Step one: Admit that you write poetry.
When the sun rose
I made drip coffee I
Found myself standing on a balcony at the back of the house
Drinking my coffee
Above the valley
Above the tall grasses where
Butterflies jumped about where
Darted through the morning
There was a stone wall in the distance
And a german shepherd named Nit
I've been writing like this for as long as I can remember. It was, for a while, a habit of mine that I honestly didn't like. It's decidedly different than the communications strategy and branding work that I do with my company.
Then again, maybe not that different.
Recently I decided to travel and live on the road for extended periods of time. The first stop was Barcelona.
When I travel, I love to send postcards to people. One evening, while I wrote some postcards, I realized something.
My writing was... not like a normal 'Hey, Barcelona is cool' postcard.
There were dashes. Metaphors. Meaning. It was... poetry. I wrote stories about my time in Barcelona, but they were poetic.
I couldn't help myself.
Emboldened by the fact that I was in Barcelona, one of the most creative cities in the world, I decided to embrace it.
I wanted it to be good for you.
Counterintuitively, by making my poetry a gift for someone else, I was able to let go of my insecurity around it.
You were on my mind. And in having you be a part of the process, I started to like what I wrote.
When I showed up at the post office in Barcelona with a stack of a hundred postcards the postman looked a bit confused. Luckily, a new friend I made named Mariano Pascual wasn't, and he made some gorgeous illustrations to go along with the stories on postcardsfromjenna.com.
I loved them. The feeling of what I wrote came to life.
I realized that for the next city I could find a local kindred spirit illustrator like Mariano and work with that person to not only illustrate the stories from that city for the website, but also design a limited edition postcard that would be sent to anyone who wanted one.
As much as I liked the look of the old school Joaquin Mir Trinxet postcards I sent – if I was going to spend that much time writing, I wanted the postcard itself to be special too.
A gift. Something to keep. A little story in the mail.
A piece of art, for you.
That postcard idea became the plan for the next city: Buenos Aires.
Find a kindred spirit in Buenos Aires.
I arrived in Buenos Aires and I wrote and wrote and wrote and wrote. I worked. I had a lot of fun.
Time went by in the way that it does when you're somewhere new. I didn't meet any illustrator who I knew would be perfect.
Kindred spirits, it turns out, are hard to find.
Eventually, I discovered that a friend I made on one of my first nights in Buenos Aires, Toni Copani, was secretly an illustration prodigy. I saw a drawing she made of a dog named Perris.
That dog drawing was really, really good.
The incredible artwork you’ll see on your postcard and interwoven throughout the website came from notebook sketches that Toni made while reading my stories.
Step three: Get 150 limited edition postcards screen printed.
Next, the postcards. A lot of material in Buenos Aires is screen printed. I knew I wanted the postcards to be made the same way so that they would feel like they came from the city.
I spoke with Luisa Uriburu from a wonderful screen printing shop in Buenos Aires named House of Prints. She loved what she saw and a master printer named Victoria Benvegnú screen printed all of the postcards and a few full size posters by hand.
Paper. Screen. Ink. Squeegee. Repeat.
Then the postcards were all carefully written (turns out, Toni is also really good at hand lettering), addressed, and sent via the Argentine postal service.
Those postcards were the first original, illustrated postcards sent for Postcards from Jenna. If you haven’t already, sign up to receive postcards from future cities.
In the meantime, I invite you to take a quiet moment and read the stories from Buenos Aires.
It's poetry. I wrote it.
Thank you for being on my mind while I did.
Tokyo is an introvert
If Tokyo became a person, Tokyo would be an introvert. A super cool, well-dressed introvert who has the most loving cat you've ever met.
Tokyo is an expert on all the subjects that you’ve always wanted to be an expert on. Tokyo has music playlists you want to steal, knows all the best spots, and can make you lose yourself laughing with just one joke.
At a party Tokyo is the person who casually leans against a wall in a corner with a drink in hand, content to watch everyone else carry on their conversations.
Any introvert has an inner world. Tokyo certainly does. Tokyo's world, to me, was beautiful.
A hanko is a specially designed seal. It’s carved onto a stamp that is used in lieu of a signature for important documents, receipts, or letters. In Japan they’re taken so seriously that you must register your hanko with the government.
There used to be many hanko carvers in Tokyo. Nowadays, most hankos are made by machine. The craftspeople who do them by hand are few and far between.
Hankos are traditional. Detailed. Meaningful. Hankos... are very Japanese.
I wanted the postcards to feel like they came from Tokyo.
What better way to do that than with an original hanko?
Hideki Arami is a 3rd-generation Hanko seal carving artist. His shop, Todo Insho, is located in a subway tunnel that is right underneath the Shibuya Scramble (you know, that intersection with millions of people crossing millions of sidewalks at once).
Hideki San read my poetry, sketched out the hanko, and then spent 10 days carving it.
Your postcard is stamped with this one-of-a-kind hanko. Its symbols are based on my writing that you are about to read. This hanko reflects the care, skill and honor that Hideki Arami brings to what he does.
I said “Hi” and they responded with “Yes”
From everything I heard about Tokyo before arriving it was supposed to be a hard place to tap into.
That idea couldn’t be further from what I experienced.
Everything I wished for in Tokyo happened, and then some. I wanted to meet good people. I met incredible people. I needed recommendations. I got long lists. The postcards were written and sent. The postcards were then celebrated with a party that had wine, food, flowers, books, string lights, curious passerby from the street, and new friends who came early and stayed late.
At best I was hoping to like Tokyo. Instead, I fell head over heels in love with the city.
In any good love story, there’s a lot that happens underneath the surface.
This chapter is about all about that –
That feeling that you get when you look at someone and find yourself at home in a new world.
Mexico City is surrealism realized.
Mexico City and I have a complicated relationship. I spent a lot of time here once upon a time.
This city can feel familiar, but it so very much never actually is. It’s always content to surprise you with something. For starters, it surprised me that I landed here in the first place - I accidentally lived in Mexico City for two months, after feeling like I’d never come back.
Turns out, that wasn’t really my choice to make.
Mexico City is magnetic. It has its own gravity, its own magic. If you’re still enough among the bustle, this city will show you parts of yourself that you didn’t know existed yet, force you to have a lot of fun, or, at the very least, present you with something asynchronous and colorful. For instance, a mariachi band popping up literally out of thin air on a quiet street corner (happens, frequently).
To get geography straight, the Maya live in the southeast of the country, not Mexico City. The Mexica founded this city.
But then again, Chakceel Rah (CHAK-cell) is not your average mayan. He’s not your average illustrator (Windows XP anyone?), or new close friend either, but all those things happened.
Chak is an expert on mayan culture and symbolism, a naturalist who studies astronomy and plants, and the kindred spirit illustrator for the new Mexico City chapter of Postcards from Jenna. Of his many talents, he also has experience as a printmaker.
Chak radiates pure heart. He operates on a different plane. Even though 6-year-old Chak was in the rainforests in Campeche and 6-year-old-me in the Chicagoland area, we have a special bond. We had so much fun running around Mexico City getting paper for the postcards, harassing storekeepers about cellophane envelope sizes, and giggling about Mexican slang.
You know those people who you find yourself cheerfully crazy around when you’re in their presence? That’s Chak for me. Therefore, it was only natural that your postcard would look absolutely insane - in the best way.
_____ and gold
Chak took images from the stories, isolated them into little dots, and bonded them onto a lotería card.
You can think of lotería as a game that is kind of like a Mexican version of bingo. If both of those references are lost on you, consult someone you know who loves board games.
Chak chose heavy pilke black paper and two different layers of ink for the card, one in gold and… I’ll stop describing it because I don’t want to ruin the surprise. I’ll just say this: when you get your postcard, hold it up to a light.
Because Chak has training as a printmaker, he was very picky about who would print the card. There could only be one place worthy of the task: Cabiros, a legendary and secretive print shop in the northernmost part of Mexico City. Because Mexico City is so big, Cabiros is basically at the North Pole.
There is no sign for Cabiros. There is no indication that there is an entire factory behind a garage door on a quiet residential street when you ring the buzzer. When you walk into Cabiros you’re overwhelmed with the smell of paint, at least a 60 people pressing t-shirts, and the kind, chill vibes of every single person in there.
Up a set of stairs you’ll find a screen printing studio that is run by Mariana Pugu Jiménez, Guadalupe Morales Carrillo, and Ivonne Farias Trejo.
After the first postcard was finished, we all huddled around it and nodded in agreement:
These postcards are sexy.
It snowballed in June
Something happened with this… endeavor recently. It became real.
• Jeffrey Phillips created a logo illo that is so joyful it makes my heart explode. All of his work is like that.
• People from over 28 different countries are on the list to receive postcards, and counting. In the last few days there were signups from Manila, Ankara, Jakarta, Nyköping, and Orem. Thank you.
• There’s now a new @postcardsfromjenna Instagram. Follow it for fun behind-the-scenes shots, announcements, and drafts in progress.
• Reminders: if your address ever changes put your new one in the sign up form on the site, you’re on the list for all the future cities unless you don’t want to be, if the postal service lost your postcard let me know, the stories for each city can be read online, I write back.)
Mexico City and I once had a complicated relationship. It made me come back. I found pieces of myself that I left here, and encountered new ones that mattered. This place showed me new maps to follow – things to take chances on. It shed light on the mysterious ways that life works.
That’ll all prove interesting in Berlin.
Berlin is a gift.
Berlin was, for me, a lot like a sad song. A beautiful sad song.
Before I realized that, I heavily debated whether or not to launch this chapter.
I felt I let Berlin down, that I didn't try hard enough. I wanted each chapter of this book to be whimsical, lovely, and shining. I wanted you and all the wonderful Berliners I met to read the chapter and say "wow, she loved Berlin!" I wanted my time in Berlin to feel like Mexico #16, Tokyo #1, Buenos aires #11, or Barcelona #19.
It wasn't necessarily Berlin's fault.
How much of your experience of a city is because of the city itself, and how much of it is you, in that city?
Regardless - as I looked back at my melancholic writing from this chapter, I realized something very important:
Art that tries to be happy all the time is the worst. Experiences, stories, chapters - they all have tough points.
Art, for me, is life as it speaks. I had to decide whether or not this book was about life - beauty as well as melancholy - or opaque nonsense that every city in the world is amazing and how happy I was there, oversaturated colors and all.
You know what I chose.
So much didn't work out for me in Berlin. In the beginning that included the postcards.
I looked everywhere for an illustrator. There is a very cool creative community in Berlin, but... yeah.
Exasperated by the promise I made that I had to produce this no matter what, I googled "best illustrator in Berlin" one evening, entirely joking to myself.
Of course, Miratrick came up in the results.
I was immediately struck by her watercolor work... maybe because I felt like I was watercolors.
I sent her an email that was way too long.
She wrote back. She had such a kind energy about her when we met. Her background is in animation, she's starting a new company with friends of hers, and she's a mother of two adorable children in Prenzlauer Berg. If she didn't offer to do it while we talked about it, I would have begged her.
Miratrick is an artist. You'll see that throughout the chapter and on your beautiful postcard.
I know. Your question is: "well, what happened?"
You can read the chapter to get a sense. Berliners are very direct, and I was inspired to write very direct.
Never, ever, ever accidentally give me pineapple juice.
What I alluded to is that I'm also saying goodbye to a lot of things in my life right now -- old ideas about where I wanted to be and how I fit in to the world.
One of the best parts of my time in Berlin is that I took a training course about climate change adaptation best practices. It was a program by experts for experts. I felt challenged and inspired.
One of the trainers on the last day said something that really stuck with me:
"When thinking about the future, think about your short and long term goals, yes, but also about what you're willing to give up."
The difficult moments in Berlin took a highlighter to the things that I need to give up in order to continue to live my life in the way that is truest to me.
Realizing that can make one feel a bit melancholic. Goodbyes aren't easy, but they're necessary.
Berlin taught me how to say goodbye.
It pushed me to take care of myself. To share with my closest friends. To seek warmth. To stop trying at certain things that don't work. To say no and stick up for myself. To let go, and move forward.
In other words – Berlin was a beautiful sad song.
It was such a gift to listen to.