Hallmark Creates Line of Cards for Tough Times

Hallmark releases a new line of cards — for situations like divorce, surgery or chemotherapy — as part of their "Journeys" series. Los Angeles Times columnist Meghan Daum talks about greeting cards that focus on less-talked-about hallmarks in people's lives.

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NEAL CONAN, host:

We all send cards - birthday cards, holiday cards, thank you notes - but modern times bedevil us with a host of new situations where thinking of you may not address the circumstances.

Now Hallmark introduces a whole new line called Journeys cards designed for a sister battling addiction, a cousin just out of the closet, or a friend who lost his job, all of which inspired columnist Meghan Daum to begin writing Journeys cards of her own, sugar-coated schadenfreude for the freshly foreclosed, for example.

And how far will this go, she wonders? Is national bottoming-out day next? We'll talk to her in a moment, and we want you to weigh in. Can you think of any sentiment left unsaid by the heartfelt commercial sympathy industry? 800-989-8255, or you can write us your own Journeys card. What does it say on the front? What does it say on the inside? And be specific.

Some of the real Journeys cards address chemo and divorce, for example. You can send it to us by e-mail, talk@npr.org. Meghan Daum is a columnist for the Los Angeles Times. She wrote about these Journeys cards earlier this week. She joins us now from the MARKETPLACE studios in Los Angeles. Nice to talk to you again.

Ms. MEGHAN DAUM (Los Angeles Times): Good to be here, Neal, thanks.

CONAN: And by way of giving our scribes out there an example, could you recap yours?

Ms. DAUM: I think I can do it from memory, so I'm going to give it a shot.

CONAN: Okay.

Ms. DAUM: This was my Journeys card. It goes: Sometimes in good times we forget about the bad times. We laugh, we dance, we take out zero-interest real-estate loans. The best form of closure is foreclosure. You're on your way.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Now...

Ms. DAUM: I think, you know, maybe like one of those pastel, you know, pencil drawing of a house and a garden and the picket fence and, you know, a sign up in front of it would be the illustration.

CONAN: The illustration. These illustrations, especially the lettering, as you pointed out, very important for these cards.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, you know, Hallmark, they introduced this Journey series, an on their Web site, they billed the whole line as welcome to the new normal. And interestingly, it has a sort of archaic look to it. There's a lot of cursive fonts, and as I said in the column, it's really reminiscent of the kind of title cards you see on those reality shows about weddings. There's a lot of curly-cues, and it's, you know, it gives us all something to contemplate.

CONAN: But do we need cards for situations like a friend's miscarriage, a depression, waiting on medical tests, or aging parents?

Ms. DAUM: Apparently we do. You know, the more I thought about this, it really seemed to me that these cards encapsulate at least two cultural threads that we see weaving through society these days. You know, first there is our ever-increasing habit of hiring experts to do work that used to be considered very personal, things like housework or child care or even personal grooming.

You know, let's think about the number of women who cant even be bothered to file their own toenails. You know, we love experts, contracting out things.

CONAN: Until they're driving, yes.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, and you know, the second thread has to do with the devaluation of privacy. You know, we're really losing our concept of what is personal and what is public. You know, it used to be that teenagers would hide their diaries from their parents. There was a real sense in adolescence about - of embarrassment around all kinds of issues.

Today, a lot of them think nothing of broadcasting their thoughts on MySpace, and adults do the same thing. You know, instead of praying that the neighbors won't overhear our domestic disputes, we see it as a change to get on "Dr. Phil."

So it's no accident that these cards have emerged at a time when you've got these two phenomena going on.

CONAN: We do have some e-mails from people who responded to our challenge, this one from Marty in Philadelphia, who notes that he listens to WHYY there. On the front he says - this is a break-up card - on the front it says, I know you have my number, so if you need anything from me - and then on the inside it says, Please lose it.

Ms. DAUM: That's nice, that's nice.

CONAN: That's nice. Here's another one, this from - I'm not sure who sent us this. David. David wrote this. I used to write cards for Hallmark in 1988 when a friend of mine came out, but they didn't have Journeys cards at the time. On the outside it showed an open closet with just a single empty hanger. On the inside, it said, I hear you've moved. It went over well with the person, but Hallmark did not want it at the time.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, you know, times change. One thing I found interesting about the way these categories have been organized is that coming out falls under the same rubric as fighting addiction or entering rehab, so I don't know quite what to make of that.

CONAN: Yeah, things you might not - you know, one thing does not fit with the other, but that's a "Sesame Street" show. We'll do that another time. We're talking with Meghan Daum of the Los Angeles Times. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And Meghan, the other thing about this is that you're sort of out-sourcing sentiment. You're asking somebody to write, you know, not somebody like that WriteExpress where you're actually - it looks like it's in your own words. You're sending a commercial product for somebody who's in chemotherapy.

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, and again, we love to do this kind of thing more and more. You know, it's you know, the idea of making your own object, whether it's, you know, a sweater or writing a personal note, is really - has been sort of trumped by the idea of professionalizing it.

You know, we can't even get holiday cards too often anymore that aren't these sort of custom-printed, very slick, professional-looking greetings that really look like they came from your Allstate Insurance agent, when in fact it's your oldest friend. You know, you see where they just, you know, print out the name of the family and don't even bother to sign it.

In fact, my Allstate Insurance agent sent me, actually signed my holiday card this year, which you know, was one of the few I got that was actually signed.

CONAN: Let's see if we can get a caller on the line. This is Doug. Doug is in El - I can't pronounce this, Doug. How do you pronounce the name of your town?

DOUG (Caller): El Sobrante.

CONAN: Okay. You can say it, I can't. Go ahead, please.

DOUG: Okay, this is a medical card. To see is to know. (Unintelligible). Sorry about your recent colonoscopy.

CONAN: We lost the send line there on the outside.

DOUG: Sorry about your recent colonoscopy.

CONAN: Aha. No, the second line on the outside. To see is to know...

DOUG: Oh, okay. To see is to know; to know is to see.

CONAN: Oh, and it rhymes too.

DOUG: Yes it does.

CONAN: Wow. Do these other Journeys cards, Meghan, do they rhyme?

Ms. DAUM: Not a lot of them rhyme. You know, generally we see the sort of thing where it's a king of long, earnest, lyrical passage. For instance: I'm sorry you lost your job, but please remember that your job is not who you are. You get this kind of thing. Although, you know, I had a lot of fun coming up with my own, and several of mine rhymed, and you know, it's always - I hope that we move on to some rhyming cards, because you know, you might as well rhyme if you're going to...

CONAN: If you're going to do it, yeah.

DOUG: Absolutely.

CONAN: Doug, thanks very much, appreciate the call. Let's see if we can get Martha on the line. Martha is calling us from Swarthmore in Pennsylvania. Martha, are you there?

MEGAN (Caller): No. I'm sorry, this isn't Martha. This is Megan from Sun Valley, Idaho.

CONAN: Oh, well, go ahead then, Megan.

MEGAN: Oh, thank you. I was commenting on Meghan's comment on the two threads that she saw going through, and I wondered if there wasn't some sort of response to us not being able to express ourselves anymore, and we have to turn to the commercial card industry to say things for us. We don't have time. We don't want to bother. I just felt that was something I observed. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks very much for the call, and sorry for the error. Now I think we do have Martha from Swarthmore in Pennsylvania. Do I have the right line now?

MARTHA (Caller): That's it; I'm me.

CONAN: Okay, I apologize for pushing the wrong button. Go ahead, please.

MARTHA: Well, I was just remembering once on "Roseanne" when her daughter had a big moment. She was going to speak in front of the student council, and as she stood up, she loudly passed gas, we'll say, and that someone gave her a card that apparently addressed precisely that subject.

CONAN: This is a journey that all of us take, Meghan Daum.

MARTHA: Yeah, apparently

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, I don't see any cards on this Web site that pertain specifically to that function, but you know, there's always room. That's the beauty of the Web. They can add pages and add more entries. But these are real cards, don't get me wrong.

CONAN: These all real cards. As Dave Barry would say, we're not making this up. Thanks very much for the call.

MARTHA: Sure.

CONAN: And there's also, as you noted, that Hallmark, which started National Secretary's Day for cards, it's now known as Administrative Professionals Day?

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, that was news to me, and I'm not sure that Hallmark actually started National Secretary's Day.

CONAN: Okay.

Ms. DAUM: They really, they empowered the holiday, and it's not yet anything where we like don't get the mail or anything, because I mean, you know, administrative professionals have to open the mail, so I'm not sure...

CONAN: But you suggest that we may be going further down that road and further down, all the way down, national bottoming-out day, you write?

Ms. DAUM: Yeah, you know, I mean the thing with these cards is they are meant to reach out, you know, but in doing so they imply a sort of public spreading of bad news. You know, by saying I'm sorry you lost your job, the message is really I heard you lost your job, and everyone is talking about it.

You know, I actually came up with one that I like a lot that is sort of along these lines.

CONAN: Quickly if you can.

Ms. DAUM: Do we have time?

CONAN: If it's in 20 seconds.

Ms. DAUM: Change is hard, but all husbands need refinement. Wishing him well on his gender re-assignment.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: Perfect with the music, our audio version of those curly-cue writings. Meghan Daum, thanks very much for being with us today.

Ms. DAUM: Always a pleasure, thanks.

CONAN: Meghan Daum is a columnist at the Los Angeles Times. She joined us from the MARKETPLACE studios in Los Angeles. I'm Neal, Conan, NPR News in Washington.

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