Making Time To Write

Letters, and their associated paper, envelope, stamps and ephemera, are so much more than just tools for communication with others. They can also serve as beacons: for slowing down, for noticing, for connecting with our own selves.

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In a world which seems to push us toward such focused doing - and with haste! - letters offer the opportunity to decelerate, to take stock and reflect. Handwriting forces our brains to ease toward the pace of pen on paper. There’s sensory pleasure in the colors and textures of stationery, and something visceral about hunkering over a piece of paper, pen in hand, making marks to an actual page. It’s translation and transformation, as if folding your own self inside that little envelope. Even the art of addressing, sealing, and stamping an envelope can feel like an act of magic: preparing a small parcel for its own disappearing trick into the mailbox - and waiting for it to reappear in a postal box across town, across the country, across the globe. Back in your own mailbox, or in the Dead Letter Office.

 

Letters are tactile. They beg for presence. That is, if we pause long enough to soak it all in. The trick is in carving out the intentional time for it. When we craft that time, letter writing is an act of self care and intention - even when you don’t have a penpal to write to. Sometimes we just have to make that time.

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Make Time is a full-day retreat allowing participants to leave the tugs and pulls of daily life at the door, and dedicate purposeful and non-distracted time to any desired project. I started Make Time over two years ago when I came to see just how much the to-do list, the constant beckon of technology, household chores, and work obligations were crowding the center of my life, and I was letting them. I was looking for an antidote, a way to set these pulls aside and create space to dive into creative projects. So now we gather each month to make time, not as a workshop or a class, but to hold space and write permission slips to focus on the endeavors that make us shine. Some show up to work on creative projects. Some come to tackle Ph.D. dissertations, writing projects with hot deadlines, or map travel plans. Our tools include guitars, sewing machines, ink, books, hammocks.

In the summers we gather at Make Time Farm in Beloit, Wisconsin, spreading out across the picnic tables, hay fields, pastures, and hammock to spin fiber, compose music, journal, or just fall asleep reading a good book. In the winter we cozy up inside the creative walls of Madison’s Arts and Literature Laboratory. In all seasons we hold each other accountable to a technology-free morning (your phone goes in the bushel basket), and savor a delicious potluck lunch and conversation. Each Make Time starts in the same way: we launch our special day with a different creative prompt each month.

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The morning creative prompts vary from scavenging the farm for found objects to drafting two-sentence short stories to tasting different varieties of apples. It’s all about warming up the senses, tapping into our self-awareness, and escaping the pathways we regularly use in the world. Letter writing appears at least twice a year - the perfect mix of reflection, quiet, and quirk.

Everyone seems to have preconceived notions about writing letters, maybe scarred by those required thank you notes we penned as children, or because there’s no one on the other side of the mailbox. But there are a million ways to write letters that don’t start with “Dear Aunt”, and the Write_On Party Pack helps Make Timers get to that place as quickly and joyfully as possible. In the past we have penned letters to deceased historical figures, drafted our own MacArthur Genius Award biographies, and in January wrote ourselves long list of all the mistakes we hope to make in the year ahead. Sometimes these letters get dropped in the mailbox addressed to Einstein or Nana...and we wonder where they’ll end up. Other times we address them to ourselves and they are squirreled away and mailed back to us months later...like little paper time capsules.

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This year we used the Write_On Kits in a different way. On a sunny June morning we set out to write the hard letters, messages we needed to write to set our own selves free. Letters that never need to be delivered or read by anyone else. Notes we write with the intention of just letting go. Letters offer us this, the chance to meet a blank page as if it were a conversation, and practice starting that hard conversation that’s stuck or too scary for real life. All without actually meeting the eyes or ears of another person. These types of personal letters offer us the chance to get stranded energy outside of our bodies, sealed up in an envelope, and sent away in a mailbox. Maybe it's addressed back to your own self to read in the future, or maybe it's addressed to no one - but there's power in physically plunking these hard-to-write letters into an actual mailbox and off our own backs.

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Although we gather only once a month to Make Time, it becomes its own little practice. By setting aside that one full day, it teaches and reminds us to carve out our own quiet spaces and moments throughout the remainder of the month. I also secretly hope some of those quiet moments Make Timers set aside can include sending more good mail, and I think it’s starting to stick. “I've been carrying the Write_On Kit with me every day,” says Jac, a graduate student attending her first Make Time over the summer, “I haven't written any letters yet, but I feel the ideas growing and bubbling. Honestly, I think I want to write more letters to myself as a form of self-care, processing, and documenting this summer in Madison before I travel next year.”

 

Bio: Vanessa Herald is lead chicken wrangler at Make Time Farm in Southern Wisconsin, where she hosts monthly creativity retreats, scribbles endlessly, and makes as much trouble as possible. In the wee hours you can find her handwriting letters, crafting art with vintage typewriters, and committing to a daily creative practice. You can find her on Instagram at MakeTimeFarm

 

Photo Credit: Lauren Rudersdorf of The Leek & The Carrot and Raleigh’s Hillside Farm

The Gratitude Campaign

Today’s Reason to Write: Write a letter of thanks to someone who has "pushed" you in life.

We’re very excited to highlight the Gratitude Campaign that marks the launch of an inspiring new film, I’ll Push You: A Camino Journey of 500 Miles, Two Best Friends and One Wheelchair. The film is launching November 2nd -- plenty of time to grab a friend or two and stock up on tissues. For now, please join us for some writing!

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In today’s world, we are inundated with negativity. So much of the news is filled with pain and darkness. While these events that negatively impact so many people are a part of our world, there is also a lot of good. But the good often goes unnoticed. We want to change that.


So much of our story has been made possible through the helping hearts and hands of others. At the end of the day, we have much to be grateful for and most of our blessings point back to people who have pushed us to be better in life.


We have partnered with Egg Press to create a special way people can let others know how important they are. The film I’ll Push You is about community, kindness, and love. What better way to build community, spread kindness, and cultivate love than through acknowledging the people we are grateful for. I’ll Push You and Egg Press have created a limited edition write-on-velope that offers people a great way to say, “Thank you for pushing me to be a better person!” These unique letters provide a fun yet meaningful way for people to send a hand written letter to someone they are grateful for.

--I'll Push You

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Patrick and Justin, the friends in I'll Push You have made it so fun and easy to participate in this letter-writing campaign with three easy steps (they even have a great sample script if you're feeling at a loss for words!):

Step 1.

Identify Three or More People

Pick three or more individuals who have had significant impact on your life. These should be individuals who have helped shape who you are such as friends, family, or mentors.

Step 2.

Write a Letter/Note of Thanks

Write a short note identifying how they have helped shape your life. Maybe they helped you in a dark period of your life, mentored you, or helped raise you.

Step 3.

Post & Tag via Social Media

Use your notes to write a social media post thanking the individuals who have impacted you. Tag each of them and challenge them to do the same. #illpushyou


We're looking forward to seeing your posts on social media and learning about the people who have challenged, inspired, and helped you grow!





 

Letters of Thanks and Encouragement

Hard times bring the chance to come together. With so many people affected by the natural disasters of this Summer, there are so many letter writing opportunities. Why not gather some of your favorite people for some comforting togetherness and a little letter-writing to express gratitude to all the inspiring folks on the front lines of helping, from those involved in animal rescue to teachers ushering children to safety to politicians working for necessary firefighting resources, to those in the coast guard working in risky conditions?

 Portland firefighters at Multnomah Falls via  Willamette Week

Portland firefighters at Multnomah Falls via Willamette Week

We loved learning about the the Holy Smoke Thank You Letter Campaign where Southern Oregon kids have been writing thank you cards to firefighters which are packed in their lunches along with Calamine lotion.

The firefighters have been fighting for us like our whole entire lives,” Eager exclaimed graciously.

Aside from the good that letters of support provide for the recipient, writing letters to those dealing with hardship can also help us from feeling powerless and even improve our mood and anxiety in unsure times.

Need some tips and inspiration for hosting a get together?

  • Gather addresses to have on hand for animal rescue groups, fire stations, Governors -- whoever you're moved to write to.
  • The purpose might be serious but the mood doesn't need to be! Check out our letter-writing playlist.
  • Pass the hat and raise some funds for the charity of your choice. While letters are important and care packages are well-intentioned, the need for funds is great and every little bit counts.

Let Freedom Write!

Today is the 4th of July. Backyards fill with smoke from the grill, wedges of watermelon chill in buckets on the lawn, and American flag themed sheet cakes with bright blueberry stars and broad raspberry stripes are the norm. When night falls, the dark sky erupts in flame and boom, and we celebrate our independence.

 Egg Press'  Lady Liberty Postcard Set  shines a light on friendship, freedom, hope, and democracy.

Egg Press' Lady Liberty Postcard Set shines a light on friendship, freedom, hope, and democracy.

With liberty as our beacon, the Write_On team is taking this time to pay homage to one of our most cherished freedoms — speech — in a more quiet way, by writing letters. The privilege to put onto paper our truths and send them into the world without being intercepted while en route (this was not necessarily the case prior to the establishment of the United States Postal Service that we know and love today * ) allows us to share knowledge and become informed, educated humans, family members, friends, and citizens of the world.

When we send our letters — not only to loved ones — but to civic leaders and influencers, our voices have the opportunity to be heard, and to make a difference; our words possess the power to shape the world.

So, on this 4th of July, we invite you to consider your freedom to write. What is it that you have to say? Who needs to hear it? Whatever it is, may freedom ring, in every word.

What will your Freedom Letters looks like? Here are some ideas to get you started. Why not write...

  • A letter to an elected official to thank them for their work, or to advocate for change.
  • A thank you to a mentor who bolstered your sense of self worth by helping you discover your own unique voice.
  • A letter to yourself; a confession of the ways in which you wish you felt more free.
  • A letter to the Write_On team. You know we love hearing from you, and are eager to know what freedoms you most cherish.

* Roman Mars “ The Revolutionary Post” Podcast.  99% Invisible. Episode 244. January 24, 2017.

Write_On Youth!

Some favorite new "Reasons to Write", courtesy of 4th graders at Lewis Elementary:

  1. To ask the animal shelter for an exception to their rule that volunteers be at least 12 years old.

  2. To arrange a playdate!

  3. To write a letter to your pet. In their own language. "Dear George, Meow, purr, meow, meow."

The letter-writing experiences that others share via social media keep us motivated each year, but no one has inspired us more during this year's campaign than a certain group of 4th graders. For the second April in a row, Write_On donated letter-writing supplies to Portland's Lewis Elementary. Teacher Mark Richner (Lewis Room 20) devised an entire curriculum around the month-long Write_On campaign by working all sorts of lessons into the project ranging from time-management skills (they collectively decided upon when in the day would work best to write daily letters) to innovative card design (they watched a video of the die-cut process we employ at Egg Press as inspiration for creating their own cut-out cards!).

With enthusiasm and perseverance, they kept it up, even through a power outage that had the whole class writing in the dark. Congratulations to all the 4th graders at Lewis Elementary for completing the Write_On Challenge! And thank you for the truly extraordinary thank you letters you sent us. You are one talented bunch and we treasure them!

Every time we received a letter you felt warm.
— Sawyer
Thank you for the fun you gave me to look forward to every morning. I loved the thankful smiles and thankful words I got from the people I gave letters to.
— Joe
Handwritten cards are important because loved ones that are millions of miles away, that you don’t get to see everyday, have something to say to you.
— Mimi
Writing letters made me way more confident with writing letters. It was an uplifting feeling to come out of the day and have a letter to help me stay up.
— Naomi

 

 

 

A visit to the biggest stamp show in the country!

Thanks to Write_On I've discovered some beautifully curated stamp shops like Send More Mail so when I heard about The American Philatelic Society Stamp Show happening at the Portland Convention Center this month, I was excited to check it out. It wasn't until I arrived, feeling like a deer caught in the headlights, that I realized that this was a BIG deal. It's the biggest show in the country and people had traveled from all over the world to attend.

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I received a very friendly greeting at the info table and the seasoned vets weren't at all put off by my green questions. It's true there weren't a lot of young faces around, but they're working hard to change that and even had a whole section set up to attract a new generation of kids to the hobby.
 

I learned that stamp selling and buying is big business. The Harmer-Schau auction house was on hand with rows and rows of cardboard file boxes containing highly coveted stamps and letters. The mood was hushed and serious, which seemed appropriate once I learned that the auction the opening night had seen a single stamp fetch $40,000. I learned that it's not just stamps but envelopes too that can fetch into the several thousands for those that are historically significant. For instance, you can tell by postmarks if something was flown in a Zeppelin or a hot air balloon.

I think most stamp collectors have collector personalities. Stamps are particularly easy and interesting to collect. Stamps can be collected by the thousands, for very little money. They are interesting on many levels. They are easy to store and enjoy.
— David Markowitz of Uptown Stamp Show

My favorite part of the stamp show turned out to be the HUGE exhibit of Thematic Displays that were shown by individuals. Using stamps, letters, and photos these displays told different stories from every corner of the world. There was The History of NASA told through NASA Local Post Labels, 1967-1984. Another fascinating one was British Empire Anti-Communist Actions in the Jungles of Malaysia, 1948-1960.  With exhibits and dealers from Ghana to Singapore to Israel, I now see how stamp collecting is an amazing gateway to studying history.

Another thing I learned was that although stamp collecting can get very expensive, it can also be very, very affordable. I saw people culling through hundreds and thousands of stamps that were being sold for mere pennies, but they were nonetheless beautiful artifacts, and for the design and typography lover, an amazing source of inspiration. For under $20 I came away with some "first day covers" (envelopes containing newly released stamps), old letters, and unused stamps that I'm looking forward to personalize my own letters. Though I won't likely make it to next year's show which takes place in Richmond, Virginia, I have definitely caught the stamp collecting bug and look forward to adding to my collection.

Putting Pen to Paper

Our friends at Mac & Murphy in Charleston have joined us in taking the Write_On challenge. We asked them to share a bit about what letter-writing means to them in this age of mostly electronic communication. Thanks ladies!


AMI --
I was in my early 20s when email became the norm for everyday communication. I even have the email from my now husband when he reached out the morning after our first date.  One day, it occurred to me that all of a sudden everyone stopped writing. Suddenly, all of our personal interactions, every single thing we say, think and feel, is being documented in social media with absolutely no foundation for preservation.  By choosing to put everything into text, email, facebook, twitter, snapchat, etc… there will be absolutely no record of our relationships. No history of friendships, love, heartbreak, loss, gain....nothing to show for our lives or to tell the story to the next generations of our family. And that is a very sad thing.

For me, the #write_on campaign champions our mission at mac & murphy to "spread the love". Put pen to paper and tell someone how you feel about them. Spread love, encouragement, support and put some plain old good vibes out into the world.


LIZ --
Dear Elizabeth, Lizzie, Aunt Lizzie, Sweetie, Sunshine...the start to all of my best memories and letters.  I can still hear my mom say the words that she wrote so eloquently when I was growing up. I still find myself going back to re-read all of my letters, notes and memories.  Now, I hope to pass that along and remind all of my favorite people in my life what they mean to me with the perfect note so that maybe one day they can go back to that memory and smile.

I love texting just like the rest of us, but the joy + love I can spread by putting my pen to paper to create an authentic and real emotion - that's the good stuff.   Put good energy out in this universe and it will come right to ya ten times over.  Then when you get that perfect love note...Instagram it :)! Get that favorite pen of yours and WRITE_ON!

LACEY --
Writing a letter is so personal. I am definitely a fan of social media and catch myself on it multiple times a day but there is little emotion and sometimes truth behind a post on Instagram or Twitter. Writing a letter to someone you love allows you to step away from the world. It allows you to put all you feelings on a piece of paper that will be kept and cherished.

I have a huge box full of paper; letters, invitations, notes from others, etc. Nothing lifts my spirits more than going through that box and feeling loved. Writing letters of thankfulness, love, encouragement or just to say hi should be an activity in everyone person's life. Love others well and WRITE_ON!

 

Mail Carrier Q&A: Tips & More

We sat down with a veteran mail carrier to find out what it's like to be on the other end of the mailbox.

I hope people keep sending letters. You know, it’s more of a personal thing. Right now, people are keeping in touch but they use this (points to the cell phone) but it’s not personal. Someone likes to open letters – especially older people. That’s their joy. Sometimes they’re right there by the box waiting for it.

Please note: interviewee requests to remain anonymous for this interview. 

Write_On :    How long have you been a postal worker?

Interviewee: I’ve been working for the post office since 1985. So 31 years. 

Write_On :   What is your job title? Or what do you like to be called? 

Interviewee: Mail carrier. Not post man. No. 

Write_On :   What is a typical work day for you? 

Interviewee: Getting up in the morning, getting there around 8. And I’m a rural carrier in a small town, I’m different from the normal carriers so when we finish our deliveries we go home, we don’t have a set schedule. When I’m done, I’m done. It’s nice. 

Write_On :    Sometimes we want to stop and say hi, or ask our mail carrier questions but we know you're on a tight schedule. What is the etiquette there?

Interviewee:  Well, I’m very flexible. I usually chat with customers, we can’t take too long, but we’re very polite to our customers and friendly. 

Write_On :   What is your favorite part about your job?

Interviewee:  My customers. Getting to see people every day. I have a regular route that I’ve been doing for seventeen years. So I know everyone pretty well. I have lots of friends around. We’ve become friends. My route is 25 miles. I drive and deliver in a rural area, outside of the city limits. So I can’t walk, even if I wanted to. 

Write_On :   and your least favorite?

Interviewee:  The politics. 

Write_On :   Have you noticed any changes in the amount of letters being sent? More or less?

Interviewee:  It’s a lot less. There’s not that many personal letters. It’s mostly emails. The only personal cards we get is when someone passes away you’ll notice that. Otherwise it’s someone’s birthday or something like that. 

Write_On :   Is there a time when you noticed a decline in personal mail being sent? 

Interviewee:  When these came out! (laughs and points to cell phone). Devices. The internet. 

Write_On :   How often do you get to see beautifully decorated mail?

Interviewee:  The ones that have a lot of artwork are usually from prison! Usually they’re the ones that have drawings and stuff. But otherwise pretty envelopes you see mostly around Easter, Valentines. 

*Sakura recommends Gelly Roll pens to decorate the outside of your envelopes! They are waterproof and archival and will withstand the weather. The bright colors will provide a fun and cheerful greeting for your recipient. 

Write_On :    Describe a unique piece of mail that caught your attention. 

Interviewee:  I’ve actually received a coconut in the mail from my co-worker who went to Hawaii. I’ve seen messages in a bottle, but mostly regular envelopes. 

*For alternative surfaces like cardboard, wood, plastic or metal, try Pentouch or Permapaque markers. The water proof inks are durable and the opaque colors and metallic shine inks stand out on darker colors.

Write_On :   What are some tips you can offer for anyone sending a letter? Any dos and don'ts?

Interviewee:  Always put your return address. Because if you don’t do that it can go back to what is called “Dead Letter”. And it could stay there for quite a while. The inspectors have to open it up. Always put your return address because it can get stuck to a piece of equipment, or get stuck to another letter and can go from California all the way to New York before it comes back! 

Write_On :   What do you hope to see in the future of mail?

Interviewee:  I hope people keep sending letters. You know, it’s more of a personal thing. Right now, people are keeping in touch but they use this (points to the cell phone) but it’s not personal. Someone likes to open letters – especially older people. That’s their joy. Sometimes they’re right there by the box waiting for it. 

Write_On :   We started Write_On to promote joy, creativity, expression and connection through hand-written correspondence. How do you hope this campaign can help people to connect?

Interviewee:  The way we get paid is by how much people mail! That’s how they figure out our pay. (Laughs)! The best thing to do is write to someone in the hospital or who is down or isn’t feeling well. They love to receive mail. Older people love to get mail. Sometimes that’s their whole day.  Young people, it’s their phone. But older people – the highlight of their day is when they see the mail carrier. We’ve gotten invited to weddings by our customers. They’re like our family now. We’re a small town. We know everyone.