Thursday, May 31, 2012

The First Correspondence - Entry #6

[Note:  Each blog entry will not necessarily discuss every piece of correspondence I send out each week.  It may only be one note or card or several, depending on the situation.]
Looking over the first week of correspondence, it was an eclectic group.  For this blog entry, I want to focus on three pieces of mail.  The main theme could be described as the beginning as well as the end.  Let me explain.  

I sat down at my dining room table and opened the box containing my silver colored fountain pen, unsheathing it from its plastic wrapping.  I took out a few sheets from the box of stationery I purchased and began a letter to John Kralik, the author of the book, 365 Thank You’s, which was the inspiration for this Writing Project.   I thought it would be appropriate for my initial missive to be sent to him.  The letter was very straightforward.  I told him about the yearlong project, what I was hoping to accomplish, and the responses I had received thus far.  As I wrote I wondered if other people had done the same thing—writing to him about how they were planning to replicate his experiment.  I was curious to know if, over the past few years, he had been inundated with such correspondence.  Was he pleased?  Flattered?  Tired of the attention?  In the end, I didn’t really care about what others may have done.  I simply wanted him to know that the handwritten word, in this Internet age, continued to have a deep impact on people, including myself.

The end was represented by my middle daughter’s graduation from her New Jersey-based University.  Two notes were sent to the President and Commencement Coordinator of the school.   I wanted to thank both of them for putting on a well-run ceremony.  The weather was picture perfect on that special day, which was a huge plus, but everything about the morning’s festivities was flawless.  As someone who had been an integral part of commencement planning and implementation at another institution of higher education I was well aware of the potential pitfalls, problems and headaches commencement could bring upon university staff members.  I wanted to let these two individuals know that someone in the audience took notice of the school’s attention to detail and creature comforts.  I thought they would want to know how well buildings and grounds manicured the lawns and flower beds; that the early morning buffet breakfast, provided to friends and family, was much appreciated; and how the ceremony went like clockwork, especially the speed in which the graduate’s names were read (I timed them at five second intervals).  Too many times we shoot off a quick note or, more likely, an email to the President or other officials complaining and kvetching about the lack of parking, the difficulty of obtaining extra tickets, mispronounced names, poor seating, etc. etc.  I thought they would appreciate a “good job” and slap on the back.

So, the end (of this post) marks the beginning of the handwriting phase.  My fountain pen and I are ready, willing, and able for next week’s series of correspondence.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Comments, Cards & Correspondence - Entry #5

The first notes and a letter were dropped in the mailbox the past few days.  Later this week I will chronicle the first few correspondence that I have sent out.  But first I want to thank readers for their emails and notes (mailed to me) commenting on the upcoming Writing Project.  One individual stated, “I still write hand written letters, dipping my pen in ink and finishing it off with a wax seal.

If you have a handwritten story—concerning a card or letter you received or one you sent out—please mail it to me.  I would love to read them and try to share some of the content with those perusing this blog.  My address is:, 41 Crossroads Plaza #221, West Hartford, CT  06117.  As this undertaking begins I really am looking at this experience as a shared journey. 

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Choosing Just the Right Notecards - Entry #4

Once I had settled on a fountain pen my attention turned to the types of cards and/or paper stock I would use for my correspondence.  I searched through the stationery store’s limited inventory and wasn’t immediately taken with any of the 10 or 20 count sets of blank notecards.  I did purchase a small sheaf of resume weight paper but, otherwise, left empty-handed.  I thought of checking my Android phone’s GPS or asking my daughter’s friend, Siri, to inquire where I could locate a larger establishment, one that might have more possible choices. 

But as I drove home in a steady rain shower I remembered a box of personalized notecards, with envelopes, sitting on the top shelf of my office credenza.  They had been there for years.  I don’t even remember which of our campus directors gave them to me.  Every so often, when I wanted to personally thank someone, I would open the small container, remove an off-white colored card, dash off some well-chosen words and, voila, duty done.  However, because this routine was only occasionally followed the box was still quite full. 

There were also notecards my father, long since retired, designed from his collage artwork.  These abstract assemblages, made from a variety of materials, graced the hallways of my home and office.  For years he consigned one of the neighborhood office supply stores to print dozens of blank cards from his creations to disseminate to his children and grandchildren.

Furthermore, in the same drawer as my father’s creations, I unearthed a treasure trove of greeting cards that were gathering the proverbial dust.  There were a ton of them.  Don’t we all have that one location of accumulated chaos in our homes?  Or, in my case, two drawers of the front hallway hutch were overflowing with cards, cards, and more cards.  There were boxed sets; holiday cards; doubles and triples from my Star Trek card collection; blank cards; small cards; colorful cards; signed, but unsent cards.  My children’s handmade birth announcements were tucked away at the bottom along with extra wedding announcements (from a few decades ago) and their accompanying pre-printed thank you cards.  I didn’t bother to count, but I’m sure the stockpile numbered well over 200.

The rediscovery of my office notecards and home greeting card accumulations, now added to the purchased blank paper, should fortify me with enough writing stock to last, at the bare minimum, through the December holidays.  So, I am now ready for the Writing Project to commence, the challenge to begin.  I have identified the individuals for my first week’s worth of correspondence.  I am ready, as the striking paperboys proclaim in the Broadway hit, Newsies, to “Seize the Day.”        

T minus two days.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Selecting a Writing Instrument - Entry #3

When I attempt the New York Times crossword puzzle (only Mondays and Tuesdays) I like to use a specific pen.  Choosing the appropriate writing utensil is a small, but important ritual.  I want a certain feel.  The weight and balance is critical.  The ease in which the ink flows onto the newspaper is essential.  In a way, I look at this implement as an extension of my hand, my fingers.  Considering the length and scope of my Writing Project I wanted a special writing instrument for the daily correspondence I would send out.

I could have rifled through the top desk drawer in our household den for a suitable pen.  In my office there are a plethora of decorative and fanciful writing tools collected from regional and national conferences over the years.  Yet, none of them seemed fitting for the task at hand.  So, instead of exploring household nooks and crannies or ransacking office supply cabinets I resolved to opt for something new, something different.  I decided on purchasing an old-fashioned fountain pen, inkwell and all, to use for my yearlong project.  I had this romantic vision of being seated at a timeworn table with aged scars and markings, in the subdued glow of candlelight, dipping the tip of my venerable tool into the inky wellspring, and slowly loading the shimmering liquid into its chamber.   

Flush with excitement I headed to the local stationery store to sample their wares.  While there was quite an assortment of fountain pens—various colors, quality of craftsmanship, price ranges—none of them had the capability to draw from an inkwell.  “Too unpredictable,” the salesperson said.  “You don’t receive the consistent flow of ink as from a cartridge.”  Disheartened, I persevered with my goal of purchasing a fountain pen, one with the modern convenience of a replaceable ink cartridge.  Small, medium, and wide tip were the standard variations.  I sampled each, the writing device rolling across the practice pad with unforced efficiency.  After factoring in an array of variables and mulling over such minute details as color I chose a mid-priced, sparkling silver Faber-Castell fountain pen.   The company, founded over 240 years ago in Germany, is one of the top producers of fine quality writing instruments in the world.  As I paid the sales clerk I hoped my Writing Project could live up to the standards set by this celebrated company.
T minus 5 days.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Beginning the Preparations - Entry #2

Preparation.  That is the overriding buzzword that pulsates through my head as I set forth on this yearlong journey.  Who will I write to?  Will I just randomly think of people to send a note or card or letter to or will I come up with some sophisticated algorithm to guide me?  Who are friends or colleagues I have drifted away from over the years?  On the flip side, I want to keep the spirit of spontaneity alive.  While I have dozens of people in mind I don’t want to be so lock step in my approach to leave no room for brazenness or caprice.   I may also feel the need to be flippant or irreverent in my choices.  To put it simply, I’m averse to limit my creative juices.

Interestingly, as names and faces flash before me I realize a major complication.   I have access to the email addresses of many people on my write-to list, but I have very few snail mail addresses.  I can’t remember the last time I asked for someone’s street, city and zip code to add to my little black book or email contacts list.  In today’s world, what’s the point?  True, gives me quick and most likely reliable intelligence, but for a project of this magnitude I want to be doubly sure the mailing addresses I have are the real McCoy.  Of course, utilizing the Internet to retrieve the necessary information is only useful if I have knowledge of where the would-be recipient resides.  I may know the state or general geographic range of individuals on my to-send list, but not enough data to plug into an online database.  What to do?  I guess I’ll have to put on my thinking cap while I take a long hard look at what action to take when I cross that proverbial bridge.  In other words, I’ll just have to come up with some ingenious solution to stealthily track down the requisite information.  

The next major decision--deciding who’s up the first week?  Would it be best to focus on a random group of individuals, the first few names that pop into my head, or lean to a more thematic direction?  Congratulating graduating seniors?  Missives to family members?  Thank you cards to my favorite eateries?   The overriding question--should there be a method to my madness?  I ponder this point over and over as the start date draws nearer.  One thing I do know—just as John Kralik had kept a spreadsheet of his handiwork—who, what, where, when, and why--so would I.  Wouldn’t it be interesting (instructive?) to be able to look over those “365” next spring?  Would I write more to friends?  Colleagues?  Strangers?  What would be my motivations?  The Excel file would provide a wealth of data to scrutinize at a later date.  It would also help me stay organized and prevent inadvertent cheating as I strive to avoid people receiving multiple notes. 
T minus 7 days.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Introducing "The Writing Project" - Entry #1

Last month I posted a quick note on my Facebook page about how seldom I write notes and letters to individuals.  I was referring to pen to paper missives, not emails.  In our computer-dominated world this type of activity has become a lost art.  The response to my short post, while not overwhelming, was quick—people agreed and lamented this fact.  One of our University librarians also sent me a message, asking if I had ever read the book, “365 Thank Yous:  The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life.”  Intrigued with the title, I took out a copy from my public library.

The book, by John Kralik (now a Superior Court judge in Los Angeles), described his goal of writing 365 thank you cards in a one year period as a way to change his rather downtrodden life.  His small law firm was going under, he was twice divorced, estranged from his grown children, overweight—not a pretty picture.  By examining what he had to be thankful for—no matter how big or small—he hoped to transform his outlook on life and, possibly, change for the better.  The process to achieve this goal was through the writing of thank you cards.

While I would hardly characterize my life as in distress like Kralik’s was before he wrote the book, my interest was piqued about the challenge to send some type of handwritten correspondence each day for a solid year.  I thought back to the quick farewell cards I, along with the other staff in our suite, signed for our departing student employees.  These undergraduates were so integral to our office’s day-to-day functioning.  Did I ever thank them?  Yes, but maybe via a quick verbal aside or with a pithy email.    How many other people in my personal and professional life had I taken for granted or lost touch with?  Unlike Kralik, my proposed Writing Project would not be for self-redemption, but it would be a way to connect with individuals in a more personalized manner.  Sherry Turkle, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) who studies computer culture, recently wrote that “we live in a technological universe in which we are always communicating. And yet we have sacrificed conversation for mere connection.”  She is referring to how our face-to-face interactions have suffered in our Internet-dominated world.  However, I would expand her lament to the written word itself.   

So, branching off from what John Kralik accomplished, beginning May 25, 2012 and ending May 24, 2013, I will be sending out a written communication at least once a day.  They may be a basic thank you card, a congratulatory note, a holiday card, a lengthy letter, or an appreciative acknowledgement.  Recipients could be family members, professional colleagues, student employees or volunteers, friends—both current and long lost ones, and even complete strangers whose stories may have touched me.  The one constant for this yearlong project--whatever I send out—will be handwritten.  Yes, this is a challenge to myself—will I have the patience and perseverance to see this Writing Project through to the end?  Will there be 365 people to send correspondence to?  But, more importantly, I am seeing this as a way to connect.  Kralik states it succinctly:   “A handwritten note just feels like sincere gratitude.  It conveys your physical presence to the receiver.  You are right there, not far away...”

T minus 9 days.