Monthly Archives: January 2011

Nerd Attack!

I’ve been thinking about those articles I wrote about last week and I just have to come out and say it: I like “Dear.”

Granted, I must admit that I don’t often use it for emails with friends, or after the first couple of emails with professional people if they drop it first. And the articles are almost exclusively about emails, which I think most of us will agree are qualitatively and characteristically different than letters. But I got to thinking about the similarities and differences between letters and emails, and why I feel so strongly about the necessity of  “Dear” when I don’t always use it myself.

I concluded that “Dear” has two distinct uses that are sometimes conflated and dismissed as one anachronistic holdover. It is a very obvious split. One use pertains to professional writing, whether by letter or email; the second is for personal communication. In my view, the former requires a certain formal structure that suffers from the dismissal of a traditional salutation, while  the latter, by its very nature, should be guided by personal discretion which may dispense with formalities.

Thus, I hold onto “Dear” for two different reasons, respective to its two uses. In the first instance because it is a necessary courtesy between professionals. And secondly, as a personal preference in my personal correspondence. I had never really thought about the difference before, but there it is.

And now I’m going to talk about it. (Tally 25-29 continues at the end)

Continue reading


24. My second collage envelope: made from newspaper, painted tissue paper, and mod-podge.

Now I can finally send that letter from the 21st.

Front detail

Tempura paints on tissue paper, cut and paste, finish over with mod-podge

Onto the back

This was the front page of the business section in a recent NYTimes

I love the details!

mod-podge finish on the newpaper, but not the tissue

Thinking hard about that return address

Trying new things

21. my sister the second. -Boston

22. Joe O. -Denver

23. My first non-written project! It took a little more than an hour to prepare the paper, and then a couple more to actually make the card. I’m pleased with the result though! The shine is from the mod-podge I used to tack down loose corners. Next time I think I will use heavier paper. I don’t know how Eric Carl made it look so easy, since the tissue paper was difficult to work with.

magical bird delivers card in a jungle

A couple of close ups

Jungle tree with cool textures

Dense jungle brush





The back

Lion and mouse move in the same social circles


And more details




Are You Hearing What I’m Saying?

I ran across these articles about email etiquette on the BBC and Wall Street Journal this morning. They were particularly interesting to me because they suggest that I am rather out of touch with not only my peers but my elders and professionals too. (I thought I was at least on the same page with the latter two.) Is it possible that what I mean and what others hear in my salutations and sign-offs are completely different things?

Despite a few more sources and an amusing reader’s email, the BBC basically regurgitates the Journal article, the gist of which is that the typical salutation, Dear, is outmoded and out of favor with email writers today. The Journal even suggests, “Across the Internet the use of dear is going the way of sealing wax.” How sad—I’m very fond of sealing wax…

The larger issue, however, seems to be a general tendency toward lax etiquette which begs the question: Does the decline of etiquette suggest a decline in courtesy? The Journal writes, “Email has come to be viewed as informal even when used as formal communication, leaving some etiquette experts appalled at the ways professional strangers address one another.”

A breakdown of For and Against. Because I clearly have too much time on my hands


A year ago today Barack Obama shared a letter he wrote to his daughters with Parade magazine. I’ve copied the whole letter here along with the link just in case the url goes defunct at some point.

Jan 20, 2009

On Tuesday, Barack Obama was sworn in as our 44th President. On this historic occasion, PARADE asked the President, who is also a devoted family man, to get personal and tell us what he wants for his children. Here, he shares his letter to them. Dear Malia and Sasha,


18. Olive O. -New Hadley, NJ

19. George L. -New York

20. David D. -Cork City

Not much new on the letterwriting front.  I have new stamps, including some pretty awesome 17 cent stamps with a blue ram of some sort. Very majestic looking.

I’m also putting together a package for my soldier in Iraq, but I’m a little anxious about sending it. I haven’t gotten any responses to my letters–which is okay; I was warned about that—but I don’t really want to send a whole package if there’s an indication it’s just going to sit in a warehouse until eternity because my soldier is in another camp, or was sent home, or just plain doesn’t exist. Which brings me to another small point of frustration.

I like this project and what I’m learning as I do it, but it is a little disappointing not to receive letters in return. I know that many people don’t think they have the time, or procrastinate, or just aren’t inclined to write letters, but I can never quite shake the sense that something has gone wrong when I don’t even get an acknowledgment that my letter has been received. Did I say something wrong? Do I write boring letters (a huuuuge fear of mine!)? Did they not want to hear from me? Do they even care? Being on the receiving end of guesswork silences like that makes me more sensitive to the etiquette of acknowledgment that Margaret Shepherd writes about in her The Art of the Handwritten Note.

Like I said, it’s a small frustration. I don’t write just to receive replies (although I always hope!). I write to become a better writer and a better communicator. I write to keep track of myself and our times in a medium that lasts, that I can return to and that will perhaps lend my kids and grandkids and even later generations a little bit of insight into the lives and minds and hearts of their family. And I write to connect with the past myself: writing letters lets me feel closer to people from other eras, whom I respect and read of fondly. Austen. John and Abigail Adams. Elizabeth Bishop.

I know that there are other really great letter-themed blogs out there, and when I finally get my act together and meet people there maybe I’ll gain a few other dedicated penpals. In the meantime though, I’m going to continue my project. Yep.

getting harder

14. Mimi O. -New York

15. Niki D. -Madrid

16. my soldier in Iraq

17. Cat B. -South Hadley (postcard)

It’s been harder these past few days. It’s been a slow sort of week, and Sarah’s letter (#12) took ages to write (finally finished the draft! Just need to rewrite it!), making it difficult to concentrate on other projects. It occurs to me that I need to try to diversify the things that occupy my thoughts. For example, I live on the coast of the Hudson river and am frequently–more like twice-daily–struck by the way its natural beauty somehow still triumphs over all the horrible construction on the coastline between my home and the City. I seem to spend a lot of time trying (and failing) to describe it, and I’m sure my letter recipients would appreciate it if I moved on at some point.

This is probably an indication that I should be more active, no?