Don’t Wait to Send the Letter

I love Proper Letters. On stationery, whether it’s plain, stolen from an hotel, or Sanrio, leaking kitties and wabbits in its wake, trawling glitter irritatingly from the first pull-apart of the envelope.

I love them. I love to receive them. I love to write them. But…I suck at sending them. I’m in the middle of a letter to a dear friend. We text, Whatsapp, email aplenty, but she went to a festival about which I wanted to hear and so I said, hey, write me a letter. She did. It’s fantastic. Full of the details and observations and feelings that get left out of emails all too often; coherent, instead of in little blocks of text or tweet which give you a fraction of the story, but never a beginning, middle and end.

Ten days ago I started a reply to her. Actually, I started one before that, but I scrapped it because I suddenly realised it was utterly illegible. This is a slight problem with being me, and, whilst having to force myself to have cause to pick up a pen, lack of practice with a writing implement is not the problem: I have always had awful, awfully scrawly handwriting. I quite like it, but it’s not exactly useful to others. Anyway, this reply. I got so far in the letter-writing protocol, replying to her letter, discussing minutiae, and then I went to get to my news, my story, the thing I was writing a letter for…and then I thought, eh, but I’ve got that interview tomorrow, so I’ll wait and then I’ll write about that. And then I went to that interview, mentioned in an earlier blog post, and thought, hey, I’ll wait until I hear back, and then I can write again and then it’ll be much more interesting, and it’ll be a letter I need to write.

And that’s true.

But here’s the thing. The letter I would’ve written instead of putting it off assuming I’d be more newsworthy tomorrow would also have been a letter I needed to write. The secret to physical letters is that it’s impossible to write a boring one, or a bad one. You can try, even, but it’ll still have a quirk, a sense of you, some kind of intrinsic value inside it. Over the years and years of receiving letters from my grandmothers, both of whom were great believers in written communication, I learnt that even the smallest comment on, say, what biscuits were in the tin, or how the council flowers were going outside could be amusing, enjoyable, or just worth hearing. I was never sad to receive any of those letters, because of what they were in themselves.

I did Postcrossing for a while, and found it greatly enjoyable – it is a wonderful thing, truly, to get post from strangers thus – but postcards different from letters, and there was always something else I hoped for, but didn’t get. Postcards are usually about themselves. About the picture on the front, the place they were bought or sent from. I love and appreciate all postcards, but a letter…that has to make a different effort. That’s about the person writing it, that’s the starting point, not something or somewhere.

The hardest thing with letters is that they don’t just arrive immediately. They don’t drop onto the mat in the blink of an eye, and you can’t get a reply that night, either. But that cane be nice, too. Sometimes you want to talk, and then breathe, and go and do something else for the evening, think about other things. Letters can take things off your mind for a while – not necessarily bad ones, just the jumble of stuff you keep there in case you need to relate it, or all the things you’ve meaning to tell someone, hopefully the person you’ve written the letter to, at length.

I suppose the point in here is that we should write the letter. Finish the letter. Post the letter. Always send the letter. Don’t wait to finish the letter. Just write another one.

One of my grandmothers, the one that’s no longer with me, wrote letters for everything, to everyone. For almost no reason, for all the possible reasons, from birthdays to Tuesdays, to saw-this-and-thought-of-you, she’d write aplenty. She never waited to send the letter. For her, post was still magical: although she missed being able to post a letter to London in the morning and have it arrive with the evening post, she still found it quite something that she could write to Cardiff on Tuesday and I’d be reading it by Wednesday. I wished I’d written to her more than I did, now. But I always waited to send the letter, always hoped it’d be more interesting if I just wrote another page tomorrow. I have stacks of post from her, accrued over the years. I’d have a lot less if she hadn’t bothered, if she’d thought she should wait. I wouldn’t have the little things. Those little things, those records of the people she met, the thoughts she had, those survive her, and matter to me.

Don’t wait to send the letter. Just write another one.

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Five Things People Don’t Tell You About…Being Busy.

Maybe you’re usually a busy person. Maybe you work a proper job and commute a fair way to and from it. Maybe you have small children, or care for someone, or run your own business and don’t recognise the ‘off’ switch, or one of any other possible human combinations.

Until last week, I didn’t really have anything to do in my day. That is to say, no-one told me to do anything, and I didn’t have anything demanding I do simple things like get dressed, or open my front door. Obviously this state of affairs didn’t also include someone rocking up and handing me money for nothing, but my time was my own, and I could ‘work’ (doesn’t matter how much of it I do, I really struggle to call writing ‘working’) whenever I felt like it, as much or as little as I wanted.

The downside of being an unagented writer is that one must spend precisely fifteen times the amount of time spent writing trying to work out how to get an agent. Now, I have a sneaking suspicion this isn’t the genuine truth of things, that I could, in fact, have got an agent if I’d only spent more time writing something saleable, but that’s another blog post for the future. All the same, it’s meant that any semblance of being busy – writing query letters, polishing words, researching who I should try and how – has been reasonably grim, and that therefore I have had no qualms about spending at least an hour out of every afternoon in the bath watching Hawaii Five-0 or Supernatural or The Good Wife (these are the three most perfect bathtime shows: fact). I have been perfectly able to fit in at least one workout per day, if not two. I have had no worries at all about spending two hours chopping vegetables and cooking them slowly and making something delicious and, perhaps, even nutritious.

But this week, this week I have suddenly become busy. I’ve realised I need more money quite urgently. I can’t take my time. I need to actually sell some writing, get myself out of my shell, and achieve some paid work. This need has coincided with the coming together of the plans for Meddle, a project I’ve been involved with for several months. Suddenly, I’m in charge of tweeting (follow the Twitter!), which also means learning how to use HootSuite (which is apparently an application so complex that it requires an entire ‘University’ course and an exam to be any cop at it) and organising all kinds of things to make this exciting creative conference not just possible, but properly awesome.

To be fair to my previous self, I also felt that, because I had no money and no specific demands on my time, I also couldn’t, y’know, go out. Anywhere. At all. For anything. So I’d just be here at home, doing not much.

And now I’m still here at home, but I’m doing all the things.

This is fun.

That’s thing #1.

1. If you’re lucky, being busy is fun.

Now, I’m not stupid. There have been other periods in my life (ill parent, ill partner, anything to do with ill at all, tax return season, deadline time) where being busy has not been fun. But, if you’re working on something you love (eh, this is the theme of our first Meddle!) being busy is actually really nice.

At no point do you spend five hours concocting serious opinions on Lindsey Lohan. There are things that actually need to be done, and one realises that having an opinion on Lindsey Lohan is not, contrary to some sections of the internet, important for me as a woman, or indeed for me as a human.  I don’t need to learn about stuff that doesn’t require my attention right now.

2. Time has lied to you.

Long hours become short. Every minute is a possibility. At no point do you become angry that you’ve got five minutes to stand in the middle of the room and do nothing. No, any five minutes that presents itself to you feels like a vast swathe of time in which you might make a telephone call, check your to-do list has been done, remember to take your glucosamine so your knees will stop crunching, see if there’s any food in the kitchen, that sort of thing.

3. Having a to-do list is fun.

No, really. It is. I know some people love them. Traditionally, I haven’t, but that’s probably because my day previously looked like this:

  1. Breakfast.
  2. Write.
  3. Query.
  4. Make dinner.
  5. Drink tea.
  6. Work out.
  7. Research more things about what I ought to be doing.
  8. Have a bath.

There are plenty of people who actually do this before the sun has even risen. And that was taking up my entire day. Today, on the other hand, I barely managed #1 and #4, and justified a list with at least twenty different items on it, at least three of which I still have to do tonight. Why I decided I ought to blog instead of having a bath and watching Supernatural, I’m still not entirely sure – perhaps I think this little corner of internet might, might be more use to me than swishing about in warm water for a while. (40 minutes of staring at Dean Winchester’s face is, though, definitely something that is missing from my life right now.)

But back to the list thing. I have spent YEARS accumulating notebooks, stationery, all sorts of things that I would never write my fiction on because, to be honest, I struggle to commit fiction to physical paper in case I need to delete all the things and do it again. But when it comes to lists of objectively important things? Those, those I can commit to paper. Those I can commit to really awesome Sanrio stationery and super, unbearably cute notepads that I bought from the incredible Korean stationery shop at home in London because I need to look at those things multiple times per day and they in themselves aren’t that interesting, but if they’re surrounded by a happy duck saying “Good friends put a smile on our faces!” and “I can fly! I am faster than the wind!” and the magnificent “Dreams create hope! Hope creates chance!” (who doesn’t love a motivational happy duck?) then suddenly they seem like MY DESTINY and everything is great.

4. It is genuinely possible to forget to eat.

I don’t think I’ve forgotten to eat…ever, really. I’ve never had any kind of job that didn’t leave me desperate for it to be lunchtime for me to have a break from my desk, as much as for some food, and when I didn’t have anything else I HAD to do, creating a decent plate of food out of beans (I can do a lot with beans) was as accomplished as the day got. But today I got to about four o’clock and wondered why I was suddenly so stupidly hungry, and, lo, that was because I had forgotten about lunch. I even had lunch, and it was even a nice lunch that I wanted to eat, but it was still there. Perhaps I’ll remember to eat it tomorrow? Bearing in mind that I am in the middle of a general nutritional overhaul, this is definitely the kind of thing I must prioritise.

5. It is actually quite difficult to stop being busy.

I’ve never really understood the concept of workaholic, although I’ve known a fair few of them. I don’t think I’m an inherently lazy person, or anything, I’ve just, always been quite good at saying, now it’s time to sit down and have a cup of tea and not do anything at the same time. Today I have caught myself chasing after my phone and laptop and constantly checking said to-do list for everything, whilst panicking that I’ve left something off it. Yesterday I didn’t manage to stop wondering about the things I had to do at all, and barely managed to cease business even for Parks & Rec (suddenly I have decided that show is wonderful: I tried to watch it last year, but it didn’t work…is it possible that its peculiar positioning on BBC4 has made it better?).

This inability to just stop does not a better person make. At half four this morning I found myself in a panic that I’d done a thing wrong, and tried to fix it for ages before forcing myself to acknowledge that my eyes were crossed and I was trying to work on a screen I couldn’t even see.

Sometimes, it’s time to not be busy.

But that time is not right now.

I’ve got at least three things left to do on that list, like I said. And I really ought to work out. And maybe even find a minute to look at Dean Winchester’s face. Tch. See you later!

Geek Girls Unite to Write: 7 Questions for Stewie & Emily of the IGGPPC

I spend time aplenty hanging out on Twitter for various reasons, and, whilst I’m there, I like to keep Amanda Palmer’s @ feed running in a column alongside things, simply because there’s usually a ton of good stuff going on in there. As I was checking something this evening, an @ to Amanda from @frogmellaink and @darlingstewie about the International Geek Girls PenPal Club caught my eye, and nothing makes me click a link faster than geekdom coupled with letter-writing. I had to examine.

iggppc-icon

Obviously, I signed up like lightning (I suggest you do the same if you haven’t and are interested – places in Round 2 are almost gone! – and Round 2 is full up! Follow links at the bottom of the page to get in for Round 3 ) and then I thought, what kind of glorious beings set up this magnificent endeavour, and why? So I asked them. And then I asked them a couple more things. And this is what they said:

1. How did this project start?

Em and I met as most people do these days, via the Interwebz. I think we discovered each other through Twitter and the rest is history. I’m a geek girl blogger, so I’m always posting about science fiction or cartoons or comic book inspired fashion, and I think Em has similar sensibilities in that she likes geek fashion too (I’ve seen her wearing Rebel earrings from Star Wars!!!) Em is the purveyor of a fantastic geek chic Etsy, House of the Fickle Queen.

Re: The IGGPPC origins… Em made a blog post about it (it is long and rambling, that’s how I roll~Em):
On Creating Something Out Of Nothing and the Phenomenal Response to the International Geek Girl Pen Pals Club.

And I made a similar but more basic post:
How A Tweet About Curly Wurlies Turned Into An Explosive Internet Phenomenon Overnight.

But the long and short of it is, we had been reminiscing about the days of getting surprises and thoughtful letters in the mail from Pen Pals, which is something we had both done in our younger days, and missed that fun mailbox bond. Also, as an Air Force brat, I’ve got a taste for travel (and love learning about other culutres,) but flights are expensive! Pen Pals are like mini vacations cross-country. And Em and I both hoard stationery (as many geek girls I know do) and wanted a purpose for our Sanrio and Lisa Frank stuff. And I wanted a Curly Wurly. Seriously. Those things are good.

(AES – Those things ARE good. All I can think of are Curly Wurlies right now, and the corner shop is closed. ARGH. Also, wow do I hoard stationery. I am super excited to have a reason to share some of that now 🙂 )

2. What’s the best letter you’ve ever received? Or, the best letter you’ve ever read?

My best friend & I exchange letters fairly regularly (as she lives at the other end of the country from me) but one that stands out isn’t so much the letter as the fact that she sent a cushion with a picture of a stag on it! (It’s hideous and beautiful all at once!) Unexpected presents are the best! ~Em

3. Any good stories to share from Round 1?

When we started, I do not think either of us really saw this blowing up like it did. Once Veronica Belmont tweeted about us and we were featured on GeekSugar.com, we knew it was something big. At one point I was refreshing the submissions for Round 1 and we’d gotten 10 in 1 minute. I pretty much peed myself then. We hit our 1,000 person cap in 3 days, 9 days prematurely, and that’s a pretty sweet thought.

The response from the geek girl community has been overwhelmingly positive. Lots of girls have posted or blogged about the project and everyone is very excited to connect! They practically smashed down the door of our Facebook, chanting “We want our pals!” It’s such a great positive thing to be a part of.

I would like to add that one girl put “animals who look like old men” as a geek love, which was a highlight for me because that is just a legendary thing to say. ~Em

4. Where do you start?

When your email conversation begins with your match, try to have a mini bio prepped. “Hi, I’m Suzy, I’m this old and I live in this state and country. How about you?” The basics are always the best place to start. Then you might try asking your new pal what they listed as their Geek Loves, because chances are we’ve paired you with someone who matched one of your Geek Loves…the conversation should absolutely take off from there.

It’s an intimidating thing, sometimes, writing to someone you don’t know (or even writing to someone you do!). Any tips for first time participants on getting the most out of the experience and not feeling a tidal wave of embarrassment the moment you drop your first letter in the postbox?

I’d say just be yourself and write the letter you’d love to receive. We have paired everyone so they have at least one love in common so you know you have at least one thing in common with your new pen pal ~Em

5. Gandalf IS my homeboy*. Let’s just take a moment to imagine he’s an international geek girl. What would you send him in an envelope? (cannot resist a stupid question, but I think a couple of dinosaur stickers would really set off that cloak)

I feel like I’d send him tea, flavored tobacco, and incense… I mean maybe I’m stereotyping him as like a wizard hippie, but I’m a thoughtful letter sender and I know he’d love all those things!

Dumbledore is my homeboy, I would make him sweets as I have mad confectionery skills ~Em

6. I happened upon your project via a glance at Amanda Palmer’s mentions column: she brings like-minded people and projects together like no-one else, sometimes without even trying! What made you @ her in particular?

We haven’t really tweeted at many ‘big’ name people. I have been a fan of AFP for more years than you can count on one hand, and as she is big on community, asking, art and creativity I thought, what the hell, if there is one person out there who’ll RT us it’s her! Pretty much all the rest is just word of mouth (or word of tweet, I guess would be a better approximation) ~Em

7. Which woman in history would you most like to write to, and what would you like to say to her?

Anyone from the American women’s suffrage or African American civil rights movement is bound to have a spectacular story… so if we’re going for history I’d have to say anyone of these women. I’d be desperate not to say too much so I could listen to their story. Honestly I have no clue what I’d say…I’d be all derpy and scared, but excited…like “Hi…HI HELLO HI UR COOL CAN WE BE FRENZ?”

For me it would be Mae West…she is my idol and she knew how to turn a phrase. I would ask her what it was like to be such a pioneering actress, playwright & screenwriter. She was risque, bold and years ahead of her time. I’d also ask her if I could have the spiderweb dress she wears in ‘I’m No Angel’ (opposite Cary Grant <3) as it is one of the most incredible outfits ever worn on screen! ~Em

And if you’d like to keep up with the International Geek Girls Pen Pal Club (WHY WOULDN’T YOU?!), find them at geekgirlpenpals.com and on Facebook.

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