While U.S. Postal Service cutbacks jeopardize the efficacy and sanctity of American elections, the recent outcry is particularly personal for the many creators who rely on the service to share their creative output. 

Boaz Frankel and Brooke Barker, for example, have mailed hundreds of postcards, patches, pins, illustrated calendars, and even kazoos to backers of their previous Kickstarter projects, becoming friendly with their neighborhood postal worker, Joe, in the process.

So, as concerned citizens started buying stamps to show their USPS support, Barker and Frankel came up with a creative way to use more stamps and connect with other creators in quarantine. They launched a Kickstarter campaign for Snail Mail Party, a collaborative zine project that will include pre-stamped postcards inviting subscribers to send in their own creative work to help shape future issues.  

Image from Snail Mail Party
Image from Snail Mail Party

A Crucial Link in Quarantine

While Barker and Frankel, who are married, have been sheltering in place at their home in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, their postal worker Joe is often their only other in-person social contact. 

Frankel finished another Kickstarter in the spring, so he often greets Joe with armfuls of mail on its way to backers. “We’re like, ‘I’m so sorry,’” Frankel says. They used to be able to give the post office a heads up about above-average needs like this, but Joe tells them everything is so backed up at the post office that notification slips don’t make it to him anymore. Joe tells the couple he doesn’t mind, though—and asks them to keep sending lots of mail. 

As Barker and Frankel have attempted to do that, they’ve grown a new appreciation for how mail can connect us. They ship out care packages, and friends send frequent postcards. When they started planning a creative project around mail, they first thought of it as a challenge to send as much as possible. “But it’s also really nice to get mail,” Barker points out. “So we started thinking about, could we set up some sort of pen pal experience where we could be sending mail and then also the mail would come back, which is twice the postage. And it just seemed like it’d be a cool way to connect our friends and maybe even people we don’t know during this time that we already know is going to be a little bit tough.”

Countering Creative Slumps

Quarantine isn’t just lonely. For many people, even full-time creatives, it’s really challenging to stay playful and productive enough to put out new work. 

Early on in quarantine, Frankel started a Facebook Live talk show and created projects for himself like building a complicated set out of cardboard he had laying around the house. But as he approaches his hundredth episode, he says he’s thinking, “That wasn’t supposed to happen.” It sounds like he’s starting to hit a wall. 

“There’s a lot of pressure,” Barker says. “You always see that quote about how Shakespeare wrote King Lear in quarantine. But it’s not very inspiring to not be able to talk to people.”

With Snail Mail Party, they hope to set up a framework to listen to other creators and create some reciprocal care in the creative community. “We’ve been thinking about what we can do to build other people up, because a little bit goes such a long way lately,” Barker says. “I know I was having a bad week and a friend reached out and just said the smallest nice thing. And it brought me to tears. And so since then, I’ve thought, ‘Some days you’re not going to be that productive, some days you’re not going to write King Lear, but if you can send someone a nice text or even just draw someone a little picture or share someone’s story that you liked, it’s the least we can do.’ And there’s a lot to think about, a lot to listen to right now.” 

“Some days you’re not going to be that productive, some days you’re not going to write King Lear, but if you can send someone a nice text or even just draw someone a little picture or share someone’s story that you liked, it’s the least we can do.”

They’re designing Snail Mail Party to work for whatever mood you’re in. If you need some inspiration and reassurance, you can subscribe to the three-issue run without ever submitting anything yourself. If you’re feeling up to it, you can mail in a note or a doodle that might be reassuring for others. Barker and Frankel are still thinking through the final form, but prompts might range from asking readers to write kind messages for strangers, draw a self portrait, play a massive game of Mad Libs, or describe a weird piece of trash. The idea is to foster the human connection that quarantine complicates. 

“We’re all so online right now,” Barker says, “but it’s so much more interesting to connect with someone and ask their opinion instead of just Googling it, like asking actual people, ‘What are some things you do for good luck where you’re from?’ instead of Googling and finding a listicle. We’re excited to be able to connect the audience in that way.”

Boaz and Brooke of Snail Mail Party
Boaz and Brooke of Snail Mail Party

Connecting Instead of Dividing

The couple keep their message simple and positive. As much as creators might be tempted to make a timely call in terms of outrage and anger, Barker and Frankel worry that might polarize more than unite us. 

Frankel says: “I did a project years ago where I travelled across the country without using a car and people were much more interested in talking with me when I told them I was exploring alternate modes of transportation than when I told them I was against cars. This is an issue everyone should be interested in supporting.”

“We’re angry too,” says Barker, “We want there to be change. But for all the people spreading hatred or misinformation, there are so many more people just not doing anything. We hope we can inspire that middle group, and that we can all work together toward a better future.”

Snail Mail Party is live on Kickstarter through September 21, 2020. 

This blog post was created in partnership with Kickstarter.