Incowrimo and the new world

AntiqueWorldMap1587-long goodbye

So along with International Correspondence Writing Month (Ink-a-Rhino for some) maps have suddenly regained prominence in my life. I’ve always enjoyed maps. Including people who use them, make and find pleasure in them.

I had a long-time friend who, when he felt the need to relax, would follow the course of rivers in an old and detailed atlas he inherited. He told me he had been doing this ever since he was a child. It provided hours of inspired contemplation and deeply enriched his life. It also made him great at trivia games focused on geography.

Until I left primary school, every classroom I ever entered had at least one or two immense pull-down maps rolled onto brackets and attached to the blackboards. Unfurled they offered unlimited distraction. A place for daydreaming and exploration and adventure as well as introducing us to the wider world.  And much like handwriting, maps like these offered a glimpse into ourselves. A springboard for pensive inner conversation about where we saw our place in the world.  And while the modern era tried endlessly to replace this with every sort of electro-mechanical advance in technology. Slides and film strips, always in darkened rooms, 16mm and overhead projectors and those atrocious VCR towers. For years I secretly yearned for the simplicity of a large map of my own on the wall. At times I considered ginormous wallpaper editions, but could never decide how serious this map commitment was. That was until last year.

With my participation in Incowrimo set and the decision to continue writing well past the end of the month; a not unreasonable set of circumstances had me purchase a small laminated world map. It fit nicely under our shelving and right next to the dining table where I wrote. I tacked it up, rustled some decorative pins and took out my bundle of letters and began to identify where all of this correspondence was going to and coming from.

Pretty soon I began to notice many ‘new’ things about the world. Most of it my ignorance. For some of you this may be easy; but could you point out with confidence Suriname or the Seychelles or Estonia? Which is bigger Madagascar or Japan? Or which is closer to Seoul, Manilla or Hanoi? Where exactly is Idaho or Wales. And is Kazakhstan really the same size as Central Europe?  There are answers to these questions funny enough, and most of them can be found on a map.

Over the past several months, this map that I purchased has been a companion piece to my life. And while it’s definitely not the superbly drawn pull down version of the world produced by DENOYER-GEPPERT * in the middle of the last century; it has done the job.

But alas the world I knew has changed, and the signals have been there for a long time.

In part it was a letter I sent last week. My correspondent had mentioned their unfamiliarity with Canada and I on my ignorance of their corner of the Pacific. It wasn’t just that the country in question was at the other side of the table and I rarely changed seats.  I was becoming uncomfortably aware of how Eurocentric and ‘western’ we presented the world and how it has come unreasonably to dominate most other views.

While travelling in Norway a number of years ago, I had the fortune to see maps where the North Pole was placed at the centre. Even for a Canadian this was a chilling shock but it did make incredible sense. It was clear who your neighbours were, and how your country was positioned in the world in important and overlooked ways.  And I realized while writing this letter that my idea of the world, especially the picture I carried around in my head, placed me a little to the left but still, essentially, smack dab in the centre of things when in reality the centre of things is more likely closer to the Bay of Bengal.

I sensed right away that something had to be done; and a map by Arno Peters wasn’t enough. The world that I knew through correspondence, stories and news, the one I carried around in my head, just didn’t match the one stuck on the wall. It seems the sun has finally set on European colonization and we’re all overdue to find a new map. To that end, I figured I’d do it myself and what I found, while still not the wallpaper edition, might fit the bill. I have real map pins this time, and look forward to discovering new places and friends.

I’ve come to understand while corresponding this past year, just how deeply coloured our concept of the world is by what we are exposed to, what we read, and what we say. And it’s why I welcome International Correspondence Month. The thoughtful, handwritten conversations. The friendly introduction of new stories and perspectives. The exchanges of insight, joy and inspiration. The marked passing of time from posting to delivery. The patient and steadfast reply. The preparation. The space it takes. The paper. The ink. The pens, the stamps and yes the glue.

It’s why we co-respond.

The New Map – I’ll yet post a few pics of the old one before retiring and putting it away.



*(you probably know them today for those plastic body part models in your doctor’s office)

incowrimo 2016 address list

Last year, when I first encountered Incowrimo in January 2015, I was worried about who I could write. I certainly couldn’t think of 28 addresses and the whole thing seemed a little bit much.

Oddly enough it turned out not to be a problem. There was this page where 29 people claimed they’d love to get my letters.  Great I thought, this makes it easy.

Below there seemed to be others who said they were happy to get my letters too. ( 1,176 comments )

In addition were plenty of addresses tucked firmly in the middle of comments, and in the replies to those comments, and the comments on the replies.

Daily I grew to love this page, and a year later I’m happy so see it continues to grow. For a month I checked it faithfully every morning and often checking again in later in the afternoon.

There was always lots of cheerful encouragement, banter and suggestions. And some interesting postal problems solved.

I looked forward to finding new contacts, copying down the addresses and sending out a letter. The result that many of them now are friends.

The context is helpful and useful, especially in writing to someone you don’t know.  But now I’m longing for a single page where I can easily cross check and update my address book as new entries continue to arrive.

As the comment page has grown longer, I find the addresses harder to track and manage, and I’m supposing I’m not alone. I keep hoping this dreamed up page will appear. But it’s looking more sensible to do it myself.

Before I recklessly plow on, I’ve put together a survey I hope you’ll take.

Based on the interest and results, I believe an “Incowrimo 2016 list of people who would like to receive your correspondence” could materialize with your go-ahead and help.

The link below opens in a new page,  I’ll post the results here very soon.


< Incowrimo 2016 address survey >




Postal Rates – letters are more expensive than out of season grapes.

I don’t know what led me to do this, mostly a suggestion on ‘A World of Snailmail’; but I’ve always wondered a little bit about what people around the world pay for postage compared to here in Canada.

When I saw that someone was paying 5 Rupees for Local and 25 Rupees for International letters in India and in Canada it’s closer to 40 and 120 Rupees for the same, it makes me wonder about a number of things. And that’s good.

There is something that has puzzled me over the years, and to which I have never heard a good answer. I can buy 450g of grapes this week for 2.50 Canadian dollars. This price includes the cost of growing, harvesting, packaging and shipping them 8,000km (roughly 6,000 miles), getting them to the store, stocking, advertising and selling them.

And yet if I were to write on a piece of paper, fold it in half and put it in an envelope, it would cost me the same to mail it anywhere outside the country. Even though it weighs less than 20g.

Anyway,  here’s an overview of what we are currently paying in CANADA in January 2016.

Domestic Rates

for letters less than 30g     .85 CAD   .56 Euro   .61 USD
for letters 30 – 50g   1.20 CAD   .78 Euro   .86 USD

to the United States

for letters less than 30g   1.20 CAD     .78 Euro     .86 USD
for letters 30 – 50g   1.80 CAD   1.18 Euro   1.28 USD


for letters less than 30g   2.50 CAD   1.63 Euro   1.78 USD
for letters 30 – 50g   3.60 CAD   2.35 Euro   2.55 USD

Below is a breakdown of what our rates here convert to in several other countries. I mostly chose places I recieve and send mail to regularly just to compare. Although it’s a bit much, personally I found it kind of interesting. (note: the two prices are for letters up to 30g and letters 30-50g)

Country                  Domestic
                        US             International
Australian Dollar       .85          1.20      1.20           1.80      2.51             3.62
Brazilian Real     2.45          3.46      3.46          5.20      7.21           10.38
Chinese Yuan     3.98          5.62      5.63          8.43     11.71           16.86
Indian Rupee   41.00        58.00    58.00        87.00   121.00         174.00
South Korean Won 730.00     1031.00 1031.00     1546.00 2147.00     3091.00
Malaysian Ringgit     2.50         3.54      3.54           5.31       7.38         10.62
Phillippine Peso   20.00        41.00    41.00         61.00     85.00       122.00
Russian Ruble   46.00       65.00    65.00        97.00    135.00       195.00
Singapore Dollar       .86          1.22      1.22            1.83       2.54           3.65

Incowrimo – snailmail revolution

SnailMail.jpgLooking back over the past year, the one experience that stands out head and shoulders over the others was participating in the annual International Correspondence Writing Month for the first time.

Amazingly it managed to completely reshape my year. Inspire me to no end. AND provide constant joy right up to the final days of 2015.

I stumbled across it almost completely by accident (if you believe in that sort of thing) while trying to find information to improve my handwriting.

A growing collection of fountain pens, and a resurgent interest in paper led me to the International Correspondance Writing Month website. A group of people who annually commit to writing one letter per day for the month of February.

Over the fall I had become pretty disillusioned with electronic media and began to feel we were slipping into some sort of dark ages of communication and representation.

Writing the odd email and posting the odd comment to the ether – (who knows about a net)- wasn’t in keeping with the struggle we’ve had rising from the muck  to mostly literate societies who value the written word and the corresponding effort that goes into it.

All my life I’ve been told that it wasn’t the destination but the journey that’s important. Experience has repeatedly taught me this is true. The Value of clicking ‘Like’ or a button to share a post  can’t begin to compare with the very human effort of getting out pen and paper, composing one’s thoughts, folding and sealing them into an envelope and the pleasure of choosing a stamp, walking to the post box to return with a handful of colourful cards and letters from around the world.

Some days it would just be one, others none. But then the little flood of letters began to trickle in as February turned into the bitterest of winters and finally spring. Soon I was drinking coffee outside on the porch with the comments of friends, eager replies, news and stories in my hand. Spring changed to summer and I continued to share wonderful adventures in paper, thought and sentiment.

Admittedly, like most correspondents who continued on long after February had ended; I did get bogged down as summer turned to fall. Many an apology went out, and a few letters were left unanswered even though I wished they weren’t. Life ploughed on in relentless form, turning up one thing then another as it piled the rock, soil and turf of commitments, unfinished projects, upcoming events and the daily grind in long furrows behind and on either side.

As the days grew shorter, I realized  that even though it was unusually warm, winter would give way to spring and a few new shoots would appear through the snow by the way of names popping up on the Incowrimo website; February would arrive with the promise of new friends, new letters, fresh growth and the start of another year of letters. And like always, this one would be better than the last. Alas the new year would begin!


I don’t know how soon this years site will be up and running, but you can keep up by checking the following over the next twenty-five days and beyond.

simple mail processing

SAMSUNGI’m a big believer in finding simple, effective and low cost solutions that are easy to adapt to and adjust in use. Over time I find that low tech solutions are often the best and at this point I have a real need to manage my daily correspondence.

With new letters arriving regularly; adding new contacts, replies and ongoing correspondence, this isn’t a job I want to do in my head.

I hear stories of spreadsheets, notebooks, and jumbled boxes of envelopes filled with complicated tags and notations, but I need something simple that works, sits on my desk, fits in a bag and I’ll actually use.

Like a well trained dog, my first thought is to find an app. Something that will solve the problem for me. Preferably on a computer or mobile device. And then I quickly realize how badly I want to avoid the whole misery of compatibility, proprietary devices, and the steep learning curve that comes with it.

For me, this means sticking with paper. A medium with a track record of success. Easily accessed, portable, and always compatible, it even comes with history. Honed by experience, time and daily use.

In the past for example, libraries were able to manage millions books with little more than a stamp, a checkout card and a pocket. Simple and effective, it also managed to be incredibly effective and amiable. An index card and pen took care of the rest.

The first thing I do is avoid looking for a product. I don’t want to spend money on an item that needs me to adapt my problems to fit it. Plus I’m well enough trained to recognize mail is a process, not a thing. This is a serious bonus.

Instead, I start by writing down everything that happens once a letter arrives. Next I think about what I wanted to happen, and see how these two things differ. Then repeat the whole process for every letter I send.  I jot down plenty of notes including a hard look at what happens with all the paper, addresses, envelopes and information between these two events. Where do I keep things, what things belong together, what things aren’t there when I need them.

After a couple of days stumbling along, it becomes clear what I’m looking for. First, I’ll want to sort the incoming mail, and record the date and postmark when it arrives. And it would be nice if all this stayed in one place, until I have time to reply. Once that happens I’ll need my previous records, and a way to update them with the present reply. And finally I’ll need all this returned to ‘storage’, where it’s easily found next time they write.

So I head out to the dollar store, time for some important research. With an open mind and a pretty good idea;  I take a determined stroll up and down the aisles. I’m on the lookout for anything that might have potential and end up with a box of file cards, some index tabs, an address book, some stickers and a couple of small plastic accordion files. And all for less than $10.

Once home; I write all my contacts into my address book. Then I write them on an index card which I file alphabetically in the box.

SAMSUNGAs soon as a letter comes in, I pull out the senders card. On the front I write things to remember, and then put the date and postmark on the back.

SAMSUNGMy accordion file becomes my portable outbox. Normally it’ll have a couple of index cards and letters already in it. With all the cards visible in the front pocket, and that’s where I’ll place the new one. Tucking it in behind all of the others, and then do the same with the letter. Sticking it at the back of the file, always handy ’til it’s time to reply.

Every morning I open the accordion file and remove the first card and letter. This is the person I’ll be writing. And when I’m finished, I take the card and stick a dot where it’s easy to see. Next I write the date of reply on the back. The result lets me quickly see how many times I’ve written, and roughly where the letter might be going.

In my case red for international, blue for domestic and green for the United States.

I also take out my address book and make sure I’ve placed a coded dot beside the person’s name to let me know I’ve written.

Once the letter is ready to mail,  I file the index card back in it’s case and store the letter I received alphabetically in a box.

In addition I take out my agenda and write down the recipients name under the current date. This way, even if I’m away for a couple of days, as long as I have my agenda, address book and accordion file, I can still manage my mail with ease.

The cards are easily replaced, mistakes are easily corrected.  Adding a new address or personal information is simple. Notes and cross references are clear and things are seldom confused.

So far so good. Cheap, easy to set up, easy to use. I’ll get back to you before February and let you know how it holds up.

the loss of the handwritten letter


At the beginning of the twentieth century, people worried about the future of letter writing.  It was a disturbingly familiar scenario. Was it the “modern art of leisure” or the way we teach english in school?

The whole problem, appears in a wonderful series of quotes by Harry Dwight Sedgwick in Simon Garfield’s book “To the Letter”.

“Hurry has been set on a pedestal, scurry has been set on a pedestal and the taste for leisure has been snuffed out. There are and always will be convalescents, cripples, confirmed idlers and guests marooned in country houses on Sunday mornings – and it is to them we should entrust the future art of letters.”

“Oddly enough, teachers of literature teach almost anything other than the art of letter writing. Boys and girls from twelve to twenty are set writing essays, theses, compositions, as if Tom, Dick, Molly and Polly were going to write essays throughout their lives to their parents, lovers, husbands, wives, children and old cronies.”

“The teaching of English alas, is dominated by the grammarians who desire passionately that every boy and girl shall recognize at sight and call by name a “partative genitive” or an “adverbial clause”, and by educational reformers who regard speaking English and writing English as machinery and not an art. Both sets despise the loafer, and the art of letter writing.”

Most people understood by this time that public interest and funding was doomed for teaching letter-writing or english, in fact all the arts, unless they could turn themselves into a measurable sciences.

And here at the beginning of the twentieth century we can see the glimmer of our modern world. And how the eventual the loss of personal art and leisure would be used to transform us into undeserving and hapless bumblers.

old dog, old tricks – what’s wrong with that??


Every once and a while, something that has been a stable part of your world simply vanishes into thin air. No announcements, no editorials no public outcry; it quietly slips out of everyone’s grasp never to be seen again. Worst of all, if it’s been around long enough, chances are it was extremely effective and not replaceable.. Something so ubiquitous you wouldn’t think to miss it, in fact it would never occur to you that some idiot would pull it off the shelf.

Such was the case this week when I found out not only LePage mucilage, but all mucilage, seems to have disappeared from the western world. In fact it’s so hard to find that even my spell checker doesn’t know what it is.

Mucilage …”a thick, gluey substance produced by nearly all plants and some micro-organisms”. Here is a product so green it’s ridiculous. And to top it off, it’s edible. Think flax seed for a minute, or the original marshmallow and Slippery Elm bark where it’s still extracted to make soothing cough and sore throat remedies.

Mixed with water, it makes a great glue especially for paper. It’s what you lick on an envelope or the back of a stamp. It’s strong enough to glue labels to metal cans, wood to china and leather to pasteboard. Most of all, to anyone of my generation and  a long time after, whether you liked it or not, it was the best go-to glue for anything stationary or paper-craft related. LePage – for a long time – the very definition of glue. But not any more. Better living through chemistry marketing seems to have knocked it off the shelf with crappy wheat paste sticks and specialized glues that are so child safe that children can’t afford them and they don’t work.

Here was an excellent product with “over a hundred years of natural sticking power with the simplicity of gum arabic”, and LePage decided it wasn’t worth selling. A versatile, reliable and recognizable product with great public visibility and cultural presence was dropped so the company could focus on ‘public relations’ and new product development.

I highly recommend the following link for a fabulous historical peek.  Not only glue, but LePage Ink! Who knew??

Meanwhile, back at home …I’ve been making a lot of envelopes lately, and gluing them has been an issue.  Almost all the glue sticks I’ve used, once dry, stop working and the paper falls apart.

PVA glue, the best choice for paper, stays wet too long, will permanently wrinkle the paper, and often bonds envelope to content.

Tombow Aqua is an excellent solution if you could find it in Canada. Oh! you say …Staples, the company who managed to force everyone out of the stationary market so they could sell Keurig pods and chocolate bars? They offer it at a reasonable $3.76.

The only problem is a refusal to carry it in a store. Like most of their useful products it’s ‘Online only’. And this scam means you have to pay $15.00 to ship the 48g bottle (1.8 oz) from their warehouse to their store. Either that, or purchase a further $41.24 worth of goods and get it shipped for free. Yea!

I scoured the internet and yes, mucilage is available, not from LePage who in fact continues to produce it; but China where it’s readily available. Smart and lucky people!

In fact I can purchase amounts that allow me to become an important importer-reseller. And by bulk buying, recoup my costs and wind up with the couple of bottles I wanted to buy in the first place – yea!

Otherwise it’s a cold dark world for anyone who wants an excellent and reliable stationary glue on their desk :P



A letter caught my eye today. And the reason it did, was because it was written in 1370.

I’ve been writing a letter a day by hand since the start of February as part of International Correspondence Writing Month. And so far have had letters travel far and wide.. or not. It seems that with all our advances, the postal services, electronic and snail, may not have come as far as we think.

This situation has led me to speculate a great deal about mail service. And as it turns out, join a long chain of historical writing dedicated to what happens after we press send or drop off our written thoughts. The fact that this very current explanation was offered to Boccaccio by his friend Petrarch 645 years ago, makes me want to rush out and buy the book in hopes of discovering what happened to my letters trying to make their way to Wales.

“I know now that neither of two long letters that I wrote to you have reached you. But what can we do? Nothing but submit. We may wax indignant, but we cannot avenge ourselves. A most insupportable set of fellows has appeared in northern Italy, who nominally guard the passes, but are really the bane of messengers.

They not only glance over the letter that they open, but they read them with the utmost curiosity. They may perhaps, have for an excuse the orders of their masters, who, conscious of being subject to reproach in their restless careers of insolence, imagine that every one must be writing about and against them; hence their curiosity to know everything. But it is certainly inexcusable, when they find something in the letters that tickles their asinine ears, that instead of detaining the messengers while they take time to copy the contents, as they used to do, they should now, with ever increasing audacity, spare their fingers the fatigue, and order the messengers off without their letters. And to make this procedure the more disgusting, those who carry on this trade are complete ignoramuses…

I find nothing more irritating and vexatious than the interference of these scoundrels. It ha often kept me from writing, and often caused me to repent after I had written. There is nothing more to be done against these letter thieves, for everything is upside down, and the liberty of the state is entirely destroyed”

Petrarch, 1370