Wednesday, December 9

Together for the End of the Year

It's that time of year again. Throughout the world, nations and cultures and religions observe their respective end-of-year celebrations. The motivations for these run the gamut from expressing gratitude for the friends in families in our lives, to congratulations for having survived another year and best wishes for the future.

Few others than those with their head deeply in the sand can sleep peacefully at night, with no concerns on their heart at all. Public consciousness is inundated with news stories about the rise of this tyrannical ruler and the devastation of that unnatural weather disaster, with the vagaries of this government or the cruelty of that population. It is not unusual or faulty to want to block out the world for the sake of one's sanity.

But if you have the energy, this is the time of year to reach out one more time. While political parties demand fealty and religious groups beg increasing funds for spurious causes, this is the time to reach out as a human to another human. It entails no greater cost than 20 minutes of writing and the price of a first-class postage stamp, with no further obligation beyond touching a heart.

This is a pastiche list of people who could use a holiday card or postcard, to feel less alone. I'm building it haphazardly, as I happen to see articles on this topic, and will expand it without a schedule.

Safyre is a 5-year-old girl who lost her parents to arson and suffered significant physical damage. She would like holiday cards.

Aron Anderson is the only student of the only school on a remote Scottish island. There is a drive to provide him holiday cards. (Background on Ars Technica.)

If you know of any other needful recipients, comment here or email me.

Tuesday, August 11

Good Neighbor Day

I can't send this postcard out to anyone. I only have the one and its message is too precious to me.

While traveling in Singapore I found several great promotional postcards for local events and services. I don't recall where I found this one, maybe a museum or other cultural center, but I saw the value in it immediately. The message is simply that of tolerance and community.

These values are unpopular today. In my own nation, the U.S., people buy guns and wait for a legal excuse to use them on other people. Individuality and isolationism are upheld as the greatest values. I'm not calling for the breakdown of the individual, and I don't believe in groupthink, but there is tremendous value in feeling close ties to your local community.

For one, you might not be so perpetually frightened as to need to stock up on firearms and ammo. Right now in my neighborhood, it's the norm to stare at the ground or stare into the distance when passing another person—anything to avoid making eye contact. My neighbors, even the people I live in the same building with, are profoundly averse to acknowledging me. How would that serve them in an emergency? Doesn't that make their house or apartment little more than a bunker where they hide from the rest of the world?

Being part of a community does entail some work. You don't just fall into it and expect it to work out: you have to think about people other than yourself and work to build those relationships, like any friendship. It's different, because you choose your friendships, and here you're working to build connections with people you merely live near, but there's still value in that. This is the list of commitments listed on the back of this postcard. I will...

  • Smile and have a chat whenever we meet.
  • Be considerate, keep the noise level low in our home.
  • Keep our vicinity clean and tidy.
  • Do marketing with them or buy groceries for them.
  • Encourage my kids to play and have fun with theirs.
  • Enjoy my latest DVD movie together at either of our homes.
  • Be equipped and ready to help prevent crimes and promote safety in our neighborhood.
  • Be trained and prepared to help my neighbors in times of emergencies.
  • Invite them to have a meal together or have a pot-luck party during public holidays.
  • Appreciate them for their friendship with little gifts on Good Neighbor Day.
It's not easy to practice all of these, of course. I have tried to strike up conversations with one neighbor in my building, who would rather slink away unseen. There's a group of people kitty-corner behind us, who like loud outdoor parties until 3 a.m. during the work week, and I don't feel very friendly toward them. But these things take work, and I have to believe they're worth the effort.

Anyway, this is one of my favorite postcards. I look at it and think about how life should be.

Sunday, August 9

Thanks for Being My Local Business

This isn't the one I sent, but I do love making postcards.
This is an idea that's been building in me for a while: write a postcard to thank your local businesses.

A few years ago, I went to a kind of interactive arts performance/display at the Walker Art Museum. My friend Jenni, owner of Lunalux, custom letterpress print shop and stationery store, was running a project where people creatively designed postcards. Jenni had brought all sorts of fun materials—washi tape, old maps, cardstock, &c.—for participants to glue and reassemble in interesting displays. (I made one and thought I had a picture of it, but can't find it right now.)

Thursday, February 26

Time's Up! Google as Nanny State

Because Google has chosen to suck rather than rock, I'm migrating all my blogs away from Blogger.

Starting in March, Google will delete (new and preexisting) adult-content blogs that do not voluntarily hide themselves from public view. They get you in with all these wonderful free services and promises to be good to their users, and once you rely on them, they start changing the rules. The latest rule is censorship.

Even if you don't have an adult-content blog, you must acknowledge Google's perimeter of free speech just got smaller.

Readers: I'd love a good home for Postalatry. Let me know what free blogging services you use and enjoy.

Monday, January 5

Postcards Into the Void

I'm reviewing my travel journal and, after a few nations' worth of notes, I've started to notice something. I notice it more and more, the further back in time I go.

Any time I land in a nation, or when I'm about to leave one, I purchase a dozen postcards and take an hour in a coffee shop to write them all out and address them to friends. I was about to say "my friends in the States" but I have at various times had penpals in other nations. At the very least, a few people who collected postcards and traded them with me.

This gets to the core of what I realized: I'm not in touch with most of these people anymore. I look at the names of people I wrote in late 2010, when my wife and I toured SE Asia. I'm still friends with a few of those, but some of those relationships have petered out and veered to the wayside. In early 2009, when our families went on a cruise, I wrote postcards in France to people I struggle to recall. They were significant enough for me to note in my travel journal, but now they've crumbled to dust and have no property in my life.

Monday, December 1

The Writing Engine

NaNoWriMo is done, and I've emerged (barely) victorious. Thanks to a math error on my part, I wrote more than I thought, so the stress I placed on myself in the final 48 hours was unnecessary. But when is stress ever necessary, in the Big Picture?

Even though the novel-writing spree is concluded, writing doesn't have to end on December 1. In fact, the novel I was working on isn't completed (the word total is reached, but I'm halfway through the tale): I'm very excited about the story and look forward to tackling it in the coming weeks. I've been enjoying my days at the local coffee shop, parked at the bar where no one else sits, over-ear headphones blocking out frivolous conversations, slowly sipping at specialty espresso beverages while scrawling cross-reference notes in three notebooks, to organize that day's two-hour writing jag.

Maybe no one else has problems writing creatively. Maybe no one else has problems with motivation and self-starting. Maybe I'm the only person who suffers a dry spell, believes himself to be absolutely talentless, or just can't muster the strength to take a shower and prepare a meal, much less stumble and stagger through a shitty first draft.

Sunday, November 2

Where to Write During NaNoWriMo

Image: Think, Write a Book
I haven't posted anything here in forever (literally forever), so I'm going to do a slight redirect and use this space to comment on another writing-related topic: NaNoWriMo. That's right I'm undertaking yet another novel this year. I've succeeded twice in prior years, though I've participated for several (some users insist that attempting at all is a success).

The first big thing that every writing advice book and website and list of authors' quotes will impress upon the would-be writer is that you just have to sit down and do it. Just write. Write freely, doesn't matter if it's bad: in fact, I believe it's Anne Lamott who advocated "the shitty first draft". Vulgarity aside, the core truth here refers to a fascinating psychological principle in which adults have a difficult time allowing themselves to make mistakes. Even with a first draft, even with a barely conceived storyline, many adults feel they have to get this right on the first try. This belief turns into a nearly insurmountable hurdle that can even cause the writer to abandon their project altogether.
I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.
—Katherine Mansfield

Wednesday, May 21

Postcards for Humanity

Postcards, my friends of the pen. What are postcards? It's a small rectangle of cardboard with a short note and address on one side and a picture or even more note on the other side. They've taken many forms: you could write on a clean slice of cardstock and slip it into an envelope, and that was a postcard. In the late 1800s, in the U.S., it was not uncommon at all to bring your family to a portrait studio, have a photograph taken of your ensemble, and receive prints of your images in the form of postcards to distribute to family and friends.

Postcards were printed up for hotels, to distribute as mementos of your overseas vacation; postcards are the stock souvenir merchandise in every major metropolis, city, museum and gas station wherever you go. You can even make your own, if you want; find an interesting picture (or a lot, for a collage) and paste it to a stout piece of paper, writing all the usual stuff on the back. Make sure the destination address is lower than any other address on the card, if you're sharing your new address with friends, for example, and leave enough room at the bottom for the processing label.