Friday, May 1, 2015

Why I love the Post Office, by Susan Oleksiw

Anyone who writes for a living, no matter how meager, knows well how quiet this life can be most of the time, and not all interruptions are good ones. When the mailman arrives in the early morning, he brings excitement. The dog leaps up barking madly. My husband calls out, What's all that? What happened? I rush to the door and collect the mail, which is usually nothing more than a flyer for a new pizzeria in town. The mailman used to bring letters from friends living on the other side of the country, or invitations to a wedding or a party. The mail used to bring connections to the larger world. But now we have email. Today the mail delivery brings hubbub, so if I want a real connection with the world, I go to the post office.

This week I went to the post office twice. Yesterday I mailed off a ms to a small press, in hopes they'd be interested in something different from my usual book. Before I could leave the small building, which is barely the size of a one-room house, a former colleague arrived. We hadn't seen each other in almost two years, when we both left the field of social services to do other things. We fell to chatting about our current lives. He wrote and now leads tours titled Scary Stories of Salem. And if you think he's wasting his time and should get a real job, let me tell you that his tours for only one month brought in almost as much as he made in a year, with a full-time job. Salem is full of tourists.

Ken and I talked about his tour and by the time he was finished I was full of ideas. Why not develop a tour about writers in Salem? After all, Margaret Press writes police procedurals set in Salem, and Brunonia Barry writes a paranormal mystery series set there. The idea has legs, as they say. I left the post office looking forward to an invitation to take Ken's new tour later in the year.

Today I headed off to the post office to mail a package and an envelope. Only two people work at my post office, which is so tiny that it closes for lunch every day because there are no screens on the business window. But in exchange, we get great service.

Today I went with the wrong size box, and the agent helped me figure out what I needed and how it should be done. I don't mind being stupid in my post office. The package contained the manuscript of a new Anita Ray that was going to a beta reader outside Seattle. She doesn't like reading on her computer, so I send paper.

While I was transferring the unbound ms from one parcel to another, another patron asked if it was a ms. Do I write? Well, yes, I do. And, well, so does he. The author of numerous children's books, John Kelly teaches creative arts at Endicott College. We commiserated over the many changes in publishing over the years and the new courses being offered at the college.

I had come to the post office to mail a manila envelope. This was my most important task for the day, perhaps the year. This contained my new contract with Five Star/Gale, Cengage Learning for the fourth Anita Ray mystery. I had negotiated a couple of changes that delighted me, and I was eager to get on to the next step. Off the envelope went.

And because I am a writer, after each encounter I could feel a little something brewing, a fiction made by sifting the anecdotes and phrases of recent encounters, and pulling out a couple of gems that could be worked into a story.

The postmistress and I feel exactly the same about winter and spring and various other aspects of nature. As we congratulated each other on surviving the winter, she showed me a photo taken on her phone of a red-tailed hawk that had been tracking a squirrel on her roof. The squirrel got away, but she got a great shot of the hawk perched on the edge of the roof staring down into the gutter looking for the squirrel.

I'm willing to give up letters from friends arriving in the mailbox every few days, or months, and I'm willing to put up with the dog going bonkers once a day when the mailman arrives. I'm willing to put up with rising costs in postage stamps, and I'm even willing to accept the removal of the corner mailbox. I'm willing to do all this as long as I can keep my one real connection to the world--my tiny, one-room post office.

If you'd like to see more photos of the varied post offices throughout the country, go to   This is a link to the website Going Postal: A Photojournal of Post Offices and Places, maintained by Evan Kalish, who kindly allowed me to use his photo of the Prides Crossing Post Office, 01965.


Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

These days my short stories and novels are submitted via e-mail rather than snail mail. I still love the post office, however, and look forward to receiving mail. I am old-school and prefer to have my work published in print. So that is another reason I look forward to receiving postal mail. I also do giveaways for my print novels and so use the post office for that. All this aside, people in general are using postal mail less. However, companies still advertise heavily by snail mail. I receive lots of junk mail.

Lyn G. Brakeman said...

I have adjusted to junk mail and actually look forward because it fills my home postal box. And I love the local p.o. What kind of connection spot will it be in the future? A center for introverted writers to come, chat and find inspiration? I hope so.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Jacquie, I am surprised by the number of publishers/editors who still want paper, and I'm glad to send them what they want. Perhaps it's a way of winnowing the serious writers from the less serious. Getting paper into the mail these days feels like work. I also get a lot of junk mail but I also get books. I'll keep the post office.

Lyn, we need places for people to recognize each other and come together. I like seeing the mailman when I'm taking a walk, someone else out and about in the neighborhood.

Thank you both for commenting.

R.T. Lawton said...

Susan, you're lucky to have that small, homey post office feel in your neck of the woods. Ours, here in Colorado Springs, is over burdened and understaffed with a bureaucratic attitude just under the surface. It's a place to avoid standing in line, if you can.

I do miss sending paper manuscripts to AHMM, but now have two stories setting in their e-slush pile. Slowly getting used to doing all these e-subs and in return getting e-contracts.

Nice article.

Susan Oleksiw said...

My city/town has a main post office that is also large and bureaucratic. I'm grateful that we still have two smaller neighborhood post offices, and mine, in Prides Crossing, is definitely the smallest, an island of sanity.

I don't mind e-subs or e-contracts, as long as it's real money in the end.

Good luck with your mss at AHMM.

Thanks for commenting, R.T.

Carole Price said...

What a fun and interesting article. Our post office is small, stucco, with a tile roof, very western. I hope they never remodel or build a new one. Old is good.

Teresa Judd said...

I, too, love my Post Office. Like yours, it is small and only two people work there. It closes for an hour at lunchtime. My favorite story: one day the woman, who was the only employee that day, was out walking her dogs and didn't get back in time to open right at one. Nobody complained. We all just stood around and talked to each other until she came in.
They know my name.(and everyone else's. And there's hardly ever a wait. Can't beat it!

Susan Oleksiw said...

I'm very glad to hear I'm not the only one who has good memories of going to the post office. The varied architecture of small post offices throughout the country is something to treasure. Thanks for commenting, Carole and Teresa.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I miss the little post offices in small towns. My son and daughter-in-law live in a tiny touristy community in NW Arizona that has that kind of feel...a place where everyone knows everyone else.