Tuesday, February 23

Postcrossing Supporter

That's right, I took the plunge. I donated to Postcrossing. I believe in throwing money at services I use.

Postcrossing's ordinarily a free service, and they subsist at least in part by the graces of their donors. I think that's amazing: they offer such an excellent service, and their Web site looks very nice! I've been to other pen pal organizations that run on low budgets and they look crappy. Poor Web design, poor graphic design, terrible site infrastructure and support. Some of them only serve as virtual ghost towns, haunted by Nigerian scammers and Russian brides-to-be.

But Postcrossing is a top-shelf service, and as much as I crow about it, I'm always finding someone new to get interested in it. Once again: you submit your address to their database. You click on "Send a Postcard" and receive an address for some random person anywhere on Earth; you write a little note, affix the appropriate postage and an ID code; send it off. In about two to four weeks you get an e-mail update saying that some grateful person has received your card, and you get a little map of the postcard's trajectory.

And at some point in the future, suddenly you receive a cute little postcard from some other random person, anywhere on Earth. It could be someone from Ohio or someone from Australia's exterior islands. (More than likely it'll be someone from Finland, and it'll be a card of a river, a mountain, some trees, and a superimposed flower graphic.)

It's fun. If you can stand to write a couple sentences and can spare 40 cents for a postcard and 98 cents for a stamp, it's more than worth it to receive cards from all over the world.
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Monday, February 22

Oh, Such Notions as I Receive!

It's late on a Sunday night, and perhaps I've availed myself of a certain supplement to aid one's slumber; yet while one does not bed down, reality appears to get a little carmelly around the edges, yes, fringed by long and supple ropes of warm sugar...

No more on't. I have ideas, not the least of which is a series of road trips or flights out of the country, for whose destinations are themed along the lines of postal offices and stationery. For did we not ourselves haul our silly butts across Iowa at break-neck speed, hurling ourselves into Fort Madison, IA, and tumbling up to the doorstep of Pendemonium with half an hour to spare? True, true!

Did we not, in fact, scrape through traffic and family drama to observe, at our leisure, the Museum of Russian Art in our own fair city? Ah yes, and after the primer as to what the hell was going through those enlightened and suppressed minds, we made our way to the basement, at least the lowest level of this structure, and followed a canal of political upheaval and social editing as envisioned and reflected by judiciously arrayed Soviet postage stamps. It was a particularly edifying night, giving us a strange dark faith that durstn't speak its name.

To extrapolate upon the idea, why may not two reasonable, sensible adults of wisdom further pitch out to our nation's capital, say, and visit the National Postal Museum? No reason, sir, none at all to keep us planted and stationary, none save that of our own procrastinative proclivity. Being a new year and all, let us thence resolve not to succumb so very much to this restive effect of potential motion and, at the cost of one slim carbon footprint, touch down upon Washington D.C., hail our acquaintances, and traverse forthwith to this delightful museum of special interest.

And then before this cake rises perilously high, may we consider its icing? Blists Hill Post Office, in Ironbridge Gorge Museum, England. Is it too much to dream of, to set foot inside this hallowed chamber, to beseech a stationer that we may hear of his wares?

Too much, too much for the likes of I! I can do many small amazing things, many small but unbelievable acts bordering the supernatural, but this is too much for one such as I. And, as such, turn I my eye inward to the nation and begin to design what may be one here, within my borders, within my reach...

Sunday, February 21

Letter Writers Alliance

Here's something I'm very excited about: dusting off my Cross and Retro 51 pens, filling them up with Noodler's and Mont Blanc, and sitting down to write on this lovely stationery from Letter Writers Alliance.

Last weekend I went to visit my favorite stationery store, Lunalux, because my friend and its manager, Jenni, was producing customized stationery to promote her new Stationery Saturdays event. For $29 I got six pocket notebooks with my wife's name printed on them (I kept one for myself but gifted her with the rest), having selected the cover and the paper within. Very nice stuff, and then I hung around for conversation.

Jenni asked me if I'd heard about the Letter Writers Alliance and I had not. I had just finished telling her about my standby, Postcrossing, and that's why she mentioned this group. Part DIY store, part pen pal group, and more than those, LWA is a branch of 16 Sparrows which has a broad range of interests in crafting, retro aesthetic, photography, just a lot of very creative stuff. Not the highest, cutting-edge creativity because that's too inaccessible: this place is a study of how people can bring creativity into their own lives, how they can compel it out of themselves. That's what makes it dear and sweet: it encourages everyone to do their best and assures them that it will be great.

But the LWA! I'm excited about this. I got my brown-paper-and-string package in the mail, broke into it to check out my stationery, immediately put my LWA pin on my label, filled out my membership card, logged onto the members-only area of their Web site, and dwelt in a geeked-out haze for a while. I'm trying to think of any other discrete event in recent past that has made my writing-hand itch so badly to begin reaching out to my friends. This afternoon I've written two notes on this paper and will write more. I'm going to write to the people who have been most important in supporting my need and custom for correspondence (e-mail inclusive), so I had to get a photo of this paper before I sent it all out.

Now I want to do more with Postalatry, dress this place up and try to appear a little more relevant just in case anyone from LWA happens to swing their eyes my way. I'm just thrilled to be part of this very nice-looking creative group, excited to be writing letters again (I never stopped writing postcards, but it's easier to do that when you do not expect anyone to write back, as per Postcrossing), and feeling more than a little validated in my interests. Some of my friends like to poke fun at the antiquity of some of my pastimes, the... I lost the word, I had a great word that specifically centered around the interest in things that are old, specifically for its oldness. And that's not me, but it's useful when representing the crap I take from people whose values lie with the latest technological breaking news.

So I'm glad to be part of the Letter Writers Alliance.

Wednesday, February 17

Postcrossing Self-Spotlight

On the Postcrossing blog they occasionally feature one lucky participant for a brief interview of four set questions. It's interesting to see who else is doing this stuff, and I like the general concept of the spotlight because it makes a user feel special.

However, never in a hundred years will I be selected for this spotlight--one of my superpowers is the passive ability to disappear from lists, which really hurt me in elementary school but served me well in the military (only had to pull KP twice in seven years). So I'm going to profile myself in an extraneous off-site spotlight.

How did you come across Postcrossing? What got you hooked?

I was looking for pen pals on Facebook and I found a postcard exchange group. It wasn't working very well, as people would show up demanding cards but never responded to anyone else's ads, and when I tried to write to them they failed to respond to me. Eventually a couple avid collectors (Davide in Italy, Katrin in Germany) suggested I try out Postcrossing. I signed up immediately and have been thrilled with the service it provides.

Do you have any other interesting hobbies?

I used to be very into drinking, which isn't a very interesting hobby to other people until I got to scotch. The story of where scotch is brewed, the history behind each distillery, the conflict of copyright, royalty, politics, and family intrigue is just fascinating! I've also been practicing calligraphy just to help me tidy up my own handwriting. I don't know when or why they stopped teaching penmanship in school, but now we have college graduates and business owners whose handscript looks like the scrawl of a child. Finally, I (intermittently) run several blogs dedicated to photography, fiction, memoir, and stationery.

Show us your mailbox, your mailman/mailwoman, your postoffice or the place where you post or keep your postcards!

The first shot is of a postal clerk with whom I've done much business. I would have liked to have gotten a shot of my three or four favorite workers, since the guys who work at this station are just a pack of cards, but they were working and such a request was impractical. They joke around and keep each other upbeat, and even if they're having a bad day they are always at very least polite.

The second picture is my favorite post office, the Loop Station. We have a main post office in Downtown, too, but I can't speak to its efficiency. All I know is that this place delivers mail faster than I would've thought possible. If I can drop off a Netflix selection in the mail here before noon, it will arrive at its destination and be processed within 20 hours. When I write to my friend in Madison, WI, she gets my letter the next day.

Finally, this is one of the postal carriers who delivers to my apartment (I estimate at least three carriers share this neighborhood). I don't know much about him, I just wanted to include his picture. He's relatively good-humored and patient, as I tried to take his picture before but my battery had died, so this is the only successful shot after a few false starts. Also, it's no treat to deliver snow in sub-zero weather with a couple feet of snow on the ground, so kudos to him for his hard work in difficult conditions.

Here are some of the postcards I've received.

Show and tell us about your favorite received postcard to date, and what makes it special.

I've received many fantastic postcards, but this is among my favorites; indeed, this is what leaps to mind when I start to think of my best loved postcards. It's a profile of a castle overlooking the Yellow River in Shenzhen, China. The landscape is rugged, vast and breathtaking, and the castle on the cliff is incredibly romantic. This image touches on the grandeur affected by so many Hong Kong directors in their period dramas and action films. They're so in love with their own nation, it's beautiful to witness their testimony to their pride and affection. When I look at an image like this, I can easily understand that level of passion.

Tuesday, February 16

My Reading Habits, Currently

I'm very fond of reading. Lately I've been getting back into it on three fronts: print (we moved a couch into the kitchen, since everyone hangs out there anyway, and there's a very cozy place to read); Amazon Kindle (whatever you say about the transition to e-books, reading in any form is better than not reading at all); audiobooks (just finished listening to Al Franken's Lies and the Lying Liars who Tell Them). No matter where I am or what I'm doing--audiobooks can be listened to from my laptop or iPod Touch--I have access and exposure to books.

It's a good life.

When I was in high school I used to read two or three books at a time. I don't know if my mind was especially active and needed that kind of switch-up, or maybe I had an inability to focus, but I found it gratifying and could follow each story. Sometimes it felt like each book was simply a different plot line in one much larger, byzantine text. The time I read Mark Twain's "The Innocents Abroad" and Memoirs of a Medieval Woman simultaneously was very satisfying, as they each documented their travels through the very same valley in the Middle East, separated by several centuries. How cool would it be to make a reading list of stories written all throughout the 19th and 20th centuries about one specific city?

I wonder what it would take for me to write my own book. I love writing short stories, but I've written a few and presented them to my writers group, and their reaction was that they wanted more. They liked the characters, they wanted to know more about their backgrounds, they wanted better explanations for behaviors whose rationalization I only hinted at. But could I expand these short stories into a book? I can't imagine I could justify that: one story was simply a character exercise in which a mother (aging, overweight, naive) quarrels with her son (pear-shaped, unkempt, arrogant) and that's all I wanted it to be, but my group felt very strongly that the story could have been doubled or tripled in length. I really don't have a grander message to share and I feel I'd need one to justify a book.

Sunday, February 14

Mystery (Partially) Solved

The astute reader may recall how proud I was of constructing these accordion-sided envelopes for distribution, how I'd labeled them with these address labels from Red Horseshoe, and how one fell off of the envelope in the mail, so the letter was lost but the post office delivered the address label (bereft of envelope and missive) to the intended destination.

Sounds silly, doesn't it? The post office's behavior? "Sorry about your letter, it's gone and trashed, but we thought you would value this address label."

But how does an address label fall off of an envelope? The paper of the envelope I chose is stout and porous, any adhesive should hold to it. Except the Red Horseshoe adhesive does not: with a liberal soaking, it can't get up enough gumminess to adhere to anything, though a sticky paste is formed so it's clear that this is the intent. I finally did get the label to hold to the envelope by gluing it down with glue stick, and when the label fell off I was afraid the cheap-ass glue stick had failed. The astute reader will recall my rejoicing at having found an "extra strength" glue stick.

It wasn't the glue stick at all. It was the address label.

I dug out the other envelopes I made and tried to pry off the address label, expecting to find a dry, crusty bed of failed glue stick. Instead, the paper address label lifted clean away to reveal a plastic backing, as though the address label were a sticker to be peeled off of its backing and affixed to an envelope! There were no instructions with this book of address labels (they're bound together on one side and you tear them off as you use them), and the process seemed fairly intuitive. I mean, the apparent back did have an adhesive on it that responded to moisture. But I was entirely unaware of this plastic backing to the label until ten minutes ago!

The back of the address label is slightly sticky, so it sticks slightly to the plastic backing but not to the paper of the envelope. Even if it was intended that you peel off the backing and apply it to the envelope, it would just fall off anyway! Does it need to be further moistened and adhered to the envelope, or do you peel it away from the plastic backing in order to have a clean surface for yet more glue sticking? I'm trying to find the pad of Red Horseshoe address labels so I can determine whether they are supposed to be stickers you peel off and use, but I can't find the pad anywhere so I may have thrown it away in a huff.

Oh, and mind: the plastic backing also flakes uselessly away from the front of the envelope. There is no part of this address label that is prepared to stick to the envelope, in summary. I love the retro restorative look to Red Horseshoe's products, but I'd much rather they work properly. (Note: I can't find these address labels anywhere on their Web site. I'm guessing they called it a wash.)