Monday, December 19

How the Grinch Reduced His Carbon Footprint

Now, this blog is a lot of things: a guide to language, a review of postal services and conditions, a showcase for stationery-related images, and infrequently updated. I want to emphasize that it's good for many things related to paper, whether or not it's something that bears an address and stamp on it (though of course it could be put through the mail).

Here we are in the holiday season, with Merry Consumermas rapidly approaching. I'm not particularly religious: I consider myself spiritual but have little interest in discussing such matters. My personal questions are answered, and I opt to leave others to their own affairs. But what gets me down about this time of year is how far people have moved from the realm of the spiritual or even the human and wholly subscribed, unthinkingly and unconscionably, to material gain. It's just not a holiday unless you can throw a pile of injection-molded plastic trash at some child and impress upon him/her at an early age that the point of the holiday is not an end-of-year celebration of gratitude among friends and family, but that it's solely about getting and having stuff.

Thursday, December 8

Not Generally Minding the Rules

This must happen to many different professions: it's the scenario where you meet some new people, they ask what you do, you tell them, and they playfully rear back and say they must be careful about [behavior they associate with your profession].

It happens with English teachers: "You're an English teacher? Well, I'd better be careful with how I talk around you!" They who crack the joke also laugh, as though surprised by their own wit, even though this is such a standard convention of speech that it should emit, word-for-word, from a novelty key fob of prerecorded messages.

Tuesday, December 6

Hardships of the USPS

Hard times at the post office: facing default on a $5.5 billion Treasury loan, the USPS is planning to cut out its overnight delivery of First Class mail—so plan ahead—and lay off about 30,000 workers. Also, First Class stamps will rise one cent to 45¢ on January 22. Invest in your Forever stamps now, kids.

Me, I've got packs of the things because I strategically stashed them in very clever places I couldn't possibly forget. Once in a while I find another one. Of course, all First Class stamps are being generated as Forever stamps and now they're all interesting-looking, but I did this back when the only style was the Liberty Bell, so I've got packs and packs of these boring old stamps to share with Postcrossers around the world who are normally vociferous in their praise of more-interesting stamps.

But my plight is nothing compared to what the USPS is facing. They suffered net losses of $8.5 billion in FY10 and $3.8 billion in FY09. The reduction of six billion pieces of mail (increased competition with the Internet) between those two years represented a revenue loss of $1 billion. In an effort to save $3 billion in expenses this time, they're planning to close half of the nation's nearly 500 postal processing centers, which will lengthen the delivery time (and distance) of mail to be processed, kicking up the normal one-to-three-day delivery to three-to-five-day delivery for First Class mail.

Sunday, December 4

Friends and Dining Abroad

On my main blog, I built (for the sake of building) a Page of naive but well-intentioned tips for traveling throughout SE Asia. I did the best I could with it, attempting to show how to say three important and handy phrases for wherever they go: hello, thank you, and (very) delicious. Using even this little of the language will put you on people's good side and make your interactions more positive, as folks living overseas are used to tourists blowing through their proud nation and not making any effort to learn their language.

On Postcrossing, I listed in my profile that I'd like to learn these phrases from other nations—when people send me postcards, they come from all nations around the globe—and many senders have been nicely compliant with this request. Here's a summary of what I've got so far:

Tuesday, November 8

My Postal Carrier is a Donkey Penis

It pains me to write this, as I would only like to reflect the entire postal system as the generous and glowing network it is. I love it, I use it all the time, and I encourage others to avail themselves of it as well. So many postal worker and postal carriers are hard-working, good-spirited civil servants, worthy of commendation and recognition for their tireless, consistent efforts. I consider them friends in absentia.

But an untarnished panegyric would be disingenuous, and we must be adults about these things. We love America, we love our parents, but you have reached adulthood when you can admit to yourself--however uncomfortably--that they have some flaws and they could be better. So it is with the post office.

My postal carrier is, to avoid cussing, a colonic polyp. I've never seen him in action, I only know him by his results and evidence. But first, let's look at what makes a postal worker angry.

Saturday, November 5

Yes, Virginia, Lists are Freakin' Awesome

Today's a good day. Why? Because I have a full day to kill, and tomorrow will be the same. I can do whatever the hell I want to for two days because I have to occupy my mind and hands while my wife's out of town or I will be ground into a paste with crushing depression. It's happened before, I know what I'm talking about.

One thing I do to escape this Indiana-Jones-style Incan deathtrap of malfunctioning neurochemistry is make lists. I'm terrible with keeping all my plates spinning of my own volition. Food will rot, clothes will pile up, and self will be unwashed and underfed. Once, a mouse crept behind my CD cabinet, got trapped somehow, died, and liquefied in its decomposition, creating a smell that bugged me for a week until I located its source. That may not be related to my disorganization but it's a good story, I think.

Thursday, October 27

Oh, Beloved Moleskine

You can't believe how excited I am this evening. In the era when a bad day of fishing is better than a good day at work; as the northern hemisphere tilts until, on my daily commute, I can see the sun rising on the way out and the sunset on the way back; when too much news and too much casual contact erodes my sanity, the precious things in life seem few, and when they come they must be cherished.

And so I tender to you, gentle Reader, purple prose in panegyric of my new Moleskine notebook.

Saturday, October 22

Calculating the Cost of My Postcard Habit

It's that time again, time to send out another batch of Postcrossing postcards. Yes, it's exciting and fun, but...

I don't want to sound ungrateful, but there are times when a hobby resembles a chore. Look at World of Warcraft: gamers have spent (by now) six million years, in aggregate, fighting their way up the ranks in Azeroth. I've read so many complaints of people who spend eight hours a day their job, drive home, and their WoW guild demands another six hours for a high-level dungeon raid. (Yeah, I used to play, but I never got into guilds because the only ones that would have me were petty, backstabbing little gangs of unreliable teenage boys, with all the social graces that attend.)

Now, Postcrossing. You start out being able to send out five postcards at one time, and you had to wait until some of them were registered before you could send out more. But once your sent total went up to 20, you could have six cards out at once, and so on, and so on. I'm up to 13 cards out simultaneously, and most of them go through--I think I've talked about the problems with sending cards to China. (Also, flimsy postcards only serve as appetizers for all the postal processing machines in their thousand-mile trips. Voice of experience.)

Tuesday, October 11

How to Get Off a Mailing List

We moved into our current apartment over a month ago. We love the place, the people before us loved the place--it's a great place. Big windows, everything's within walking distance, and there are several choice bus routes in case we need something more than everything.

It's just that the people here before us don't seem to believe in forwarding addresses, and they did a lot of catalog shopping or got on a bunch of mailing lists. This combines adversely with our ill-tempered postal carrier who (using his handiwork as evidence) is on the verge of "going postal" in the grand old-fashioned way.

Routinely, every day of every week, if there is mail coming into our narrow mail slot, he packs it all in as though muzzle-loading a musket. He could take all the mail and roll it into a tidy cylinder, but no: he seems to put my postcards in first, then the bills, then he rolls up the catalogs and jams them down on top. All my mail is crushed and spindled, to borrow a relevant phrase.

My response to this is two-pronged: I've obtained a phone number to call to complain about this guy. I love the postal system, I love mail, I even understand that our mail slots are not roomy at all, but his behavior is a sign of either incompetence or poor anger management skills.

A glimpse of my secret world: Swiss Gear travel bag,
cutting mat and X-acto knife, How To Draw Manga
, and three tedious, unlikable postcards.
Secondly, I've undertaken a little project in which I cut out the mailing label from every catalog (including the bar code and any catalog/customer IDs) and paste them onto the backs of postcards. For this, you can use anything from posterboard to the lid of an old pizza box. In my case, I'm using some ugly postcards I would otherwise be too ashamed to share with anyone I liked. They're from a set of vintage gift wrap designs from the '20s, and many of them were nice, but some were so bland that no one would be delighted to receive them in the mail.

This is how you formally request to be removed from a mailing list, in a forceful and legally compliant way that no responsible business has any right to refuse. Beneath the label (or just your address, if you prefer), you write these three things:

Anyone who writes back to you after receiving that is in line for a lawsuit.

And remember, the destination address must be the lowest address on the postcard: paste (or write) your address up high and then write the destination address as low as you dare. Leave some room for the bar code label the post office will apply there, and what I do after that is write the address in reverse order, going up from city and state and ZIP, line by line. That way, I leave as little room as possible at the bottom of the card.

Saturday, October 1

Colbert's Ironic Commemoration

There was no way I could let this slide by. In actuality, I'm embarrassed that I haven't posted about it earlier: that's the level of my procrastination.

What you see is what it is: Stephen Colbert has designed (as anyone can, and as I have in the past) his own First Class rate stamp through The image is of his gleeful farewell to the U.S. Postal System via smartphone. (For the record, I'm an avid fan of Colbert.)

This is in reference to my prior post, about the struggling economics supporting the USPS. Reports I read in the news are conflicting: some suggest that the USPS will shut down for the winter, relegating all postal freight to private companies like UPS or FedEx; others, in line with the articles the Missive Maven cited, predict more moderate outcomes, such as losing Saturdays in the delivery cycle.

Either way, if you're thinking about shopping for postage, Colbert's levity provides yet another alternative. I just sent out a large batch of square postcards going out to global destinations. That's 98¢ plus a fee for using a square postcard--because there's no clear up or down on it, it has to be hand-processed. This fee used to be 13¢ but recently I sent some out and it seems the additional rate has gone up to 20¢. I was unable to confirm this on the USPS' website, indeed, I couldn't find any chart delineating the rates of variously sized postcards. I really need to buy one of those handy graphed mats the postal workers use, or else photograph one and design my own. In fact, that will be my next project, and when I come up with a definitive answer you know I'll post it here. Eventually.

I mean, sending postcards is tricky business. Did you know the stamps can go anywhere on the address side, but the USPS will process the lowest-appearing address (be careful when supplying your return address)? And you've got to leave four inches clear to the left of the stamps (in the upper right corner) to make room for the postmark. Postcards can be pretty tricky.

Thursday, September 22

More Postcards, Less Stationery

I did it! I finally crested 13 postcards at Postcrossing. Not that that's a major achievement, just a personal one. See, the maximum number of postcards you can send at one time is determined by how many you have sent. I was capped at 12 for a long time, but finally my sent postcards totaled 250, so now my limit is 13.

Well, I think it's neat.

Currently my project is to use up all of my present stationery. Have I mentioned that before? I've selected a felt tip pen as an arbitrary starting place, and I've been using up these Snoopy & Woodstock cards we found at my wife's house. I've been sending those to friends to apprise them of my new mailing address. We finally finished the contract with that horrific sublet and are finishing unpacking in our lovely Uptown apartment. I even have a few overseas pen pals who should know about the change, and when I send them a postcard I'm able to write tiny enough with a Slicci to insert my new address in the median or gutter. The downside to that, I suppose, would be if the reader were not expecting it or interested in the card in general, therefore not looking very closely, so I'm essentially tossing cards into the void with no hope of response.

Not that that would be unfamiliar!

Anyway. I'm trying to get back into blogging more. I don't have much to add here, though I will endeavor to continue to do so. I suppose I could profile some of the interesting postcards I receive? Lots of people do that, it's a popular tack. If any itinerant reader here had a request for something stationery- or language-related, I'd certainly be open to attempting to satisfy such a query.

Monday, September 19

There's No More Work at the Post Office

Wow, two obvious things. Obviously I haven't posted here in a long while, and obviously the biggest news pertaining to this blog, arguably, is that the United States Postal Service might close down for the entire winter. Given that the Christmas season is unquestionably the busiest time of the year for the Postal Service, wouldn't that be shooting itself in the foot?

They're worried about losing money, and they need a bailout from Congress to stay afloat, despite it being the hands-down most popular department of government. Currently they employ twice as many people as live in Minneapolis, MN, and slightly less than live in Austin, TX (they have 770,000 employees). Proposed solutions to save money include shutting down all winter, ceasing mail delivery on Saturdays, massive office shutdowns and layoffs, or repaying it the $6.9 billion it says it overpaid to its retirement program.

Monday, August 1

50 Writing Tips!

This will be a very terse post, my friends, because it's late at night and I'm seconds from bed, but this information is so important it must be shared with everyone.

The Poynter Institute's 50 Quick Writing Tools. Know them, learn them, live them. Not comprehensive by its own admission, but so, so, so excellent a start for so many people who don't know where or how to start.

Saturday, July 30

Merriam-Webster's Vocabulary Quiz

Just a little blurb between breaking news stories and startling events in the worlds of Language and Postal Services:

If you're reading this blog, you'll find it worthwhile to haunt Merriam-Webster's games section. Lovely crosswords and other games, usually gadgets retooled to center around words instead of garden creatures or gems. You know what I mean.

But what's really cool, what I really enjoy, is their Vocabulary Quiz! You get ten words that pop up sequentially, and each one has four attendant words: you race against the clock to select the best synonym. It's a real test of vocabulary--many of the words are easy or medium, but once in a while they throw in hard or genuinely obscure words.

On the other hand, if you have a good vocabulary, it's simply a physical test of hand-eye coordination and response times. My first score was 3200 points, pretty good for my age bracket (oh yes, they show you how other people your age did!), the average score being 2730. I improved that to 3800 points, and yesterday I scored 3940, after three tries. A lot of that is luck, of course, when the obscure word happens to be one I know.

That leads me to believe a perfect score would be 4000 points, and the only thing that holds me back is my response time. I'll have to be satisfied with that.

Saturday, July 23

Oh, an' That's a Bad Miss

This is some of the big news circulating today: Amy Winehouse's addiction has finally caught up with her. The police call it an "unexplained" death, but they have to, don't they. I think there are no mysteries behind this.

The unexplained mystery here is how the "Editor-at-Large" of Mashable, Ben Parr, got tangled over his use of "alluded/eluded." This is a screenshot of Parr's post on Google+.

You can be sure other people following him called this out. And sure, it's a common enough mistake, but it's exceptional when it comes from the hands of one whose trade is wordsmithing. One advantage of Google+ is that you can edit your posts after they go up--unlike with Facebook--but it's been over six hours and Parr hasn't touched this. Ouch.

Sunday, July 3

The Subtleties of Font

How many of you have ever practiced calligraphy? Many people think this means one specific style of writing, usually some form of italic or maybe even a German fraktur. In actuality, calligraphy is much more general than that: it's the discipline of very neat handwriting.

That handwriting can come in a variety of forms, which people call fonts, typefaces, or "hands" in casual conversation with other calligraphers. The accouterments that come with rigorous calligraphic execution are numerous and intimidating, and the thousands of hours of practice it requires may be off-putting. Yet at one time, penmanship was considered so essential for a civilized society, especially for anyone intending to do any kind of business, that the Palmer method of handwriting was mandatory in a young student's courseload.

Calligraphy really isn't as intimidating as all that. Once you reconcile yourself with the meditative discipline it requires--an increasing awareness of your own slight muscle movements, a calming focus in your mind--you may begin to understand and appreciate it as a world entirely of its own. And it's not difficult at all to practice, once you realize that handwriting actually comes up often in your life. Any time you're putting pen or pencil to paper, exploit that as a few more seconds for disciplined practice: addresses on bills, shopping lists, postcards, Post-It notes to coworkers, &c.

Image: The Atlantic
When I began teaching myself calligraphy (I had a miserable desk job with lots of downtime, so I started practicing drawing evenly spaced loops across a pad of paper), I tried to plunge into an "advanced" font, a very elaborate one that came much later down the timeline. But as I blundered through it, got control of it and then too familiar with it, my "hand" started slipping backward through time and I saw its predecessor fonts appearing on my page. This was a fascinating and magical process for me! Not only was I personally touched by the history of handwriting, I was able to begin to develop my own personal font--not one I'd use for writing checks, but something that would look nice on parchment and with certain acrylic inks.

Oh yes, you develop your own tastes for writing implements, inks, and papers as well.

Now it seems there's an iPad app, Typography Insight, designed to help people who work with fonts appreciate the subtle differences between fonts. I have no fear of technological culture, and I think an app like this only stands to reinforce this hobby of mine (if tidy handwriting is only a "hobby").

Typography Insight: iPad App Teaches Fonts Like Never Before

Saturday, July 2

Broken Images

I apologize for the sudden disappearance of all the images in this blog. I was tooling around on Google+ and saw that all my Picasaweb albums manifested in the Photos section of my new account. Not wanting them to appear in my profile--they wouldn't make sense outside of their blogging context--I deleted them in Google+.

Today I discovered that also deletes them in Picasaweb, where all my online albums are stored. Now I have to go through my backed-up archives, dig out all the photos, re-upload them and re-link them to each individual post. I'm very upset about this hassle and embarrassed about the inconvenience, but at least I learned something and therefore grew as a person.

Images will be restored in the next week or so.

Thursday, June 30

One Acceptable Replacement for Mail

I have to say, I'm a little impressed. Wasn't I just ranting about hating all the crap mail my mail slot fills up with on a weekly basis?

This isn't the total solution to this problem but it's a step in the right direction. My city government is working with Zumbox to transition from physical, analog postal mail to digital e-mail distribution! That's kinda cool. So anything that my local government would mail to me will instead go to my Inbox, where my Gmail will reckon with it handily. They're also pushing other big mailers (AT&T, Verizon, State Farm, &c.) to convert as well--that's less paper being printed and less fuel burned to produce and transport it.

I'm all in favor of this. I still want hand-written letters and postcards, but my junk mail and bills would serve me better as e-mail alerts rather than physical clutter.

Tuesday, June 28

Bones to Pick With the Postal System

Okay, I know I dressed down our U.S. infrastructure pertaining to the postal system. I love the postal system, but love doesn't mean turning a blind eye to your object of affection's faults. It means acknowledging them and embracing them as a part of the whole, without which your objet d'amour would be another creature entirely.

And then there are flaws that manifest solely within the postal system's context but are not necessarily the fault of the postal system. By this I mean a few problems or annoyances that only turn up because of the USPS, but problems which are not part of the USPS' agenda or a direct result of its actions. The USPS is a vehicle for an unlimited number of variables--that these variables exploit the USPS, like intestinal parasites, does not mean the USPS is a detriment to modern life. On the contrary: it is up to us, we consumers, to mass up and address these aberrations, to resolve them ourselves.

One common problem is that of the shitty postal carrier. Many postal workers are solid joes: they do their job, they know their dominion, and they accrue valuable experience along the way. Delivering mail is not a simple or uneventful task: carriers can stand in as wardens of their community, if not the glue within a neighborhood.

Yet some carriers don't see it like this. Some of them believe they are destined for greater (albeit ill-defined) things. Some believe they're being oppressed by The Man, and the ongoing state of their employment only serves as evidence of this tyranny. Still others just don't give a rat's ass about the job they do, and that would be true of them in any position: in a restaurant, they would drop your steak on the ground and pick it back up to serve to you; in a bank, they would enter your deposit under the wrong account number; at a repair garage, they would mess your car up worse than you'd delivered it to them.

In the USPS, this can manifest as the jackass who simply crams your mail into your mail slot because he's too ill-tempered to do a reasonable job. Maybe the task is too repetitive for him; maybe his significant other chastises him for lacking ambition; maybe a group of douchebags lollygagged in front of his mail truck, causing him to miss a green light. Whatever the reason, he's inappropriately taken this aggression out on me and decreased the quality of my day in some slight but not unmeasureable way.

What he's done here is jammed the weekly circulars in my mail slot. Jammed them in without an eye toward physical space, crumpled up the very mail he has labored to deliver. Which brings up another issue: I don't want those circulars. None of those ads apply to me at all. They are a shameful waste of resources, both in the gas it took to transport them to me and in the trees that were felled to provide the pulp upon which they would be printed, not to mention the man-hours of labor in every stage of its production and dissemination.

I don't want those damned circulars. Nobody in my building wants those damned circulars. Yet they fill up our mailboxes, not addressed to us but to our addresses solely. Sometimes they say "To Our Friends At" but more often "Resident" or "Customers." It would be worthwhile to note who's advertising in these circulars and specifically boycotting them based on their antiquated, wasteful, debauched advertisement methods.

There's a garbage can at the end of the hall. It's made of metal and large enough that I--all 180 lbs. and 6' of me--could crouch down in it and hide, completely concealed by its lid. Weekly, this capacious container fills up with those blighted, horrid circulars; indeed, that can is there expressly for this function alone, to contain all the trash, garbage, rubbish, and waste that turns up in our mailboxes. (Otherwise, of course, the charming and thoughtful American citizens that live here would simply strew their postal detritus up and down the hallway.) Weekly, this container is over-filled with these accursed circulars and a variety of other junk mail.

What's the solution? I'm not specifically sure. When I meet with the postmaster general to talk about how collection boxes are extincted, I'll also ask if there's a way to opt-out of these colon-lapping circulars, or how one would begin to protest their distribution. Is that the purview of our congresspeople? And is it possible to rally enough support to reverse the tide of this wholly unwanted publication?

Tuesday, June 21

Searching for Mailboxes!

Now that I'm back into my postcard exchange program, I had to get my mail forwarded from where it was being collected (my mom's house) to my apartment. No problem, except I wrote "St" instead of "Ave." Mail still gets to me, but with angry addendum scrawled around the destination address.

Easily fixed: I submitted new address change cards using (at the postal clerk's advisory) the address I'd been using for the last six months and my corrected address. Didn't need to make a note of the mistaken address at all.

Fine and good, but Postcrossing isn't just about receiving mail--it's about sending, too, obviously. There's a mail slot in my apartment building's bank of mailboxes, a slot crudely gouged out of the slender aluminum door, captioned with the taped note "OUTGOING." But this slot is barely big enough for a business envelope and can in no way accommodate a postcard without folding or mutilation. Spindling's not necessary.

Image: LifeHacker
So where do I send my mail? Where, indeed: more USPS mailboxes are being dismantled and removed all the time. In my leisurely perambulations about my neighborhood I've seen nary a one. This means all my outgoing mail has to accumulate in a pile until I have an errand that brings me downtown--if I can find a mailbox downtown, of course.

If I visit my in-laws at their senior living apartments, they have a perfectly adequate mail slot in their postal foyer. That's not always convenient, though, since my wife and I are against owning a car. It would be cheap to rent an Hourcar and visit them for a couple hours, and cheaper still to catch a bus (though the trip down there takes nearly an hour, and an hour back... if we leave while the buses are still running), but seriously?

Seriously? That's the best I can do if I want to send a letter?

Actually, no, I can do better. A very casual Google search turned up two mailbox locators, where you type in your city/state or your ZIP code, and they turn up results for mailboxes in your area.

LifeHacker found this Mailbox Locator program being hosted by Payphone Project (obviously, someone needed to find payphones). It's... okay... It seems to rely on anecdotal evidence for updating its database. People report in and note "this one's no longer here" or "got taken away a couple days ago or so." Maybe that's the best we can go on. Whose responsibility, really, is it to notify us where the mailboxes are? ...Arguably, that of the USPS, would be the first guess I'd hazard. But there's nothing wrong with the citizens rising up and contributing this information, answering a real need.

The responses are entirely text-based, there's no image or pictures here. It would be difficult for me to picture the address locations of each box and I'd end up typing them into Google Maps anyway. Additional confusion ensued when I wasn't keeping track of which search bar I entered my information into. Type it into the one on top for the results you want. Entering it into the search bar just below it (the more obvious one, I think) and you get a bunch of Google results that come up in the Mailbox Locator display window. They don't look like the list of addresses you'd get ordinarily, but both kinds of results do show up after a full window of ads.

But the one I like is Mailbox Map, which uses Google Maps as part of its function. Again, type in your city/state or ZIP code, and it actually provides a graphic illustration of mailboxes (including UPS and USPS offices proper).

I love Google Maps, and I love data aggregators, so this will be the application for me.

Now, the only thing to see is how accurate this tool is. It looks great, but it won't mean anything if the mailboxes aren't where it says they are. And I'd go out and check now, only we're currently experiencing a two-day torrential downpour, so... I guess my postcards will just have to hang out with me a while longer.

UPDATE: I went out looking for the mailboxes in my area when the rain let up. Mailbox Map listed three mailboxes within a three-block area of my apartment. Walking to each site, I confirmed that none of these exist anymore. I suspect the same is true for those mailboxes a few blocks further out in any direction. I tried to look up mailboxes in Mailbox Locator and it simply did not have anything listed for my area at all.

Further UPDATE: Duh. USPS has its own collection box locator. I didn't even think of that. I'm not sure how accurate it is: I found three mailboxes through Mailbox Map and the USPS site doesn't one of the ones I found (again, by walking out to each location). It did list five in my area, however, and I can confirm the location of one of these.

Monday, June 20

The Bushido of Editing: Serving a Corrupt Lord

All right, cats and kitties, this is the real word as it has come down from the mountain.

According to AP style, "e-mail" is now written as "email." The Associated Press issued a wire advisory on March 18, 2011 (yes, I know this is three months later, but I was out of the country, and none of my friends care enough about such things to give me a heads-up).

How do I feel about this? Not happy. Up to this point, I was the keen-edged sword held to the throat of every lazy, uneducated lummox who tried to remove the hyphen from "e-mail." After all, "email" is already a word: a type of pottery design, from 12th century French email, etymologically linked to enamel.

The only reason they're permitting this, this... this damned typographic elision is for the worst reason of all, and it is the reason language changes all over the world, all up and down the timeline. So many people have so consistently gotten it so wrong, the educated bastion of sanity has finally slumped to its desk in defeat and permitted--nay, endorsed, by a cadre of quisling nabobs--this oversight's passage into law. That's all it takes! Language was formed by reason and logic, and it "evolves" because people are too lazy to learn/practice it correctly, so the errors are recorded for posterity!


Imagine you went to buy a car and drove it home, and it fell apart on the highway while you're booting along (at ten miles over the speed limit, in all likelihood. Be honest). Not pretty, right? How could this have happened? It seems a number of workers on the auto assembly line stopped tightening certain bolts. "You know what I meant," they groused. "It looks like a car. There's no breakdown in communication." Factory admin were upset at first, but the workers were so unified and persistent in the remission of their duties, the factory rolled over and made it a rule that no bolt should be tightened.

That's what happened to the hyphen in "electronic mail." Thanks, lunkheads and rubes, you've bludgeoned your way into yet another "evolution" of the language. I accepted "Web site" transitioning to "website," enforced last year. I adjusted to how badly the marketing industry reapplies the word "creative" to mean nearly anything, to the point where this is an acceptable sentence: "The creative creative created a creative creative," when at some point in the past we might've said, "One of our graphic designers produced some illustrations." Oh, corporate speak, don't even get me started on corporate speak! There are some lines in the sand I will not only draw but fortify... but, as an editor, when the new commandment comes down, I have to enforce the misguided doggerel like "email."

But only in AP. Step to me in Chicago or AMA, and I'll speak respectfully of your travails to your next of kin.

Friday, June 17

The Ecologically Minded Correspondent

Okay, so I'm poking around on Postcrossing (the postcard exchange program I cannot stop talking about) (partially because getting anyone else to take 20 minutes out to write me a note is like pulling teeth out of Congress), and I notice a little sidebar. Someone has assembled a small list of Things You Can Do To Make Your Postal Experience Greener!

I'm very eco and green, and I'm very against greenwashing. Traveling around southeast Asia was really hard for me and my wife, in an ecological sense, both because of our awareness of how un-green it is to travel at all, and because we were routinely confronted with the repercussions of climate change our own nation had initiated but for which these developing nations had to suffer. Imagine you're a Lao farmer, you grow your own food, you walk or bike everywhere you need to go, you reuse materials in ingenious ways to suit your needs, and then your lake dries up and your livestock die because Americans need more oil than anyone else, and more every year, and they don't believe in recycling. So the carbon they eject warms up the atmosphere, which traps more moisture, which traps more heat, and all your sources of water dry up. And you can't appeal to your government for relief because it's resolutely corrupt all the way through.

Welcome to scenic Phonsavanh, Laos! Please don't step
off the marked trails as there are still unexploded bombs.
It's heartbreaking to listen to their stories, their confusion at having lived sustainably for several generations, only this year it doesn't work because of what the rest of the world is doing, so they're going to starve to death unless one of their children can learn English and sell enough tours (of their barren, desolate wasteland) to drunken Australians or British lads to bring rice to the table, after repaying their bank loan for a dozen thousand dollars to finance their tuk-tuk, the first of many petrol-guzzling vehicles necessary for these tours. ...But I digress.

So writing letters isn't a very green practice. It involves printing paper with ink, hauling loads of postal cargo across continents and oceans by horrifically fuel-burning vehicles, and all the oil that runs the processing machinery and gets it all sorted. This list of ecologically responsible practices seems... a little pathetic in the face of what the planet is confronting. Very too-little-too-late. I was hoping for some brilliant innovation that I could implement to feel like I was really paying some penance for a lifetime of thoughtfulness. None of that was to be found here, however.

  1. Choose recycled postcards or postcards made with fibre that comes from sustainable forests. For instance, FSC certified postcards.
  2. Reuse/Recycle envelopes (it can be fun!)
  3. Use envelopes/writing pads made of 100% unbleached recycled paper.
  4. Walk, or ride your bike to take your mail to the Post Office.
  5. Write your postcards during daylight, or outside in the fresh air, and save on energy.
  6. When soaking off your stamps do them all at the same time and reuse the water as much as possible.
  7. Use refillable pens/highlighters etc.
  8. Print on both sides of the paper or reuse old study courses etc. to print things for personal use.
  9. When wrapping things, reuse gift paper. Be creative! You can use old maps, newspapers, pages from magazines etc.
  10. Get your electricity from a company that provides it from sustainable energy sources such as wind farms, solar energy, hydro energy, etc.
  11. Support an environmental organisation such as Climate care, WWF, Greenpeace etc.
Here's my categorical response to each item in this list.
  1. I don't know where to get recycled postcards. I haven't seen any that market themselves as such. I've tried making my own postcards, but many users specifically request not to receive these things.
  2. (See #1) I have made my own envelopes out of whimsical materials, and it can be fun, but it is still 1/16th of a drop in the bucket.
  3. This is a postcard group, and they're offering advice on pads of paper. I don't use pads of paper when writing postcards. The only pads of paper I use, I use as mousepads so I can quickly write notes while I'm surfing online, and those pads were salvaged from a dumpster, were purchased four decades ago, which is pretty good for reusing materials instead of buying new ones.
  4. Absolutely, I walk or ride my bike everywhere, or use my city's wonderful mass transit services (bus and LRT).
  5. The fact that I write my postcards during the daytime in no way mitigates how much light I use at night.
  6. I don't soak off my stamps. If I wish to save them, I scan them in.
  7. Absolutely, I prefer fountain pens that require refilling.
  8. When I write letters, I always write on both sides, but again, this is a postcard club.
  9. My sister and I wrap our presents in the same sheet of cloth we've reused for years. There's a wonderful website put out by the Japanese government, providing citizens with ingenious wrapping methods (furoshiki) for variously sized and proportioned gifts, to promote the reuse of cloth wrappers rather than paper.
  10. I have no idea how our electric company gets its power. There is no competition for it, however.
  11. Support those groups, but research them first. There are far too many groups doing the same work but diffusing donor funds too thinly to be very effective. There are also corrupt or at least wasteful, inefficient non-profits who don't know how to bring their administrative costs down. Maybe you want to support a powerhouse like Greenpeace, but maybe you don't want to support domestic terrorists like Greenpeace.


Oh my gosh, I apologize! I let the custom domain name here lapse, but I totally forgot about the repercussions. There's no need for me to maintain the custom URL, it's just something fancy and nice--but the discount many registrars offer for the first year or two evaporates and it can be kind of costly to maintain several of these (and since returning to the States two months ago, my wife and I have been unable to find employment).

But it totally escaped my attention that my blog was set to redirect to that custom URL! And what that meant is that anyone trying to read this blog--not that I have anything to post anymore--would be redirected to a place-holder, complete with the stock image of the cute college student so overused by domain-squatters.

This oversight has been rectified: I will not be renewing the domain name, but I deleted the redirect and anyone who thinks to Google my titular neologism will find me again.

Like I said before, I'm back on Postcrossing and loving it. Lacking a scanner (it's in storage... somewhere...), I find it's entirely sufficient to take a good photo of the cards I send out, with high resolution, and crop them down in Picasa for uploading to the Postcrossing site. It's unnecessary, it's just a neat little feature in which you can maintain albums of postcards you send and receive. I like to do it. But for a while, it seemed I could only write to Asia: the last batch saw two postcards going to China and four to Taiwan! Today, however, I scored a Finland address and balance begins to restore.

So I hope everyone can find me again, and I apologize deeply for the confusion.

Sunday, May 29

Reverting to Original URL

The domain name for this place has expired. I don't think I'll renew it. is good enough. I don't do enough with this thing to pretend to market it as some sort of enterprise. It's just my... tedious little meandering writings on an unfocused group of topics, that's all.

Wednesday, May 25

Today We Mourn An Address Book

In the process of moving into a new place, in the process of taking things out of boxes and finding places for them to go, one is forced to reconcile with what one wants to keep or [donate/regift/trash].

Red Horseshoe (link in my sidebar)
provides many fun and exotic
accouterments for letter-writers. 
This process also happens when one is packing things up in the first place. One is compelled to touch and handle every single stupid object one has accrued, and after 10,000 repetitions of this action one has to wonder how much stuff one really needs.

We have augmented this process with a third step in the middle: placing all our crap into storage. It happens in the middle. We packed everything up, placed it in a climate-controlled storage facility, and now we're shipping it from the facility to our new apartment. When one puts things in storage, one is compelled once again to weigh the worth of each object and how badly one needs to keep it in storage.

I love Moleskine notebooks. I love them so much, I've bought too many of them. I've rationalized and bargained my way into getting more. Why? I dunno. I love the concept of them, I love the color and texture of the paper (though admittedly Clairfontaine/Rhodia is consistently better), I love the reputation that comes with them. I traveled throughout Asia happily penning (most of) my adventures in a Moleskine, and it was no rare occasion to see other tourists with their Moleskines doing exactly the same thing, as tourists have done for decades.

Not personal information: that's no longer my number,
and my name/e-mail are easily had through this very blog.
But if you use a notebook sufficiently, there has to come a time to get rid of it. Obviously I would never throw away a travel journal, but there is a point when an address book has outlived its usefulness. Like when you fill one up, lose contact with many of those people, buy a new one, transfer the addresses you need, and that new one also comes with a smaller address book that could be used for some special... addressy... purpose. Yet to be determined.

So what happens to the old one? You could tras-... no, you could keep it. It's like a souvenir of an era, right? A chronological souvenir of where you've been in life's journey. And you have to protect those addresses, too. Even if you're no longer speaking with some of those people, you don't want to just hand out their addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses to anyone on the street, and if you put it in the trash you're basically doing that. Trash is public access, after all. TV and movies are full of people finding all sorts of things out about you by going through your trash, even stealing your identity. And that starts with knowing your address.

I decorated the interior with labels from sheets of collectible
 stamps, an original linocut, and misc. stickers.
That sounds good, but when the fervor dies down and your vision returns, you know you've got to get rid of it. It's no good keeping it. Small as it is, it's still taking up room and it still needs a place to go. I have a much better one and though those addresses are also going extinct, it's easier to paste over them with Moleskine paper from another notebook because this new address book is larger. So when you want to throw away something you want to keep, what do you do?

It's easier now than it was before: take a picture. In the past that would've meant turning film in for development and waiting a week to pick up another physical object to take up space in your life. Now, however, I can take a digital picture and store it on my laptop. So everyone can take a moment and meet one of my beloved Moleskines even as it's on its way out the door.

Monday, May 23

Getting Things Back in Place

This image from Minneapolis' history is going out
to a young woman in Toljatti, Russia.
Back in the States (with a permanent address) means back on Postcrossing!

Rebecca and I moved into our new apartment yesterday--a sublet for three months, during which time we'll search for another apartment or maybe even a house, or just a plot of land on which to build a small house; truly, the options are multiple--and I've re-upped my new address with the USPS so we should start getting personal mail intentionally sent here. And I think it harms very little to reactivate my Postcrossing account and start sending postcards out (my accrued reserve is massive) and begin receiving notes from around the world. That always was a delight for me.

Actually... I wonder how that would work, with a small house? If you just build a little structure on your land and it wasn't previously zoned for postal delivery, how do they manage that? I imagine one of those mail delivery trucks pulling up, two men in grey jackets get out, frown at the new house, walk back and forth, frown, then climb back into the truck and drive back to the city.

The next day, you start receiving mail and one parcel is a large manila envelope with your address angrily circled in thick red marker, letting you know none too gently that this is now your address.

Thursday, May 5

The Battle Rages On

Ugh, I haven't updated this in forever. I keep doing that, not-updating. Yes, very Zen, but not very entertaining.

We returned to the States one day after our third wedding anniversary and one day before my 41st birthday. ...No, I can't believe I'm that old either. Thanks, I don't feel I look it either. Very kind of you. Since returning I find some of my former passions somewhat diminished: I've completely slacked off on my photo-a-day blog since I don't feel anything I can do here will be as interesting as the last six months (not very generous, I know), and I've altogether stopped writing postcards or any kind of postal correspondence.

That latter is especially a crime, considering my love for this medium. Indeed, 85% of polled Americans say the USPS is their favorite federal department. (In return, the USPS says it's losing money and will have to declare bankruptcy and shut down in ten years. Can you imagine? I seriously cannot.) But after sending postcards from southeast Asia, complete with exotic and interesting postage stamps and postmarks using the Buddhist calendar instead of the U.S.'s Christian reckoning... what can compare? "Hi, I'm in Minnesota, here's a funny little card about a regional delicacy we call 'hotdish.'" "Greetings from Minnesota, we have a lot of lakes and even more mosquitos, if you can believe it." "Hello, guess who just discovered his cache of Forever stamps?"

That's not kind, I know, and it's not right. Writing a letter or a postcard is valuable no matter the origin. People love getting personal missives in the mail, period. Even moreso now, as it's increasingly attaining "novelty" status. I'm hoping I'll get over this blue funk and get back to writing regularly.

I did just finish a letter, in fact. This weekend sees the 80th birthday of my favorite author, Gene Wolfe. I've written him before and I wrote him today. I wished him a happy birthday, I apologized for not being able to visit him at the sci-fi convention in Wisconsin last September (that really crushed me, but we were packing up to leave the country and I had no free time), and I tried to share the most interesting anecdotes from our travels. Most other authors I admire to such a pronounced degree have passed on decades or centuries ago. It was imperative that I got over my shyness in the face of his auspiciousness and pen a letter of appreciation, the first time, before it was no longer an option. I've since urged anyone who'll listen to do the same.

And, truth be told, Minneapolis does have some awesome postcards. There's a big indie art scene here and some prominent creators have generated really excellent clothing, artwork, and stationery. This place is worthy of some "local pride" and investing in these artists' works is beneficial all the way around. For that sake, I love sending out postcards to my friends in diaspora--even though it discourages me that few of them have any interest in responding (some couldn't be arsed to send an e-mail or even a quick note on Facebook that they'd received my postcards from abroad). But that shouldn't be my motivation to write. Getting something in return is a terrible motivation to do something you love. The fact that I've selected a suitable pen, sought out an attractive postcard or writing set, and practiced several hundreds of hours of handwriting to create a little message to let a friend know I've been thinking of them should be the end unto itself.

My reasons to not-write are flimsy, and the reasons to write are multifarious. My path is clear, and the momentum to follow it is imminent, I just have to become the action. I will, I am.

Thursday, April 7

Post Office in Narita, Japan

No great and high-falutin story with this one. We were in Japan for a seven-hour layover, between Jakarta and Minneapolis, so we got out of the airport and toured a calligraphy museum in Narita. The curator spoke almost no English but tried to explain to us the first floor was only an exhibit of high school students practicing kanji in Japanese and Chinese--the good and ancient stuff was upstairs. She also declined to make eye contact and rather than coming off as rude it was somehow adorable.

After touring an actual Japanese garden, we tried winding our way back through the streets to the bus station (we'd taken a taxi to the museum but the station wasn't far at all). When we got stuck at one point I called out to a nearby teen who was walking by with his head respectfully down. "Sumimasen," I was able to forage from my scant Japanese, "Narita-eki wa doko desu ka?" I felt proud of myself but then the instructions, naturally, came to me in Japanese which I couldn't understand. I did get his hand gestures, and we found our way back in plenty of time to go back through passport registration and catch our flight.

But before that, we wrote quick notes to ourselves on postcards from the calligraphy museum, and I mailed them to ourselves at this airport post office.

Tuesday, March 29

Post Office in Melaka, Malaysia

Just had to stop in here briefly, just like we did the town and even the entire country. What does that mean?

We weren't planning on going to Malaysia at all, but then we found ourselves with extra time and so we did. Kuala Lumpur is a gorgeous, clean, modern city and we enjoyed our time there. Georgetown, on Penang Island, is a fascinating mix of world cultures, rich with history and liberally sprinkled with excellent restaurants everywhere you turn.

But here in Malacca, or Melaka as originally written, what was there? We made friends with a woman from KL who said that Melaka could be seen in a day at most. But she lived in KL and all her friends could find to do was party, so perhaps there was more to it than that. Indeed, just in driving around we saw some fascinating landmarks and intriguing neighborhoods. By dinner time we asked the owner of our hotel where to eat and he said, "You walk down this street and if you want Chinese, turn left. If you want Pakistani, turn right." We did both and ate very well that night.

Right before we left I knocked out a few more postcards and, eager to take advantage of Malaysia gift-from-heaven postal rates, ran across town to this post office.

Wednesday, March 23

Post Office in Tanah Rata, Cameron Highlands, Malaysia

Several hours north of Kuala Lumpur, capitol city of Malaysia, is a series of mountains covered in jungle, tea plantations, and intermittent villages. One of these regions is called the Cameron Highlands (colonization provides the trade-off of sounding less indigenous but gaining mercantile augmentation), and within these is a very cute little town called Tanah Rata.

Here, you wake up to glorious sunrises in which you feel the Buddha smiles upon you, then the mists descend around the mountain tops, and around 1 PM you are drenched in several hours of rain. That's just how it is and the locals are well acclimated to it.

Note: I'm not local. Traipsing around in my fancy-dancy rain jacket is insufficient to the climate, as another couple hours of soaked jeans and Chuck Taylors will testify.

But here I am in Tanah Rata's post office, sending out another batch of postcards, and I want to note something significant here. Just as Norway was a very unpleasant postage rate surprise, Malaysia is the spectral opposite: there are three ringgit to the USD, each ringgit is 100 sen, and one postcard stamp to the US is 50 sen. Seriously! It only costs about USD 16.5¢ to send a postcard to the States from Malaysia! The postcards are more expensive than the postage, and these aren't expensive postcards!

Does my joy seem inordinate, untoward? I beg to differ: postage for five postcards from Norway was US$16, and while the postage rate in Indonesia fluctuated within a margin of 100%, its travel time was equally unpredictable. My friends are only just now receiving postcards I sent from Bali, three months after the fact. Yet I mailed a letter from Kuala Lumpur to my niece and she received it within two weeks, easy.

Vacationers to SE Asia: do your friendly correspondence in Malaysia. It feels like finding $20 on the ground.

Tuesday, February 22

Post Office in Siem Reap, Cambodia

Oh, folks! Check me out: I'm in a Cambodian post office!

Khmer mail collection box.
I held off from writing any postcards for a while because it was getting spendy and I was writing far too many of them. But you know me, I love writing letters, I believe in availing myself of the formal postal system. It's not that I'm above e-mails: I've written e-mails to friends in times of need, just to keep in touch, stuff like that. And while e-mail's advantages include speed, efficiency, velocity, and promptness, they cannot compare in the least way to actually holding a postcard that you just got in the mail. They can't compare to regarding the exotic stamps commemorating people and events you've never heard of, to looking at the date and realizing it's been traveling for a month, to examining every bend in the card or scrape in the photo and wondering in which country these physical traces were rendered.

Main Post Office, Siem Reap, Cambodia
But my wife agreed it was time to send out another batch, as we've been in Cambodia for a week. We were several days in Phnom Penh, the capitol, and are now holing up in Siem Reap (trans.: "the defeat of Thailand"). We have visited the Killing Fields at Choeung Ek, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, as well as many of the temples around Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom. We have tried amok and lok lak (the latter is my favorite), we have stumbled with wrapping our tongues around Khmer phrases (ch'ngain, "delicious," is the hardest), and we bought two packs of postcards. One is for writing, but the other is a novelty. Everywhere we go, children are trying to sell us stuff: bracelets, postcards, books, toys, doohickeys, baubles, gewgaws, etc. We need none of these, but instead give them a dollar if they will draw us a picture, and we use the back of a blank postcard for their canvas. This places the illustration in a specific location for us, and what I've noticed is that girls in Phnom Penh like to draw flowers and butterflies, while girls in Siem Reap prefer mountains and rivers. Why is that?

Action shot: a postal clerk hand-franks my postcards.
Okay, so, Lonely Planet was correct, for once, in its placement of the main post office on its map, and it even... I won't say "taught me a new word," but it did remind me of one I'd forgotten a long time ago: franking. When they take that little hammer and bump it in the ink and thwack it on your stamps to make a postmark, that is called franking the postage. It comes from the verb "to frank" and means marking stamps with a postmark to show the time/date of their submission to post.

Franking. Totally forgot that word, but I won't again.

Monday, January 31

Post Office in Luang Prabang, Laos

New country, new post office! Welcome to the interior of the official post office in Luang Prabang, Laos, kitty-corner from Wat Chon Si. If you were here, you'd know this temple wherever you stood in the city, regardless of knowing its name. It's the huge, ancient temple mounted atop the most enormous hill in the center of town. Over 300 steps to reach the top, just to see a spectacular sunset each night...

I digress. I'd written a stack of postcards and even a letter, all going out around the world. I confess I feel a certain glow of warmth whenever I have a stack of mail to go out and it's not all in the US. Having pen pals around the world to at least drop a line to (currently I have no mailing address for myself) makes me feel like I've expanded myself a little, and sending postcards from other nations is like a special "thank you" I can render to these friends who agreed to correspond with me way back when I wasn't doing anything that interesting.

Of course, this gets to be an expensive habit. Experience has shown me it's much better to e-mail from Norway, as postage rates there will quickly impoverish anyone with more than two people to write to. Thailand and Laos have rates a little closer to US rates, but a pile of cards and letters will still diminish the tidy wad you've just extracted from the ATM, leaving you pretty glum about your prospects for lunch and dinner that day. (Or, in my case, give my wife some reason to ask you to hold off on going crazy with my pastime until we actually have some form of income. Writing letters is cool, but it's not worth having to go home early.)

I don't know that I saw any mailboxes in Luang Prabang. I'm quite sure they were there, I probably didn't recognize them for what they are. I'm including a shot of the exterior of the post office, the slots where I was directed to deposit my own letters. Now, when I was in the States and brought a stack of postcards (I never write a few when a great many will do) to the post office, I was quite accustomed to being handed a strip or card of stamps and affixing them myself to my missives. That was easier in the States, with self-adhesive stickers for postage. In these SE Asian nations, they're still using adhesive you have to lick or moisten to activate, and even that's an imperfect science: my clerk handed me a glue-stick to help tack on some of the lesser stamps that wouldn't hold. So applying two kinds of stamps to each envelope or postcard, when dealing with fifteen of these pieces of outgoing mail, begins to border on the tedious and can soak up a lot of time.

But still it's worth it, because I'm enjoying sending these things out to people... though I wish my recipients were a little more diligent about letting me know they've gotten them. My friends in other nations are, they're great about that, they'll shoot me an e-mail or notify me on Facebook that something turned up. My friends in the States, not so much: I have to assume that either the postcards were lost/destroyed in transit, that the Indonesian infrastructure could not support safe transport of my postcards, or that my friends don't feel any compunction to let me know they got anything. That's a little discouraging, but then, "snail mail" has fallen out of favor in the US and we don't have any traditions or conventions governing that behavior anymore.

Friday, January 14

Post Office in Pai, Thailand

This was a personal victory for me: I have the opportunity to visit a few nations outside of my own, so I've been making it a personal goal to visit official post offices where I travel. I haven't made it 100% of the time or even 50%, I don't think.

In my other blog, I posted a picture of my visit to a (temporary) post office in Bali, Indonesia. When I was in Iceland I'd only walked back and forth outside a post office in Reykjavik but never made it inside. I regret that a lot. I thought I was going to replay that regret when I finally located the post office in Chiang Mai City, Thailand, but showed up on the one day of the week it was closed.

As it happened, I was visiting Pai for two days and wrote up a bunch of postcards, hanging out at a coffee shop. I figured one of the local convenience stores around here might have some stamps (7-11 is very big in Thailand, the way Circle K was in Indonesia) but anywhere I went was out of them. Pai has a pretty strong independent artists community and its remote geographic location is a popular motif to play upon, whether it's the "762 curves" on highway 1095 between Chiang Mai and Pai or the tiny town's postal code, 58130. There are a lot of beautiful postcards for sale throughout the town, and if there's such a demand for them, perhaps people really were draining all the 7-11s of their postal stamps.

I was directed to the post office (which I was excited about) but finding it was another matter. There were several maps in town but... I don't know if the scale was off or if they were simplified to highlight the local bars and hotels. The map in Lonely Planet was worse than any of those. Rebecca and I wandered around the neighborhood south of Pai proper until she asked some directions from some friendly women at a corner cafe. We took an immediate left and found ourselves in front of the post office--we'd walked that street before on the other side and didn't see it at all. How'd that happen?

Regardless, once inside the process was swift and simple, and I think the postal rate for postcards was more or less equivalent to that in the States. That's convenient, but time will tell whether their postal infrastructure is any better than Indonesia's: only two intended recipients have indicated the cards reached their destination, out of a couple dozen sent to friends around the world. It's too soon to tell whether any of the Thailand-issued cards have arrived, but still I wonder.

Sweet relief: greetings from Pai, Thailand!

Wednesday, January 12

Universal Letter Writing Week: Helpful Advice

What is more pointless than writing letters to people who
never write back, when you don't have a return address?
(Hotel Yani, Denpasar, Bali, Indonesia)
Well, I hope I didn't sound very down on the idea of Universal Letter Writing Week. Sure, I question the foundation of its existence, but far be it from me to suggest we swing radically in the other direction and not write letters.

I love letters! Oh, in the name of the Divinity, do I love letters! I love writin' 'em, and I love readin' 'em! In this sense I am 50% similar to my friends, and that would be the latter half. The "I'd love Christmas better if I didn't have to get anything for anyone" half. Or, as the wielder of that somewhat stunted end of the stick, "I'm not worth 20 minutes and 29 cents to anyone I know."

So why not have a week in which the laity are encouraged to please write a letter? Sure! Let's go ahead and do that--everyone put on your stationer's hats and pour a round of holiday absinthe--take pen to paper and have at it with our innermost... well, not our most intimate thoughts. That would be redundant: we already transmit those to faceless strangers via Twitter, Facebook, and LiveJournal. No matter: just go ahead and write to your friends... well, not your friends online, obviously. Write to your family... unless you live with them.

Huh. Universal Letter Writing Week is a bit of a sticky wicket, what?

To assist with this conundrum, I thought I'd take it upon myself to promote some solutions in case anyone else out there is encountering the same difficulties I have faced. Generally speaking, one can never solve one's own problems, but when someone else has the same trouble, don't we have all sorts of advice for them? Absolutely.

Ideas for To Whom One May Write
  • American soldiers
  • Enemy soldiers (spell poorly--it's demoralizing)
  • Your favorite author, if they're still alive
  • Swollen children in Shriners hospitals
  • People learning English as a supplemental language
  • Farriers
  • Your congressman/woman
  • Cultural anthropologists
  • Manufacturer of your favorite hygiene product
  • Geminis (actually written Geminians or Gemineans--they can't decide (gasp and swoon))

Topics Upon Which One May Expound
  • Your top three resolutions for 2011
  • Why you're staunchly opposed to resolutions
  • All the things you know about the culture from which your favorite food emerged
  • Half-baked plans to visit every nation with an atomic icebreaker
  • If you could build a movie star, what they'd be like
  • The sexual fetish you've never confessed to anyone, not because it's naughty but because it's in second place to the other one that you can't stop talking about
  • Who your friends were in second grade and why
  • Reasons why you shouldn't hit yourself when you make a mistake
  • How to get over a cold, in case the person you're writing has a cold

Monday, January 10

National Letter Writing Week

Dear Reader,

Has anyone else heard of this? National Letter Writing Week? I just caught a tweet from Wordnik claiming that this is so (and, presumably, started this Monday), followed by a cool little link to a page listing various writing-related terms, a word-list called Penmanship.

But I can't find the source for this declared observation. There's an eHow article that corrects my presumption and puts "Universal Letter Writing Week" at Jan. 8-14 (or was that last year?) and offers suggestions of recipients for various letters, if you can't come up with any on your own. For me, the problem has never been sitting down and writing a letter: it has wholly revolved around coercing, tricking, or forcing anyone else to write back.

Awareness for this week seems to have exploded in 2008, according to my cursory and undisciplined research. A women's website, BellaOnline, also offers suggestions for types of letters to write as well as a short inspirational bibliography in the same vein. Here's an especially vacuous blog post about the event, courtesy The author collects stamps but the imagination he expends on this article rings a little limp. By accident I found a dead-fascinating article on letter writing under Japanese Etiquette in Wikipedia--otherwise, Wikipedia seems to have never heard of this week-long observation.

  • Int'l Society for Friendship and Good Will says they "sponsor and promote" this Week in their list of yearly Observances. Did they create it? No idea, but I've never heard of any of their other Observations, either, so... maybe!
  • The Smithsonian Institute's National Postal Museum features a vintage art deco post that places the Week at October 17.
  • Without citing a source, the DermaNetwork (for Clinical Dermatology) brings up the Week as something to observe while sitting in the waiting room for your dermatology appointment. Their topic suggestions are equally surprising ("Write a letter to someone you know who has great skin").
  • Holidays for Everyday, a preschool educators resource, refers to "National" Letter Writing Week as early as 2007. No source.
  • At least one stamp collector is looking for a 1980 Thai commemorative stamp for International Letter Writing Week, but this source does not say which week that was. If you don't believe in 1980, you can buy a later version of this stamp from 2008. It would help to speak Spanish, in this case.

Does anyone reading this know anything more about it? I'd love to hear from you.

Your pal,

P.S.: A bunch of sites claim it's actually in October. From the contexts I've glossed over, it looks like it used to be in October maybe a century ago, but now someone's started it up again and placed it in January. Can anyone clear this up?