Thank you, armpit hair

What inspires someone to write a book of thank-you notes dedicated to inanimate objects and random moments?

J.C. Gabel
September 9, 2011 4:20AM (UTC)

Leah Deiterich

Like most daily websites that cater to a specific audience, Leah Dieterich's thank-you note blog thx thx thx first captured my attention for a variety of personal reasons: For one, I too love to write thank-you notes, and have for the last five years written a few freehand letters a week (instead of emails), using little cards and envelopes; secondly, her handwriting, like mine, is a mix of cursive and script (which, I can tell, we both work hard at, always looking for room for improvement, better legibility); third, the idea behind her posts is rooted in slowing things down, taking note of each day, being thankful for something -- anything, really -- instead of always looking ahead to what might lie ahead down the road -- something better, more exciting.


As Dieterich points out in her introduction to the book "thx thx thx": "I realize a book of thank-you notes could come off as overly sentimental, syrupy even, so I applaud you for being less cynical than the average person."

"David Foster Wallace once said he believed that sincerity would be the next literary rebellion. As a person seeking permission for people I admire, I must say I feel validated by this approval. It's true that in the snark-saturated media landscape, my growing pile of thank-you notes had begun to feel almost subversive."


Although I don't wholly agree with Dieterich's notion that her thank-you notes are somehow "subversive," I do think they resonate the honesty and forthrightness of a young creative person trying to live in the moment, (as opposed to "living in the future"), making this book a great gift for any friend who's caught the thank-you note bug, someone who hasn't given up on penmanship in the post-digital age.

When you open the book there's a sample, thank-you envelope stitched to the inside front cover; the inside back cover notes a final send-off instruction: "Your turn."

I probably should have conducted this interview, back and forth, via thank-you notes, but to save time, I instead opted for email. Dieterich, I should note, is a creative director and writer at an advertising agency in Los Angeles.


I know this book started out as a blog, but how did the blog originally come about?

The blog began in 2009, at a time in my life when there was a lot of uncertainty. My partner of many years, who's an artist, had the opportunity to move to New York to do a one-year fellowship. I was excited for him, but wasn't ready to uproot my life in Los Angeles, so we decided to live apart and see what happened. I started the blog right around a month or so after he'd gone.


The idea of writing thank-you notes to random things had been a project I'd thought of a few years prior, but just hadn't really executed. When my relationship changed, the thing in my life that had been this grounding force was suddenly not there in the same way, so I think I was looking for something to replace it. The idea of giving thanks for one thing every day, no matter how small or odd, became a way to anchor myself.

Doing it in the form of handwritten thank-you notes felt very natural to me. I've always felt a big obligation to write traditional thank-you notes to people when they give me gifts. And I began to see various things the world was bringing to me -- be it a shower of flower petals knocked from a tree by a passing truck, or the realization that Monday, normally not my favorite day, could be reframed as "my day" because it contains the French word for "mine" ("Mon") in it -- were indeed gifts, and could be thanked as such.

Once I started the blog, I knew I had to post a note publicly each day; there was a subconscious shift in my awareness for things to be grateful for, and that made me feel more alive. And also more grounded. And when people started responding to the blog and saying it made them feel the same things, a momentum grew.


Is there a daily routine when writing each card?

There is a daily routine to writing the card, especially at this point. I write the note on paper in a notebook I keep, and then once I'm happy with the way it sounds, I transcribe it to a nice heavy-stock folded card. Then I scan the card and upload it to the blog. (I keep all the cards on my shelf in a stack).


Did you use the same pen day to day? How many drafts did you do on average -- if any?

I use an ultra-fine-point retractable Sharpie. It doesn't smear (I'm left-handed, so there's normally an issue with smearing) and it's nice and dark.  I've found that the clickable ones get dried out less quickly than the ones with caps. But perhaps that's because I never remember to put the caps back on.


Were you a thank-you note junkie as a young adult?

I was not a thank you note junkie as a young adult. I was a typical begrudging thank-you note writer. My mom really placed an emphasis on it, though. A lot of nagging took place. But I really appreciate that she did that. As an adult I'm shocked at how few people do it, even for presents! It just feels so rude to me.

I noticed that your handwriting is a hybrid of cursive and script lettering. Is your handwriting evolving naturally as you get older?

I think my handwriting has plateaued. I don't know that it's evolving anymore. I find this cursive/printing hybrid really legible but also stylish. It's kind of a thing of pride for me, especially as a lefty, since many left-handed people have really atrocious handwriting. I used to experiment with it (as far back as the heart-dotting-i days in grade school, the writing in all caps early in college) but I don't really do that anymore. However, occasionally I write in all lowercase -- like when I address the envelope of a card or something -- but I do that for effect. It looks like the way I type, which is often not in sentence case. While that is certainly not out of laziness, I like the aesthetic of handwriting. It looks rather innocent and pleasing. My credit card signature, however, has certainly devolved into this weird circular flick of the wrist.


Copyright F+W Media Inc. 2011.

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J.C. Gabel


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