InCoWriMo 2017 has a new site

Like the plucky little rooster that it is, it looks like International Correspondence Writing Month will be with us again for another year this coming February. While not yet complete, it appears the site is up, running and pretty much functional seeing that the whole deal is only about three and a half months away.

Given there’s a major holiday season and several other events happening between now and then, it isn’t too early to start thinking about this years flurry of mail. It appears some things are yet to be expanded on the site, but you can already leave your name and address and get on this years list. As always the FAQ, instructions and pledge are back, including a downloadable certificate. And it looks like an address book and planner are shortly on the way.

It’s good news for all. And if you haven’t participated before, or are wondering what all this is about click here and go have a look or copy and past their new address —   https://incowrimo-2017.org  and be sure to share it with your friends. (I’ll be keeping the link on my sidebar until the spring).

 

incowrimo 2016 – some final thoughts

SnailMailFor a number of reasons, I decided to stick to the official Incowrimo site this year even though there were other ‘hidden’ ways to participate in this project. The fact that I’m still seeing traffic, searches and enquiries from India, Europe, and Australia halfway through March tells me that there is some real interest in a month of International Letter Writing.

Apparently a quite a few people poked about here and at Incowrimo after searching for it. In they end they didn’t take part in this years Incowrimo thinking it was cancelled.  There were others who were inspired to write but left very little trace on the site. And there were a significant number of posts and links recommending Incowrimo 2016 but unable to provide reliable information. Information was scarce.

Personally, I think Incowrimo is one of the most rewarding projects I’ve ever participated in and it would be sad to see it slip away. This year, I tried to keep tabs on things in hopes we can make 2017 another successful year.

Last year, there were over 400 participants spread all over the world.

2015-incowrimo-map
Incowrimo 2015 participants

The first thing I noticed this year was the difference in participation. There were only 31 people who added their names to the Incowrimo site. This meant that very few letters were shared between participants. For the 40 odd letters I sent out only 6 came in; and not all of them from this years project.

In addition to several smaller individual projects, 2 online forums heartily supported Incowrimo 2016 with open invitations to participate. Many forum members involved in 2016  were already members, or had followed the project there from previous years. As a result it was pretty much hermetically sealed but yielded great results within.

Don’t get me wrong, both ‘Fountain Pen Geeks’ and ‘A World of Snailmail’ are fabulous forums for anyone interested in handwritten letters, writing and writing instruments. If you have even a passing interest in the subjects, I would highly recommend joining. But in the end neither is focused strictly on promoting Incowrimo, and quite rightly so.

There were 72 people who had clearly posted their addresses to other members on the 2 forums as was their preference. What I found really interesting was the fact that 80% of them were from the United States. This compares to 55% on the Incowrimo site. Given the additional number of people who popped in and left in confusion,frustration or dismay, it seems like the number of truly international participants would remain constant or drop slightly.

2016-incowrimo-summary-chart

One of the things I liked most about an International correspondence project is the International part. Personally I would like to see this flourish and grow even more. Writing to individuals by hand and online has shown me that there’s a distinct difference between the two and the humanity involved in sending a physical letter is no small thing.

Most disturbing this year, was the 75% drop in participation. Whether it was because the insanely great 2015 site had gone missing in action this year I’m not sure.  How or why it wasn’t updated remains a mystery, but I am committed to seeing that the project moves forward into 2017 with community support. I’m a big believer in Open Source and know it is a way of making amazing things possible.

To this end, I posted a survey about maintaining a list of addresses or database for Incowrimo. The results are interesting and I’m planning a separate post for them. If you haven’t taken the survey, I’d encourage you to take a minute or two now. It will be up til the end of the month. Meanwhile, thanks to everyone that made this year what it was!

incowrimo 2016 – address list

Incowrimo – feb 26

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There’s only a couple of days left and already a couple of letters have come back. Yes come back :(  So far this has been a rare occurance for me. Letters soaked and unreadable, lost and shredded in transit yes. But returned to sender without even leaving the country is more than disappointing. The really frustrating part is that I reposted them at the local letterbox and they were returned the very next day. The postal carrier refused to pick them up to be delivered, only one of them had any signs of the stamps being cancelled.

I don’t know why and am slightly disturbed. To make sending out mail easier this year I made up a whole batch of these and guess that I’ve sent out at least 25 or more by now. Some I know have arrived, but after 9 days of circulating without leaving the country these two came back at my expense. I hope they are the only ones.

 

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Incowrimo 2016: these 20 plus people would love to recieve your correspondence

SnailMail

I’ll be the first to admit, sometimes my brain is not the fastest thing on two wheels and some things can take time before properly muddling themselves out. But it still isn’t halfway through the month (barely) and this means it’s far from being too late.

I have added a link to the column to the right that redirects to both the official Incowrimo site (here) and one to the people who have signed up for this year. And get this – under the list left over from last year – which is I admit, a real vote of confidence and pretty tricky thing in itself.  (that would be here)

If you visit the second of these two links and scroll on down to the bottom..  just above the comments section is a ‘Sort by Best’ option that can be changed to ‘Newest’. Scroll down a ways and you will find the following post.

incowrimo-list

 

 

If you choose ‘see more’ at the bottom.. you’ll find the list of people signed up for this year.

Just above the comments it says, “If your name is not on the above list but you would also love to receive InCoWriMo 2015 correspondence, feel free to use the comment section below to add your name and mailing address (for all the world to see).”   Change this to 2016 and it means that if you too would like to recieve letters, putting your address in the comments will add it to this years list and you can get started on your own correspondence right away.

I know this is all pretty pedestrian, but it’s all there is, and until the site undergoes a revision so far it seems a reasonable and convivial way to make it work :)

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.

pacific-the-world

 

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

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

International

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.

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.