When the book I’m reviewing for this month’s Hope Street Cards Book Club was released I was a tad upset and jealous.
We could say that initially I was consumed with feelings of anger and resentment. I was envious that she’d been able to do it again. Beat me to something, that I hadn’t even known that I wanted to do. And even though I hadn’t even had the idea to do it, she’d once again done it way better than I could do it anyway. Grrrrr….. she’s done it again. What hope is there for me?
The ‘she’ in question is Emily McDowell. And both Trudy and I have a complicated relationship with Emily. This is, despite her living on the other side of the world, having never met her and my confidence she has never heard of us or our little cards.
Due to our love of greeting cards our relationship with Emily goes back a while. She’s been producing the real-est, most profoundly written and creative cards on the market for quite some time now. In 2014, she hit the big time with a notable Valentine’s card that hit the mark (and money) with "There is nobody else I'd rather lie in bed and look at my phone next to."
In the early days, Trudy and I had massive girl crushes on Emily. We idolised her. She was the big sister we never had. We sent text messages about her where we referred to her only as ‘EM’. We loved how her cards weren’t afraid to celebrate human imperfections. We loved how she helped us to laugh at ourselves. We loved that she agreed with us, that ‘normal’ doesn’t really exist.
And then, the relationship turned slightly sour. In May 2015, five months before the launch of Hope Street Cards, as we were trying to identify the complexities of card stock and paper sizes and driver matching colour tones on a printer, Emily did the unthinkable. She released a line of ‘Empathy Cards’. And they were bloody brilliant.
As she wrote on her blog:
Most of us struggle to find the right words in the face of a friend or loved one’s major health crisis, whether it’s cancer, chronic illness, mental illness, or anything else. It’s a really tough problem; someone we love needs our support more than ever, but we don’t have the right language for it.
I created this collection of empathy cards for serious illness because I believe we need some better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering. “Get well soon” cards don’t make sense when someone might not. Sympathy cards can make people feel like you think they’re already dead. A “fuck cancer” card is a nice sentiment, but when I had cancer, it never really made me feel better. And I never personally connected with jokes about being bald or getting a free boob job, which is what most "cancer cards" focus on.
With Empathy Cards, my goal is to help people connect with each other through truth and insight, which is one of the founding principles of this brand. I want the recipients of these cards to feel seen, understood, and loved.
And we went – WTF!?! She's copied our idea!
Lots of friends who knew about the upcoming launch of Hope Street Cards sent us through the bucketload of free press she managed to leverage about these brilliant cards. And to be perfectly honest, there were real moments of jealousy and envy and tantrum. Total compare and despair. And “this is not fair!”.
But the thing about envy is that it can also remind you how important things are to us. I wasn’t envious that she’d been successful and I hadn’t. I was envious that she’d had a very similar vision to me and was giving it a bloody good go. And this was still really important to me, otherwise I wouldn’t be so jealous about it.
Envy is also about fear. Fear that I’m not getting what I’d really like. Fear that I’m being left behind. Fear that my work isn’t as important as Emily’s.
And the best way to work through your fear is to take action. So we kept going. Our work is always going to be quite different. And I do very little comparing anymore, because there’s plenty of room in this greeting card bucket for cards that are not made by huge companies (Hi Hallmark!). For cards that speak in an honest and meaningful and supportive way about shitty things.
(I’m not going to bring up the time she released her Everyday Bravery Pins and trumped our idea for stickers. You can’t release stickers when someone has just created these amazing pins instead. Here, go see how good they are for yourself.)
And then this year she released a book - There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love.
This is the book, all of us humans should read. At least thrice.
Co-written with empathy expert and breast cancer survivor Dr Kelsey Crowe, this book blends well-researched, actionable advice with the no-nonsense humour and signature illustration style of Emily’s to help anyone feel confident in connecting with anyone experiencing grief, loss, illness, or any other difficult situation. In short, this is the book I didn’t know that I wanted to write. Or the book Trudy didn’t realise she was put on the planet to illustrate.
The thing that I loved the most about the book is the general premise. The worst thing we can probably do when someone is having a shit time is do nothing. Agreed.
There is nothing less than good about this book. It is perfect.
(If I was to be playing the envy game, Emily would be winning. Again.)