Please Write! Confessions of a Lousy Pen Pal

If I were to grade myself as a pen pal, I’d give myself a C-. Honestly, that’s being generous. I have such good intentions. I cherish each letter I receive, pore over it, then dutifully log it into my dedicated Circa notebook. Weeks, or even months, pass before I sit down to pen my reply. What the hell?!

Part of the problem is that I feel like I have to, or should, write long newsy letters because that’s what I receive. If I don’t have time to do that, I write nothing. Dumb. Surely a nice card or a short note would do in a pinch. But my all-or-nothing brain thinks that it’s better to hold out until I can get a handful of pages written. Even if that means waiting. And waiting.

It’s no wonder, given my issues, that I was immediately drawn to the vintage postcards I came upon at a recent antique show. One vendor had so many postcards…literally thousands of them…that I had no idea what to hone in on. Cats? My hometown? New York State attractions? Owls? Then my eyes fell on the “Please Write” section. BINGO.

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Some postcards feature polite verse, while others get straight to the point. “WRITE! I’m tired waiting for you to write.” Both provide a much needed nudge to slow-poke letter writers like myself. “It’s not how you write, but the words you indite…” (Is “indite” a word?) “Makes me anxious your writing to see.” Forget about writing the perfect letter. Just write. A few pages. A few paragraphs. A few sentences.

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I found and purchased a couple more gems, as reminders to myself. The vintage rhymes not so subtly admonish the recipient to sit down and write. Now. Tonight. They pull no punches.

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On the back of the 1916 Dutch girl postcard is a handwritten message that made me laugh. In case you can’t quite make it out, I’ll transcribe it here…

Lost! Strayed! or Stolen! Mabel Kritzmacher. Any information regarding her whereabouts will gladly be received by her friend Florence E. Senn, 32 First St, Newark, NJ 

Then…

Hello! Mabel. Thought I’d remind you that I’m still living. Why don’t you come over or write? Write soon. F.E.S.

I love Florence for her comical and direct approach. Florence wants a return response and Mabel is dragging her heels. This postcard is 101 years old but the plea penciled here never goes out of date. We crave mail, and we want it now. Real mail lights up a day more than any text or Facebook post or email. Real mail is a treasure.

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I’m using InCoWriMo—International Correspondence Writing Month— and the kick in the pants from these postcards, to break my letter writing procrastination—this belief that I need a large block of letter writing time and the perfect setting. Yesterday’s mail brought me two postcards and one note from three InCoWriMo participants, which thrilled me. As our chicken dinner roasted, I sat at my desk and wrote my replies, rather than getting sucked into CNN or falling down a Twitter rabbit hole. I don’t want anyone thinking I’ve been “Lost! Strayed! or Stolen!”

How will I improve my letter writing turnaround time? If a day or week looks particularly busy, I’ll turn some of my morning journaling time into letter writing time. I’ll make letter writing appointments with myself in my Hobonichi planner as I tend to honor the commitments I’ve written down. I’ll use random pockets of time to write postcards or quick notes. I’ll back away from social media and the news a bit (better for my mental health, anyway). Sending and receiving handwritten mail is important to me. It’s about time that I made it more of a priority. I owe that much to my loyal pen pals and to the new ones I’m meeting through InCoWriMo. I owe that to myself.

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Postcards look very different these days. I bought these stunning “Afghan Girl” notes and postcards after going to Steve McCurry’s photography exhibit at our local art museum and love using them. It takes just a little time to dash off some thoughts or a couple of paragraphs. There’s something satisfying about dropping a few pieces of mail into the mailbox on the way to work—forging a connection with a new acquaintance, or strengthening the ties to friends you’ve known for years.

And so I will write. This very, very night.

Added later: I did it!

Stationery In Real Life: The Postcard Project

Box of Postcards

I’ve had this Friends of Type Keep Fresh Stay Rad giant box o’ postcards for awhile, and have slowly been using them to send quick notes to friends and family when there isn’t time for a full-blown letter. (I tend to make a federal case out of letter-writing, something I plan to work on and improve in 2017. A quick letter is better than NO letter, right?!) Even though I am using these postcards, it became apparent that it’d take me awhile to go through the whole box, and I’m trying to get better about using things up.

That issue was in my head when I read this article. (Go read it…it’s inspiring.) Too many postcards + the Seattle woman giving away postcards = my solution.

Postcard Project

I work at a college in upstate New York, managing the stockroom in the college’s Science Center. The stockroom has what I call “the pizza window” because it looks like a window that you’d walk up to to order pizza or ice cream or burgers. Students regularly come to the window, not for pizza but for chemicals and lab supplies—the perfect venue for offering free stamped postcards.

Some are inspiring.

Win the World!

Some are artfully profane, but a good reminder during stressful times, like final exams.

Chill the fuck out.

The students have been amused by the giveaway, and have politely asked, “Can I really take these?” Yes…absolutely! “That’s so cool!” they say as they smile and slide a carefully selected postcard into their lab coat pocket.

I like picturing the surprised recipients who probably don’t get much handwritten mail from their BUSY child/grandchild/sibling/friend. It really doesn’t take much time to lift someone’s day. A couple of minutes. A few words. A happy recipient.

Peace and Joy and Cake

Here’s to peace and joy (and cake) in the new year! Let’s stay in touch.

Pencils and Postcards

Postcard with pencil

This weekend, our ornate downtown theatre (circa 1928) held an Antiquefest. What a great setting for vendors to set up their booths stuffed with antiques. Fred and I volunteered at the event so I made the rounds of the various rooms several times and did some browsing while directing people to the bathrooms and coffee. I was on the lookout for pens but only saw a few that were in exceptionally sad shape. No luck there.

But amongst the furniture, furs, jewelry, linens, and books, I spied a box of carefully categorized vintage postcards and started leafing through them. I skipped to the “New York” section, thinking that there might be some familiar attractions. It didn’t take long before I selected the card shown above. $1.00. Sold.

Made in Germany

I should note that I’m not a collector of postcards, but this one tugged at me. It’s from a time when postcards were little works of art, not kitschy souvenirs. This one was made in Germany, then sold here in New York, out in the Finger Lakes region, a prime location for vacation and relaxation.

Onondaga

On the front, the writer has scribbled, in pencil, “This is the boat we did not take.” I hear frustration in that single line. This vacation, it seems, has hit a snag.

Penciled message

“We cannot go across the lake. Boats have not been running for some time. We are at NY Central station Watkins waiting for a train to Geneva. Have walked about forty-eleven miles.” T. (or F?)

More frustration. The need for Plan B. We’ve all had vacations like this.

“Have walked about forty-eleven miles.” What an interesting phrase. A quick Google search turned up a number of references all explaining that this means “innumerable” or “a large amount.” Why have we stopped saying this?!

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Addressed to Miss Hatty Harding of Waverly, NY, this penciled postcard was written and  posted in September 1910. This postcard—my postcard—is 106 years old, and still perfectly legible. No fading, no smearing, no discoloration.

That’s impressive for forty-eleven years.

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For a modern take on the same subject, check out The Purl Bug’s postcard/pencil experiment HERE.

I recently picked up this giant box of postcards. Once I start sending them out, I’m going to write exclusively in pencil. Will my messages survive until Antiquefest 2122? Could be.

 

 

 

 

Stationery Souvenirs

The Queen Mary

In late July/early August, I traveled to Long Beach, California for a conference of science stockroom managers. We stayed aboard the Queen Mary, a very cool venue. Whenever I travel, the urge to pick up souvenirs hits me hard. But really, do I need another t-shirt? The dresser drawers that I just sorted and purged would say “no.”

Souvenir pencils

You could also argue that I am not wanting for pencils either, but lately they’re my souvenir of choice. Easy to store, cheap, and usable—what’s not to love about a pencil? And so far, I don’t have drawers full of them, though I suppose that remains a possibility.

The ship’s gift shop carried some “Queen Mary” nautically themed pencils (the bottom four in the above photo) for $0.69 a pop, so those are the first ones I picked up on this trip. A good start.

The Getty Villa

Later in the week, we visited the Getty Villa in Malibu. A friend and I toured the gardens and galleries, then made a beeline for the gift shop. My pencil quest continued!

Getty Villa Souvenirs

Oooooo…quite the score there! I walked away with three matte black “motto” pencils, a very cool woodless pencil, as well as a Getty branded eraser, all for under $10.

Motto pencils

The black ferrules and erasers make these particularly appealing. Haven’t written with them yet, but let’s face it, I bought these for looks. And the sayings.

Woodless pencil

The woodless pencil cost a mere $2.50, lays down a smooth HB(ish) line, and has excellent point retention. It’s hefty and smooth feeling in hand, really unusual as far as pencils go. I was kicking myself for not picking up a few more, but a little research led me to believe that they’re branded Koh-I-Nor woodless pencils, available on Amazon for a price that’s considerably less than airfare to Malibu.

Woodless pencil

That looks cool, right?

Mood pencil

I also picked up an orange pencil at the Getty because…well…ORANGE. Once home, I discovered that the pencil does a trick. When you hold it in your hand, it does this…

Mood pencil

Surprise!

Meanwhile, back at the hotel gift shop there were more stationery treasures to be coveted. And purchased.

Pencil Set

Cavallini pencils.

Pencil set

And stickers.

Vintage stickers

Vintage stickers

And postcards.

Cavallini postcards

Postcards

Stationery souvenirs are inexpensive, functional, easy to pack, AND if you use them (as you should!), eventually they go away. For the price of yet another t-shirt, you can bring home a nice bag of loot for your home and office.

Motto pencils

Seize the day. And the stationery.