around to find the right ones. It can be a challenging process.
For example, in this part of Canada, finding French cards is not a problem, given that Ottawa has a strong French-speaking population. However, when my grandparents were still alive, I sometimes had the hardest time finding French greeting cards that respectfully addressed them in the formal formulation “vous”. The pronoun the cards often used was the more informal “tu”. I wrote to the card companies, bringing this to their attention, outlining how adults often refer to their elders as “vous” and they did respond positively, saying that they would look into it. In the years that followed, there were times that finding the “vous” cards was considerably easier, but sometimes it was the subsequent wording that might not hit the mark. Either way, when it wasn’t quite “in the cards”, my options were either to pick an English card or to travel across the provincial border to Quebec where the first language is French. I often had better luck there and could enjoy a whole new journey of laughing out loud to French jokes.
Also, my uncle and I have often discussed how finding sibling cards can also be a challenge. It is clear that between brothers and brothers (or even between brothers and sisters) mushy cards might not always be appropriate, so the card companies often gravitate to humour. While this is definitely an appropriate response and approach, does the humour have to lean as much toward put downs?
Also, when it comes to jokes about age, they can be fine in a greeting card, but you really need to know the person receiving it. Some folks are totally fine with the aging process while for others it may be a very sensitive area. Buyer beware!
Another factor that eliminates cards from the selection is that by age 50, there are only a handful of people who have actually been there the whole time, given the natural transience of the universe and the people who join us along our journey, whether for a short time or a long time. That being the case, I tend to shy away from cards containing superlatives and absolutes like “you were always there” or “forever”. I tend to prefer cards expressing a timeless sentiment reflecting the current moment, not over a passage of time.
I am certain that it is a challenge for card companies to keep a balanced mix of all types of cards to keep the entire target audience happy and I applaud their efforts. I sometimes wish that the choices were more plentiful in sentiments reflecting positive, upbeat wording, expressing notes of celebration, congratulation, inspiration and gratitude. There should be no limits in ways to acknowledge generosity of spirit, kindness, friendship, fellowship, great memories, memories to last a lifetime, looking forward to making new memories, and one of the key messages: helping me become who I am today.
When I do find the perfect card I am often known to gasp out loud and whisper “perfect” (… does anyone else do that, or is that just me?)
Either way I am deeply grateful for the card companies and their writers for the great job they are doing in expressing the perfect words, when emotion sometimes clouds my creativity and the ability to find the right words at the right time in a perfectly fitting tribute.
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Have a great day,