This is a cautionary tale. Consider carefully what you title your works. You don’t want to jinx yourself.
I mentioned in my last post that there was a story behind my 2008 entry to We Love Your Books. The theme for that show was “Re:” Any kind of subject based around a “re” word was suitable. I, in my questionable wisdom, chose to make a book object entitled Returned to Sender. This, for something that was going to require international shipping. You see the problem?
The book object itself was about bills. The full title was Returned to Sender (I Wish My Bills Could Be). It was an accordion of miniature parody bill envelopes, with nested flags cut through them of a finger pointing them back into the mailbox. To complement the American-style mailbox, I decided to portray the culture from this side of the Atlantic with my billing selections. One envelope, for instance, is from “Gigantica American Hospital” on Malpractice Parkway.
I finished my piece and mailed it off to arrive well before the deadline. There was also an optional group component that I decided to do as well, but I didn’t get that done as quickly as the book. Since I didn’t want to delay the important item, I mailed the book first. The optional group contribution, a paper-engineered tag, followed a few days later.
The book should have taken no more than a week and a half to get there. But more than two weeks later, it still hadn’t arrived. I received a puzzled email from one of the curators wondering if perhaps I’d misunderstood something? They’d received the little tag, but where was the book? I was mildly panicked at this point, but figured it was probably just sitting in customs. Hold tight, and they’ll release it soon.
But the book still did not arrive. The deadline for submissions came and went. The book could not be traced. It had vanished in the mail.
Then one day nearly a month later my husband went to our post office box. There was a package pickup slip for us. When he went to the window, the box containing Returned to Sender was brought out and handed to him.
Forty-five minutes of intense head scratching, computerized database checking, measuring, and postal formula analyzing followed… yet nobody could figure out why the box had mysteriously been returned. It had been properly packed. They were sure it had the right postage on it. Customs declaration was perfect.
The postmistress came out and joined the others scrutinizing the returned item. They all stayed past closing. Finally, someone found an obscure formula that stated if a parcel fell above a certain measurement in its circumference, regardless of its weight or other dimensions, it would belong to another, more costly mailing class. My box, they figured out, measured just slightly over this size. The people at our post office were flabbergasted. Apparently, some bureaucrat with a tape measure at the main sorting office in San Francisco had ascertained that my box was ever-so-slightly technically a teeny weeny bit above the official cutoff size, and had placed it aside in a pile for three weeks. Then, finally, it was returned for insufficient postage. At least this was all they could figure. They had never before seen anything like it.
My husband was an angel. He couldn’t get in touch with me and didn’t know what to do, so he wound up having it turned back around to England at an exorbitant express mail price (a bit ironic, seeing as the subject of the piece is bills). It still arrived before the show opened, but too late to get its picture included on the website with the other entries. (However, you can download a catalogue of the show and you will see it there.)
At any rate, the moral of this story, artists and artisans, is choose your titles carefully. Otherwise, they might come back to haunt you.
(Photos: Robin Robin Photography)