The Fire Next Time: James Baldwin

February. The month the new year really begins, in my opinion. Now we get down to the hard work of living the year.

February is also Black History Month, and while I didn’t pick James Baldwin because of BHM, I do have it in the back of my mind and like his emphasis on community and our responsibility to one another. “The moment we break faith with one another…the light goes out” seems a poignant reminder as any that we are all in this together and that harm or injustice done to any of us has reverberations that travel down the line.

Plus, Baldwin’s words are beautiful in and of themselves. I paired them with the Universal Postal Union stamp (1949) because of the imagery of the globe (“the sea rises and the light fails”) and the doves carrying letters in their beaks. Communication, especially when we slow down enough to hear one another, may be our only chance in a world intent on generating misunderstandings and “alternative facts.” See also Junot Diaz’  2017 interview on “On Being” (Radical Hope is Our Best Weapon):

“It’s incumbent upon us to be reflective,
to be complex,
to be subtle,
to be nuanced,
to take our time in societies
which are none of these things
and which encourage none of these things.”

May your month be filled with nuance, self-reflection, and the taking of time that leads to revelations.



This is What You Shall Do: Walt Whitman

There are only two dead white men in Grapheme’s Tiny Letterpress 2018 calendar, and Walt Whitman is one of them (the other is Edward Abbey, in August). I spent a lot of time trying to find quotes and stamp combos to celebrate women and people of color, which is hard to do considering many, many of the folks featured on vintage American postage are dead white men. Still, Whitman is among my favorites for his celebration of life and the natural world, both of which I try to do in the calendar as a whole.

I also love Whitman because he talks about the connection between the body and soul at a time when the soul was thought to be a separate, uncorrupted entity–not held back by the “worldy,” “fallen” flesh (think Cartesian duality). If you are interested in reading more about Whitman’s theory of an intertwined body and soul, check out Jonah Lehrer’s Proust Was a Neuroscientist. And, for another treatment of the soul, check out Mary Oliver’s “Bone,” which may be my favorite of hers.

Whitman’s joy in Leaves of Grass felt like a positive way to start off the year, and his admonishments in the Preface (which is where January’s quote comes from) felt strangely relevant to our current political moment. The stamp drove home the idea with its literal celebration of the earth in minerals and petrified wood–plus it’s one of my all time favorite stamp series.

Another little fragment of Whitman’s poem I love:


I am the poet of reality
I say the earth is not an echo
Nor man an apparition;
But that all the things seen are real,
The witness and albic dawn of things equally real
I have split the earth and the hard coal and rocks and the solid bed of the sea
And went down to reconnoitre there a long time,
And bring back a report,
And I understand that those are positive and dense every one
And that what they seem to the child they are
[And that the world is not a joke,
Nor any part of it a sham.]

May we remember that the natural world “is not a joke, nor any part of it a sham,” as we head into this new year.