When was the last time you actually put pen to paper and expressed some gratitude? Surely -- sometime in the past year, if not this very week -- someone has done something to deserve your thanks, right? A thoughtful gift, an act of kindness, a killer dinner party, an introduction to the woman of your dreams. Maybe the only person you know with a truck was nice enough to haul shitloads of your junk across town during your last move. Maybe you got plowed at a friends’ holiday party and went too far with a Sharpie [thanks and sorry]. Sure, a phone call or text is the absolute minimum of reciprocal graciousness, but we COLLECTIVELY believe there could be just a tad more effort and gravity to the flippant “owe you a solid, bro” -- and the world might be a slightly more loving place, one letter at a time.
Not so very long ago, the act of writing a gracious thank you note was a coveted skill, like developing Jackie-O style or mixing a fantastic Manhattan. When my mom attended finishing school back in the late 1950s, there was an entire class devoted to writing gracious letters of thanks, condolence, congratulations, and accepting or declining invitations. This came somewhere after proper formal introductions and before table setting for a 12-course meal. Now, y’all may not want to own a set of fancy fish forks [they’re so cute], but we should all take a moment now and again to not only say we’re thankful, but to write that shit down, put a stamp on it, and send it out into the universe. You know you're gonna make someone’s day when they get a mother-of-god, confirmed handwritten letter in the snail mail, snuggled alongside this week's Netflix DVD and a bunch of bills. They flip through the pile stoically. They see actual penmanship. Boom. Warm fuzzies.
Here's the quick-and-dirty of modern thank-you etiquette:
1) It’s not that complicated, really. One friend whined to me, “When does it end? You send me a gift, I call and say 'thanks', then I send a note of 'thanks', and you say 'thanks' for the note of 'thanks'...guh." Actually, yes, you lazy turd. Back in the day, that was the whole point. People exchanged gifts, letters, and favors continually to grease the wheels of that community train we call friendship. The basics: you send them a note for the Blue Boutique gift card they gave you at your divorce-decree party. They send you a note of thanks for treating them to a day of skiing, even if they broke their hand during the melee. This is level-one shit. Rudimentary appreciation.
2) Less attitude, more gratitude. Our goodly Cody Derrick has a specific desk in his lovely home set aside for writing letters. Talk about making space in your life to be grateful. Right there at his fingertips, he’s got everything he needs ready to write some kick-ass 'gracias' notes: beautiful paper, a hefty pen, good lighting, a gorgeous and uncluttered writing surface, a comfy chair. My process is a lot less formal: I’ve got a shoe box full of cards, envelopes, and pens in my studio closet that I pull out as needed and plunk the whole thing on the kitchen table when I’m ready to write. Whatever works for you.
3) Write often, write early. Don’t wait too long to write your thank-yous or it may never get done. Keep a list on your phone or planner of the notes you need to write [to whom, for what], save ‘em up for a couple of weeks, then crank ‘em out all at once while you’re watching Downton Abbey. I’m far from a paragon of parenting, but one of the things my sons have known since they were toddlers is that they write thank-you notes, and it has to be done within one month of receiving the gift. Period, end of story. When they were little, they dictated the note to me, and then signed their name. Now, they keep their own lists of who they owe notes to, and get ‘em done in a timely manner. And, no I don’t bribe my children to do this. Saying “thank you” is just part of being a decent human being, not a money-making enterprise.
4) What about my post-wedding grace period? A one-year grace period for wedding thank you notes? I suppose it's better late than never, but that’s really bullshit, and we all know it. After a year it just looks exactly like what it was: you were “too busy” to write fifty notes of thanks after you got back from your honeymoon, and grudgingly whipped out a few because Great Aunt Bertha kept needling your step-mother about whether you received the matching set of his-and-his monogrammed Disney mouse ears. Whether you loved them, trashed them, or used them as props for your Instagram feed, you owe her a note of thanks within a reasonable amount of time. Split the big list in half [which you should, since marriage equality means there aren’t ‘bride’ tasks and ‘groom’ tasks]. If you each write a couple a week, you’ll have ‘em done in under 6 months. Or make a pitcher of margaritas and crank ‘em out over a long afternoon, then make out like crazy. Awww, y’all are adorable.
5) It’s all about me. I mean, you. A real handwritten note is a reflection of the sender’s style, so find materials that fit your personality. The Mandate Press does drool-worthy custom printing, personalized just for you. Love nature? The Natural History Museum of Utah carries gorgeous gift cards. Art? Design? Ditto for the UMFA. Go local. The King's English and Golden Braid have gorgeous cards, and many local artists and photographers print small reproductions of their work. Make ‘em yourself. Hit up Craft Lake City. Just get some.
6) What the hell do I say? Your bare minimum effort should be to make it legible. Don’t feel obligated to write a book: one good, heartfelt sentence can convey more than a poorly-organized, rambling four page letter [ed. note: speak it, sister].