January 5, 2016 § 6 Comments
The slightly-dented, rusty-around-the-edges mailbox that came with the house sent many letters off into the world and welcomed quite a few to their final destination. But it reached a point where the door regularly ended up dangling from its one good screw on days when a substitute letter carrier tugged it a little too hard. Even on a good day, the door didn’t shut properly and the rust was spreading.
Given the standing tradition of postal presents, perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised to discover a new mailbox under the tree. But I was genuinely surprised–and delighted.
It is top of the line, sturdy construction with a door and flag that glide smoothly. It had its inaugural use this morning when I sent off my first batch of letters for the new year. I can only imagine how impressed the letter carrier must’ve been with the upgrade.
In other news, the Cacti Captioning project is just about to launch into the postal stream. If you signed up to participate, I’ll be in touch very soon. If you’re feeling sad because the original post got lost in the whirlwind of the holidays and you didn’t have a chance to sign up–good news!–I still have spaces available for interested letter-writers and artists. If you’d like to join the fun, let me know and I’ll add you to the list of collaborators.
December 20, 2015 § 4 Comments
Quite a while ago, I received a package from a friend. Inside, I found this book:
It features photographs of saguaro cacti with captions – and space for you to write in your own captions:
I recently unearthed this book while going through a pile of Things That Have Potential and thought, The time has come for this to be the centerpiece in a collaborative altered book project!
To accomplish this, collaborators are needed!
If you would like to caption, doodle, collage, or otherwise take part in altering this book, please let me know in the comments or contact me privately by January 1, 2016. I will kick off the new year by contacting all interested parties with details about this round robin art endeavor and together we will create the Cacti Captioning & Creative Alteration Project.
On a related note: If the idea of captioning cacti makes you laugh and you’re a fan of quirky romances, you might enjoy the writing and humor of G.G. Andrews, the friend who found this book in the first place.
September 2, 2015 § 8 Comments
When I was quite small, I wrote a letter to Oscar the Grouch.* I made the editorial decision to sign my first piece of fan mail as “Grungetta” (perhaps believing that Oscar would pay more attention to a letter from someone he knew, but more likely just because Playing Pretend is the best game ever). I ripped up construction paper to include in the envelope, because it seemed only proper to send him some trash.
And I got a reply:
I was gleeful that the response addressed me as Grungetta — they believed I was the real deal! (Clearly I didn’t notice the return address…) For a very long time after receiving this letter, whenever I saw Oscar’s trashcan on Sesame Street, I wondered if the pieces of paper I’d ripped up were still on his floor.
I also wrote to Mr. Rogers whose typewriter was not full of trash:
Jumping ahead through years that involved only very occasional fan letter writing (mostly to authors), we arrive in the present day where letter writing is one of my nerdoms and I believe in letting people know they’re appreciated. This combination is clearly a recipe for writing fan mail. Accordingly, I recently decided to write to the creative minds behind Pretend Wizards. It became a fairly elaborate production. Scissors and glue were involved and there were multiple pieces by the time I finished.
I had a few moments of wondering if I was going overboard. But I quickly squashed that thought. I’ve gotten many, many hours of enjoyment thanks to what this group of people has created and I really wanted to let them know in style. So, I did. They subsequently talked about receiving and enjoying my fan mail on the “Mail Bag” section of one of their episodes, which was awesome.
Why am I telling you about these letters I’ve written? To encourage you to write fan mail to people who do the creative things you love and to the people who inspire you in some way. It’s win-win. You get to be unabashedly enthusiastic and the recipient gets tangible appreciation. Try it — write someone a letter of wholehearted admiration. As appropriate, include ripped up paper, a dinner invitation, or a selection of teas. If so inspired, report back. I predict that both you and your recipient will feel better about humanity in general as a result.
*The idea to write to Oscar and Mr. Rogers originated from my mom who has a genius for proposing simple activities that kids adore. If you have kids, teach kids, hang out with kids, etc., a letter writing project is an excellent undertaking.
May 21, 2015 § 8 Comments
If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may recall that a while ago I recommended several books for kids featuring letters and sending mail. Why? Because books in the hands of children create readers and inspire new interests. Besides, who among us doesn’t love a good book about mail? And these have the added bonus of great illustrations! So, in the spirit of literacy and letter writing, today I recommend four books; three about letter carriers of different flavors, and one about the era when you could mail order a house.
Millie Waits for the Mail by Alexander Steffensmeier
You may think that dogs are the stuff of nightmares for mail carriers, but that’s only because you haven’t yet read about Millie. Oh, yes, she waits for the mail — to be more precise, she lies in wait and takes great glee in scaring the mail carrier. Oh, my.
This book has conflict and a smooshed package, but, fear not, it ends happily.
A Letter for Leo by Sergio Ruzzier
A story about Leo who delivers the mail, makes a friend when he is kind to a stranger, and–finally!–receives a letter of his own.
Mr Griggs’ Work by Cynthia Rylant
Mr. Griggs “spent millions of minutes of his long life shuffling through letters, watching the pictures on the stamps change, punching his First Class puncher, weighing fat brown boxes, and listening to long tales about ‘The Letter That Never Got There.'”
Need I say more or is that enough to sell you on getting to know Mr. Griggs? (I really love this one.)
And the bonus book: The House in the Mail by Rosemary and Tom Wells
This one is less about mail and more about the process of constructing a mail order house, BUT it’s a great slice of history and shows what a wonder mail order merchandise was in the 1920s–something that may not have happened without the USPS’s introduction of Rural Free Delivery in 1896.
Now, run to your library and ask for these books. Then find a child and share. Enjoy!
May 3, 2015 § 2 Comments
The Maryland State Archives’ newspaper digitization project aims to preserve and provide easy access to newspapers published in Maryland from the 1700s through the 1940s. Personal experience leads me to caution you that taking a casual look at their online collection can result in a great deal of time spent reading vintage advertisements and musing that the gossipy “Personal and Social” and “Local Matters” sections are, perhaps, the analog forerunners to social media (“Dr. and Mrs. H. L. Dodd’s little daughter recently sat on a needle and was very much inconvenienced until the cause of her sickness was discovered.” Yes, this tidbit really appeared in the paper, circa 1920).
While randomly browsing the Saturday, November 24, 1860 edition of the Kent News, a “List of Letters” signed by the postmaster caught my eye.
“That the postmasters shall, respectively, publish, at the expiration of every three months, or oftener, when the Postmaster General shall so direct, in one of the newspapers published at or nearest the place of his residence, for three successive weeks, a list of all the letters remaining in their respective offices”
If the addressees failed to claim their mail within three months of the list being published, the Postmaster was charged with opening unclaimed items in order to look for “any valuable papers, or matters of consequence” and then attempting to notify or return items to the sender.
Today, individual post offices hold “dead letters” for a much shorter period of time. “Undeliverable, unendorsed standard letters or flats” land in the recycling bin on a daily basis. Certain categories of mail and loose-in-mail items are sent to the USPS Mail Recovery Center. If valid claims for lost mail are filed, items are returned. If not, they may be auctioned.
Have you ever lost something in the mail?
Leech, D.D.T. (1857). List of post offices in the United States; with the names of postmasters, on the 13th of July, 1857; Also, the regulations and laws of the Post Office Department. John C. Rives (publisher). Retrieved from: https://books.google.com/books?id=6U4ZAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA1#v=onepage&q&f=false
Publication 100 – The United States Postal Service – An American History 1775 – 2006 ( 2012, November). Retrieved from: http://about.usps.com/publications/pub100/pub100_001.htm
Stam, J. L. (1860, November 24) “List of Letters” The Kent News, 21(29), 2. Retrieved from: http://mdhistory.net/msa_sc2901/msa_sc2901_scm1621/html/msa_sc2901_scm1621-0006.html
March 5, 2015 § 2 Comments
The challenge of a Month of Letters is to 1) mail at least one item each day the post runs during February (this works out to 23 items for those of us in the U.S. after accounting for four Sundays and one federal holiday); and 2) to write back to everyone who writes to you.
I accomplished neither of these goals.
However, during the month of February, I sent 24 pieces of mail and had only two unanswered letters in my queue on the 1st of March. For me, this is an accomplishment. Therefore, I’m declaring Month of Letters 2015 as a success since I found the (often elusive and definitely variable) letter-writing rhythm that worked for me.
I was already feeling good about Month of Letters, but it was nice to learn that I’m not alone in measuring success using unofficial metrics:
As the founder [of Month of Letters], I should totally have been able to send that much mail. I didn’t and I don’t feel badly about it because I still sent more mail than I would have without the Challenge. So I might not have won the challenge, but it was still successful for me.
Well said, don’t you think? (That is hardly a surprise, though, given that Mary Robinette Kowal is very good at saying things.)
If you participated, I hope you, too, had a successful experience by whatever reckoning method suits for you.
I found postcards very helpful for increasing the amount of mail I sent last month. As promised, I even put my art supplies to use and watercolored a set. It was my first attempt at using masking fluid (inspired by Lindsey at The Postman’s Knock) and I was pretty pleased with the result. I’ll definitely be refining my technique and making more.
Continuing the postcard fun, I found this gem second-hand, with only one postcard missing.
Whether you’re trending elegant or tacky today, keep scribbling.
February 10, 2015 § 4 Comments
It’s day ten of A Month of Letters. I’m writing my 11th letter of the month tonight, so I’m in good shape to meet the challenge of mailing 23 items by the end of February. I’ve written every day and posted something every day the mail has run – several birthday cards, a sympathy note, replies to a few letters that have been patiently waiting, a couple postcards with slice-of-life stories, and a “thank-you” for a lovely visit with a lovely friend.
For the next round of letters, the art supplies are coming out. Lindsey of Postman’s Knock inspired me to buy some art masking fluid and it has arrived. A new art adventure for me! Fun will be had by all, which is to say me and, hopefully, whoever finds my creations in their mailboxes.