Within a week of signing up for the IUOMA I received a few pieces from folks all over the world. I’m not even sure if I posted a “send me stuff” type of request before things started showing up to my house. Considering who I am, I felt like I needed to keep up with those who were sending me things, so I responded as quickly as I could. Those first few weeks pretty much laid the groundwork for my involvement in the mail-art community. I love sending things. I love receiving things. One of those first few people was a guy in the Midwest. I quickly responded with my own work. For a few weeks we had a back and forth, maybe a few days between responses, but not much more than that. Out of the blue he stopped sending things. Since I was new to this mail-art thing, I thought something had happened. Maybe I had angered the somewhat anonymous and cryptic mail art sending person on the other end. It just dried up. It made things a little worse to see things by him show up in blog posts elsewhere. I was kind of jealous, especially as I sent out more and more things without response. This was the first in a long line of “I’m going to quit doing this, since no one mails me anything” blow ups. Although I realize now, people come and go, mail at their own pace, or just never respond, it still annoys me. I’m used to sending without ever hearing from anyone. Maybe one in five people respond with something in kind and that’s fine. I’ve learned to move on to the next project. Then he popped up again. Out of nowhere he started to send me messages again in a familiar handwriting-almost always handwriting on a recycled / repurposed bit of cardboard. As soon as you saw something come in the mail you knew it was from him. Often there were dashes above or below the handwriting that should come with “cut here” instructions. It’s obvious that his style is one honed over years and years of mailing things. Everything that he makes is simple, perfectly placed, and stylized. One of the strange things I noticed about his mailings, were the amount of repurposed letters and what not that came from this area. I think one of the letters was from a doctor or lawyer’s office in High Point. Considering the volume of stuff that he sent, I simply figured that he had things stashed away here and there, and would pull them out in the perfect situation. When he started mentioning people that he knew in the area and my lovely employer specifically in his mail, I figured he had a closer connection than what I initially thought. When I received a new card from him last week with a return address of Thomasville, and a message mentioning a meeting, I was thrilled. In his usual looping hand, this time writing in what looked like finger nail polish; he had written something about “the meeting of mail-artists” and attached an email and a phone number. Considering the guy doesn’t have an official profile on IUOMA, just pops up from time to time, my excitement was heightened. It was like an enigma; a semi-hidden pen pal had popped out from the darkness and was willing to talk. I gave it a day and dialed him up. No one answered. It seemed perfect that the voice on the voicemail was that of a woman and the last name wasn’t the same as the mail-art alias. It all…made sense, or at least it seemed to make sense. I wasn’t surprised if the person behind all of this work was a woman with a male alias, or pen name, or whatever. I kind of hoped that it was a woman just to make things even more suspenseful and convoluted. I called back a couple days later and heard a male voice on the line. The person behind all of the art and mystery was affable and interested in things going on in my life. It was a person after all! The two of us when through a few possible meet up scenarios but decided to leave the scheduling to later. Before I hung up, I found a bit of the puzzle; he’s originally from Thomasville North Carolina, less than ten minutes from where I grew up. Knowing this little fact felt like a gift, like a missing puzzle piece had been found under the couch. I consulted my calendar and figured Saturday would work. I texted and received nothing back. My second call hit the mark. This time we agreed on a time to meet, made small talk about the Dominican project I told him about previously, and then hung. It was short and sweet. I thought for a while about what this person would look like, how they would appear in real time instead of through the mail. I was excited about the meeting, because I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect. I thought I may be hit with a performance piece of sorts, or get stiffed. I picked up a coffee and went to a corner table at the shop. Since I had no idea what the man looked like, I was looking at every person with mild suspicion. At first I thought the guy in the corner was my guy, so I sat there, and stared at him just ever so slightly…trying to coax him out. The only real evidence that made me think this could be my guy was an assumed age, an approximation. In other words, I had really shitty evidence or next to no evidence to help me. I sat staring at the guy across from me for around five minutes. Either he was the guy, or he was going to come over and hit me in the mouth, so I stopped and just waited. Two minutes later an unassuming man strolls up, says “hello” sits down. For the next hour the two of us talked about mail-art, and our various projects. We spent a lot of time discussing what brought us to mail-art or sending things through the mail. In both our cases we have an aunt that introduced us to such correspondence, and then Ray Johnson (the other link) put it into play for us. He found out about Johnson through an article his aunt sent him, and me from the great How to Draw a Bunny documentary. So he just mailed him, and then he was hooked or pulled in, whatever way you’d like to put it. Being the twenty-first century kid that I am, I simply googled mail-art and then was funneled to the website that I’m now addicted to, IUOMA. I’m sure there’s something to be said about this, me finding out about a somewhat impractical and hyper analog art form through google, but I’m not smart enough to figure out the specifics. Instead of me doing the groundwork, I’ll let someone getting their master’s degree in “fine art” figure out the angles while I try to understand the man across from me just a little better. What I was most impressed by my meeting was how much he was interested in me, when I was really there to find out about him. I didn’t think I had anything exciting to tell him about the silly things I create. I wanted to learn from this mail art veteran…maybe he would give me the secret to it all, or at least share part of a secret. Instead of talking to me, he talked with me and asked direct and deep questions about a host of things from what I thought about art, to the students I teach. This was no lopsided conversation; it was a real conversation. Thankfully he was affable and encouraging. It could not have been a better meeting, especially considering how excited about mail-art I’ve become in the past few years. Having someone to talk to me who’s been around, and done great work, was inspirational, even though he never took the position of elder statesman who knows more than me, even if I kind of wanted him to. Unfortunately I had to run, and wasn’t able to have lunch with him. Right before the conversation completely wound down, he slipped an envelope across the table. It was a simple white envelope with my name on the front. Inside he had a small article xeroxed about Ray Johnson. He also given me an authentic fake Ray Johnson collage, an original forgery signed Ray Johnson and dated 2011. It was a perfect! I went home and worked on mail-art for the next three hours, completely inspired and excited about creating.