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!

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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.

incowrimo.org

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

letterwriting

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.