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.

Saturday, May 10

Moving Day and Blank Vintage Postcards

Once again I'm moving from apartment to apartment. It seems I can't stay anywhere longer than two years. But here are a few things that have come out of my semimigratory condition.

I now have a full list of everywhere I've lived since 1996, when I moved from St. Cloud State Unversity campus to Minneapolis. This is important because occasionally some stupid insurance form or credit card or whatever else needs an excruciatingly complete background of all the places I've lived. In the course of moving I tend to discover heaps of paper that have not been touched in years, and these may include junk mail or official mail that it turns out I don't need to save. On these, of course, are all my old addresses, so in the last three or four pages of my Moleskine address book I have recorded all of my past addresses in chronological order, for my own reference. This has proven to be handy on several occasions.

As well, among the long-neglected property I'm turning up are boxes and envelopes of antique documentation and photos. These are material my mother asked if I would scan and preserve digitally, as once upon a time I attempted to break into genealogy and that's who she thinks I am now (which is cool, because now I have a lot of military certificates from the Civil War). Also, I salvaged a box of old photos my wife's family was going to throw away, when we moved her parents out of their Wisconsin home and emptied the house for resale. In this lot I'm finding amazing old photographs of Russian and Polish immigrants, mounted on dense cardboard or particle board squares. I can't understand how her family would be so cavalier about these treasures!

This latter thing has turned into a small project, into which I've plunged all my energy as a time-killer and a distraction from packing. I'm terrible, but at the same time, observe: blank postcard backs. Through the miracle of Picasa I've digitally removed any writing and produced an empty postcard, upon which anyone who cares to may write over through their own graphics program, for purposes of novelty over social media. I'm not explaining myself very well, so here: when you upload an image of writing to Twitter, you can use way more than 140 characters:

 Alton Brown turned to this format when fans criticized his typos, and he instead hand-wrote notes on Post-Its®.

So if you'd like, here are five blank postcard backs from vintage postcards, from (as far as I can tell) three different nations. Fun, eh? I hope so.