Author Interview: Unsent Postcards: things I never told you by Maxi Witrak
Every once in a while, we fall in love with a unique non-fiction book. Unsent Postcards: things I never told you is the latest book I’ve fallen in love with. Told in a series of postcards and short poetry, Unsent Postcards is a gorgeous book perfect for your coffee table. We chatted with author Maxi Witrak on her multi-faceted career as an actress, comedian, and author! Check out our interview below and pick up Unsent Postcards, available now!
Unsent Postcards: things I never told youby Maxi Witrak
Published by: Lightning Press
Unsent Postcards: things I never told you is a collection of original poetry by writer and comedian Maxi Witrak. Pairing vintage imagery with charming love notes, it is a spark of fairy tale romance dressed in the sweatpants of reality.
Author Interview with Maxi Witrak
Outside of writing, you’re also a comedian. How do you set the tone to write something poetic like Unsent Postcards versus comedy?
You know, I never set out to write poetry. These snippets were coming to me in that form already, and they were dictating how they wanted to come out. I’ve certainly used some of the experiences in it for my standup, but funnily enough these things told me how they wanted to come out. The process was incredibly similar to comedy writing though. I had to keep distilling each one down further and further like a comedy bit, trying to hack away at the unnecessary foliage to get to the essence of what I was trying to say. I would get probably 90% of it out the way I wanted it in the first burst, and then fine tune a little for flow or clarity or finding words that better expressed what I wanted to get out. People often ask me as a comedian, “how do you pick what to talk about?” and it’s strange how it picks you. You’ll notice film directors tend towards a certain style or some singers stick to a theme in what they sing about in each album; I find you gravitate towards what’s wanting to be talked about. What’s asking to be expressed is the stuff in you that you have a deep need to examine whether you realize it or not. There was a point early on where I was trying so hard to write “clean” as an agent had suggested it would open up my booking opportunities. Wouldn’t you know, for the next few months ALL I could write was the dirtiest jokes I could imagine. I would set out to write clean and this stuff just kept exploding out in rebellion. But then after a while of writing those, they petered out without me trying. I got them out of my system, they had had their moment in the sun, and weren’t screaming to be heard anymore. So Unsent Postcards was a way of letting out these new thoughts I was having that I’d never put under the microscope before, and the more light I gave them by writing them down or sharing them with my guy, the less attention they needed. I only just gave the book to him –so I guess that makes them “Sent” Postcards– but I even told him, none of it would be new to him. I’d already entrusted him with most of them verbally and as I did that, they stopped coming.
What inspired you to put together Unsent Postcards? Did the words or the postcards come first?
The very first one came to me while I was in the makeup chair for a show, reading from a book he had given me. We had just been in New York on a shoot together and I was using a postcard I’d bought from the Strand bookstore on our visit as a bookmark. So I borrowed the makeup artist’s sharpie and wrote it down, just liking how it sounded. More started trickling in over the next few weeks, and the metaphor seemed built-in. I’m a huge lover of antiques and thrift stores and finding treasures that seem meant for me; I had so much fun keeping an eye out for unique postcards wherever I went and hunting on Etsy for some truly vintage ones. I love when a photograph can strike a desire in me to do more or live more broadly. I have a still photo of the From Here to Eternity beach scene on my wall that reminds me not to always settle for my basic sweatpants-and-takeout life but to try in little ways to revive that old fashioned sense of taste and aesthetic.What made me finally compile it? Probably something similar to the reasons why I share some darker personal stuff in my standup. Most of it I’m well past and don’t need to tell it in the therapeutic sense, and is not resoundingly funny. But someone will always come up after a show and tell me how they related, and they are excited to share it, no matter how tragic the actual subject, because they were thrilled to feel seen. I think there are a lot of people my age feeling let down by the lack of romance in our culture and who feel they have to be cynical or fake or stoic to be taken seriously. If I can inspire someone to hold on to their more compassionate, vulnerable nature and celebrate it rather than feel ashamed, I would feel like I’ve at least done something to keep us humane.
What have you read lately that has inspired you?
I’m hooked on How We Change by Ross Ellenhorn. I’m not even forty pages in because I keep having to stop and process these mindbombs he drops! The takeaway I’m loving most already is the explanation of why staying the same is the more prevalent outcome than meeting our goals. By normalizing sameness instead of framing it as a sign of inherent defeat, he takes away its power. And once you realize what’s at work against you, you don’t have to smother yourself in blame. You can instead approach the process with more tenderness rather than suffering through the shame that you alone are somehow a failure. That might sound like a prescription for never trying to improve but it’s not; I often try to change things about myself because I’ve assumed that not being able to makes me a worse person. It’s already made me reevaluate which changes are worth my energy or spirit so that I can stop beating myself up for the ones that don’t matter to me and focus instead on the ones that do.