From the "Mailstrom"

Tidbits, this 'n' that from around the web about letters and letter-writing, selected by Lex editors, Gary and Lonna.


The writing on the wall

December 23, 2010

Are Facebook friends the digital equivalent of a pen pal? Liz Hover at the Content Management Connection [link no longer active] thinks so. What distinguishes pen pals from other friends, she says, is that "you never actually met in person." Just like many of her Facebook friends; although as she also says, there's another important difference about the correspondence - "lots of other people get to see it."

Eleanor Roosevelt's pen friend

December 14, 2010

Occasionally a pen pal becomes famous, and their early correspondents look at their letters in a new light; sometimes it's the other way around, and the famous comes first. Such was the case with a World War II child-evacuee from Guernsey, UK, who engaged in a correspondence with a "foster parent" in the US. Nine years old at the time, Paulette Le Mescam was not aware that her American pen pal was the wife of the President of the United States. You can listen to an interview on the BBC in which she reminisces about the exchange.

The write box

December 1, 2010

If an encounter with a snowplow has left you in the market for a new mailbox, or even if you just want a change, there's an astounding variety available. Here's one online store with a large selection; here's another. And if you're in the mood for, as Monty Python used to say, something completely different, check out the novelty mailboxes here [link no longer active].

"Then you snail-mail it"

November 16, 2010

Serendipity is not what's been reigning at Lex World Headquarters recently, hence the delay in posting another entry here. A dead tree, a roof, and a high wind - it probably comes as no surprise that the wind won the contest. We've been spending much of the time since trying to affect the outcome of another contest, this one a race involving the roof, a possible hole, and winter. As of last weekend, winter appears to be in the lead...

Ever notice how when you pay too much attention to a part of a house, the other parts get jealous and start acting up like a small child with a new sibling? This is not the time we would have chosen to have the well pump begin making a strange and ominous sound. Unfortunately this is the time the well pump thinks it's fun to start grinding and clunking...

In the midst of all this, though, we did find an interesting comic about the current state of postcards. Here's a link [link no longer active].

Postcard from the Past

October 29, 2010

Serendipity reigns in this brief report of a postcard delivered [link no longer active] to the grandson of the writer via an antique store in Sarajevo.

Let the forwarding begin...

October 19, 2010

Despite the continuing tribulations of having a new computer and new software (the latest being inconsistent conversion of standard text from earlier issues), Issue 23 was mailed last Friday, October 15. Enjoy!


October 3, 2010

Another thing to celebrate, at least for those of us buying stamps, is the recent Postal Regulatory Commission decision [link no longer active] to reject the USPS proposal to raise the price of First Class stamps to 46¢, with corresponding increases in other rates. The commission felt that the USPS didn't make a good enough case to justify raising the rates more than the rate of inflation (if the proposed increase had been less, approval wouldn't have been needed). It remains to be seen whether the USPS will appeal, or raise rates less than inflation, or keep stamp prices the way they are now.


September 19, 2010

Celebrating a "good mail week" is blogger Kaz over at I love letters. She writes that last week she achieved her goal of receiving letters from pen pals or friends every day of the week, Monday through Friday. How many of us letter writers can say that? In an earlier post (Sept 1), Kaz talks about a spreadsheet of her endeavors, and what she learned from it. Over a three-month period she wrote 53 letters (wow!) but received no replies from 23 recipients. She was a little surprised at that ratio, but it sounds like a good response rate to us. As Kaz says "...if you want to receive letters you've not only gotta write them - you've gotta write LOTS of them!"

Connections...and not

September 7, 2010

Remember that old song that goes "the thighbone's connected to the kneebone..." or something of the sort? Computers are like that. A few weeks ago we reported on the shiny new computer that LEX had to get. First it turned out that the layout software we use to create issues doesn't work with the newer operating system that today's computers use, so we had to replace that too. Now we're finding out that the layout software sends a signal to the printer that overloads its memory...we hope the cascade of incompatibility stops before we end up needing a new refrigerator...

A pen fit for a queen

August 28, 2010

Feel like adding luxury to your letter writing experience? Choose between a pen with body and cap of black precious resin with gold-plated inlay or a solid gold fountain pen with a red lacquered barrel and cap, both created in honor of Queen Elizabeth I. Check out the limited edition Montblanc Queen Elizabeth I fountain pens [link no longer active] and dream away!

LEX has a new computer!

August 16, 2010

You know how people figure a dog's age "in human years" by comparing the relative lifespans? Applying that to the LEX computer, which dates back to Issue 1 in 2003, we calculate it's about 175...which may explain why it's beginning to malfunction with increasing frequency. The problem started back last fall, but recently has been getting much worse - the Blue Screen of Death pops up at unexpected moments, sometimes multiple times a day. Restarting the computer after taking out and putting back in the memory chip (the only thing that allows it to restart) often results in a disconcerting message that the file we had open "may be damaged." As a result we're saving files as new versions frequently, and redoing whatever work we've done since the last save when the BSOD pops up.

A trip to the computer doctor gave the diagnosis that the motherboard is failing. This is kind of like saying the computer needs a heart transplant. Now if one of us, at age 175, needs a heart transplant, we'll go ahead and try it; but given that the cost in the case of the computer was estimated at 1/3 to 1/2 the price of a new one, and there are other problems such as a malfunctioning heat-control system, we decided it was time to let go. No service is planned, though if it damages many more files before we get the new one set up and figured out, there may be a ritual drop from a high place onto a hard surface...

Now that they're dead...

August 4, 2010

A few decades ago Joni Mitchell sang, "You don't know what you've got til it's gone." That's more or less the inspiration behind Felix Jung's Dead Advice Project, where people are encouraged to reflect on their lives and share the personal wisdom they've learned before it's too late to pass it on. Site visitors can write a letter beginning with the sentence "Now that I'm dead, I want to tell you a few things." The site is still very new, so the number of letters posted is small but growing; Felix posts them unedited, but approves each one to prevent abuse by spammers. The letters can be to a specific person (living, dead, or unborn), or to the world at large, and the range of thoughts and emotions being expressed is already impressive.

Vintage postcard museum and store

July 18, 2010

A new postcard museum opened this month celebrating the career and postcards of Donald McGill. McGill created over 12,000 humorous postcards between 1904 and 1962. In the '50s he fell afoul of British law for his use of the double entendre--his postcards depict innocent scenes and the text seems so, too, unless you find the hidden risque meaning. The website is still new but a museum store is planned, which will sell vintage of copies of some of these oldies!

New kid on the block

July 10, 2010

A new letter writing site launched in April: Writealetter.Org. As creator Carol Christmas says, "This site promises to be a hub of inspiration, information and connections to encourage the art of the handwritten letter". It features a blog on the home page, plus forums, activities, and a members' section. Check it out!

What to do with an old fountain pen

July 1, 2010

Clean it, of course! If you've run across an old fountain pen in the attic, at an estate sale, on the floor behind your uncle's desk, chances are it doesn't work. And maybe all it needs is a good cleaning. Check out this tip on how to revive a pen.

Missing Out?

June 21, 2010

Staring in two movies featuring letters (Dear John and Letters to Juliet) has actress Amanda Seyfried [link no longer active] thinking her generation is missing out on something. We know she is right!

"We don't hand-write letters to people we don't care about"

June 11, 2010

"The Munchkin Wrangler", a fan of fine pens and writing paper, mentions the article below on his blog [link no longer active]. He gives his personal observations on the significance of handwritten letters, especially the fact that the time it takes to get out the materials, write meditatively, and take the result off to mail is an additional gift to the recipient. We couldn't agree more...

The handwriting on the...letter

June 3, 2010

A recent report on CNN entitled In e-mail age, still nothing like a handwritten letter interviews several people on the importance of receiving personal letters, including a couple half a world apart and a woman who received a letter from her grandmother at the grandmother's funeral. Comments on the article range from supportive to dismissive, and include discussion of the teaching (or lack thereof) of handwriting in schools. Thanks to LEX #12455 for bringing this article to our attention.

Postcards save lives

May 10, 2010

A hospital in Newcastle, Australia, sent follow-up postcards to people who had been treated because of suicide attempts. Compared to a control group, the rate of repeat attempts was halved. But it only worked with women. The experimenters speculate that it was the old-fashioned nature of postcards that made people feel cared for, and plan a text-message version in the hope of finding a useful outreach to men.

Those amazing letters

April 27, 2010

Indiana Public Radio station WFIU recently did a segment entitled "Keeping Alive the Lost Art of Letter Writing". WFIU staffer Adam Schwartz interviewed Lex's very own Lonna for a section on Lex! Also on the program were Margaret Shepherd, author of The Art of the Personal Letter: A Guide to Connecting Through the Written Word; Professor Bruce C. Smith, who's developed the SmithHand [link no longer active] method of handwriting which combines speed and legibility; Kathy Zadrozny of The Letter Writers Alliance; Rebecca Dolen of the Vancouver stationery store The Regional Assembly of Text, where once a month letter writers gather to write in a friendly group; and USPS spokesman Norman Scherstrom.

Those amazing mailboxes

April 18, 2010

You've probably seen one or two of them: you're driving down the street and suddenly there's a mailbox high on a pole like a bird house, or down at street-level with a model-T car on top of it. Over at Sam's Mailbox Picture Collection [link no longer active] you can see dozens of them - a train, a fish, a pig; a kangaroo, a camera, and Uncle Sam. And if you've got a picture of a goodie, you can share it online. Meantime, over at the Ugly Mailbox [link no longer active] blog, you can see more examples of the endless creativity of box owners.

We know what to do with them, of course

April 10, 2010

If you haven't checked out the Zits comic strip today, here's a link [link no longer active]. It has a letter-writing theme.

And if you believe that...

April 1, 2010

The Letter Exchange announced today the release of a new hardware/software package designed to eliminate one of the most annoying things that can happen in the course of a correspondence - writing an eloquent, incisive letter in one's mind immediately upon receiving a letter, and then finding that when it comes time to actually get out the pen and paper, much of that eloquence and incisiveness has fled, never to be recovered. In 1813 Edward Jenner wrote: "scores of them passed through my brain in forms so airy, that they flew aloft before I could catch one to fix upon paper"; and that problem is still with us today. The new package, which makes this difficulty a thing of the past, consists of a sensory implant similar to an EEG pickup which is inserted through the top of the head (a handy plastic tube allows leaving the hole open to be re-used for future letters, and covered with hair in the meantime) into the verbal centers of the right brain. This is connected through a USB port to the computer running the software, which transforms the mental letter into digital form ready to be displayed and copied when it comes time to actually write the letter. The package will retail for $79; an optional add-on, available for only $1039, will edit out "uh", "um", "er", and other common hesitations, increasing the eloquence and incisiveness of the letter even more.

Alfred Quinton, The Picture Postcard Painter

March 30, 2010

Do you enjoy the romantic, peaceful quality of vintage nature postcards? English artist Alfred Quinton [link no longer active] is the source of over 2000 watercolors of picturesque places in England and Wales produced as postcards by Joseph Salmon around the turn of the 20th century. These and his other works are the subject of The Rural England of A R Quinton [link no longer active] published by J Salmon Ltd.

"There's something special about corresponding by mail"

March 20, 2010

The old message in a bottle trick still here [link no longer active] to watch a news video about two women named Delores who live thousands of miles apart but "met" when one of them dropped a letter into the ocean from a cruise ship.

Handwritten letters are special

February 28, 2010

This week the mail truck brought us a colorful booklet from our alma mater explaining the importance of donations to the college and its students. If you've been to college or supported a charitable organization you've seen one of these: all the wonderful things that can be done with your support and how grateful they will be. This week's booklet featured pictures of handwritten letters from students to scholarship donors, on the cover and in a two-page spread. Obviously the brochure's writers know that handwritten letters are special. Typed letters can seem formal (or a credit card offer); e-mail is impersonal (and can be made to seem it's coming from somewhere it's not). But a letter written with pen and ink on stationery or plain paper comes directly from me to you and says that I care enough to write. To people who don't do it very often, part of the specialness may be the perceived extra work - hunting around for that pen and paper, envelope, and stamp. For those of us with a desk full of stationery and notecards it's still special - we convey our thoughts and feelings through words and handwriting in a way that a keyboard just can't.

On the way

February 17, 2010

Issue 21 was mailed yesterday – a day after our usual mailing date because of the postal holiday on Monday. Of course, there's still plenty of time to get the issue – it's still "current" until about when we send the next issue to the printer, and that won't be til the first of June. By then it's possible the snow will be gone...

"...the best written by any artist..."

February 6, 2010

Collections of letters sometimes pick and choose letters, or even excerpts, in order to illuminate an author's writings or some other topic that made a person famous. In the case of a new publication of Vincent Van Gogh's letters, all the more than 800 known surviving letters are included, as well as almost 100 letters written to Van Gogh. The reviewer for The Guardian calls the overall impression of the collection "quite simply life-affirming."

And we're off...

February 1, 2010

Last night we e-mailed the files for Issue 21 to the printer – now we just have to wait a week or so, sometimes more, sometimes less, and boxes of shiny new issues will show up on our doorstep. Well, not quite – they actually come to Lonna at work, and then they have to be brought home for stuffing and mailing. Come February 15 we'll be popping them in one of those remaining blue boxes, and then they'll start their journey to you!

Neither slush nor rain nor January thaw...

January 22, 2010

It's not so noticeable at the moment, when the morning temperature is above freezing, but usually this time of year people in Minnesota fall into one of two groups – those who huddle indoors grumbling "Why do we live here?" and those who head outdoors for winter sports and festivals such as the St. Paul Winter Carnival (which features ice sculptures in those years when it's actually cold). Among the second group are the creators of the Art Shanty Project on Medicine Lake in the northwestern suburbs of Minneapolis. Everything from astrology to saunas, from dance to story-telling to tea, happens for several weeks in "shanties" based on the ice houses used for fishing on frozen lakes in Minnesota. One of them is the ArtPost Shanty, which with the help of the USPS is an official, though temporary, U.S. Post Office. There's an official stamp, and visitors to the shanty can partake of mail art and postcard making, or send mail from what's described as "The world's only Post Office on ice."

First there was slow food...

January 11, 2010

...and now there's a Slow Media [link no longer active] movement afoot. The aims are similar – step back from the rush of modern life and rediscover the joys of taking time to think, savor, and focus consciously on one thing at a time. Not surprisingly, one of the things those attracted to the movement enjoy focusing on is – letters.

A different kind of love letter

January 2, 2010

Boston Globe columnist Milton J. Valencia recently wrote a column [link no longer active] in the form of a love letter to – the personal letter. It's interesting reading, and perhaps even more so are the many comments from readers, some agreeing that letters are the best form of communication, others extolling the virtues of e-mail, and some calling for the best of both worlds.

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