The Magic of Mail

brown paper envelope on table

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Yesterday I received my first piece of legit fan mail. I mean, an actual handwritten letter from someone I did not previously have any contact or association with. She wrote because she had read a copy of Train of Thought and it reminded her of her own Amtrak trip years ago. And she had to write to tell me all about it.

It’s a delightful letter, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading every line of its four pages. (I may or may not have already reread it a few times.) It’s humbling to think a perfect stranger not only read my book but felt compelled to dig out matching stationery, stamps, and a pen and write to me all about her own train adventure. In this day and age, who does that? Well, besides this woman. And me, when I write back to her (using a typewriter, of course).

Typewriter enthusiast and occasional actor Tom Hanks agrees with me. In California Typewriter, he admits that, if someone takes seven seconds to send him a thank-you email, he’ll delete it. But if someone takes seventy seconds to type him a real, paper thank-you note, he’ll keep that thing forever.

He’s right. Through LinkedIn, I recently I got back in touch with a friend from elementary school. She’d moved away when we were kids, and we wrote letters back and forth till our first year of college.  A few weeks ago, I sat up late one night and reread every single one of her letters to me from the 1970s. I was laughing and crying and reliving those fun, naïve days. I then snapped a picture for her of all of those letters spread across my desk. She was amazed. Next I’m going to scan each one so she can have as much nostalgic fun rereading them as I did.

The fun of receiving personal mail never gets old. It’s why I eat the cost of a few stamps sending Christmas cards to people who live just a few miles—or even just a few blocks—from my house. There’s something about opening that mailbox and seeing your name on an envelope that doesn’t have the electric bill inside. Something that says, “Hey, I thought about you today…”

The bigger tie-in? It’s simple. Tom Hanks is onto something here. Make the world a little smaller while you still can. If you want to truly touch someone’s life in a quiet but unmistakable way, write a letter. Use stationery. Get out an envelope. Buy a stamp. Then wait for the magic to happen.

What sorts of personal mail or letters have you kept over the years?

 

Vote for Secret Agent Manny!

Hey, gang! Do something for me, wouldja? Vote for Secret Agent Manny to win in the Mystery/Thriller category for the 50 Best Indie Books of 2018. Thanks to Readfree.ly for holding this contest!

VOTE HERE!

Thanks so much for taking a few minutes out of your crazy schedules to do a big favor for this pathetic little humorist, novelist, and scapegoat.

You guys are awesome. I love what I do, and I love taking you all along for the ride.

Secret Agent Manny

Random Grocery Lists

aluminum black and white business cart

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I admit I have one weird habit. (Okay, maybe more than one. Let’s not quibble.)

When I’m grocery shopping, I like to find a previous shopper’s grocery list in the shopping cart I’m using. I grab the list and bring it home. I try to imagine what situation at home forced them to make a list with these particular items on it.

Now, before you gripe, yes, I realize there is usually not  a direct line of cause-and-effect between the items on a random grocery list and whatever is going on at home. Heck, my own grocery lists are two columns wide, are ordered by aisle as found in the store, and make up more than a week’s worth of items that are running low.

But those short lists seem to mean something. Like, someone was in the middle of a project and realized they needed a few things to keep going. So, they wisely jotted down what they still needed and made a quick dash to the store… so quick that they left the list in the cart and hurried back to their cars.

In the past month I’ve found two of these little lists. What stories do these lists tell?

LIST 1:

quart milk
Sobee – 6
Corn – Sun.
Smucker’s: Natural creamy PB
     Smooth
Couple of Benefuls

LIST 2:

Soft Scrub
Clorox toilet
Jelly
Milk
Cereal
Baking soda

There’s a simple reason I grab these little lists when I find them. I’m going to continue taking random grocery lists until I get one that looks like it came from a serial killer (“axe, chainsaw, bleach, large plastic tote, latex gloves“). Because writers see stories everywhere. Do you?

 

NaNoWriMo 2018: And so it begins…

Somehow, today starts my fifteenth year of participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Somehow, I’ve completed the previous fourteen and won. Somehow, two of those books have become available to the public (here and here).

Will this fifteenth attempt turn into something Amazon-worthy? Only time will tell. But if Day One is any indication, I’m excited to see what happens this month. Wherever this new story takes me, I’ll be traveling there with my IBM Selectric II typewriter for the first draft, with my trusty NaNo Rhino cheering me on as a mascot. (I’d call him a muse, but he’s a bit of a jerk and doesn’t always like to help me solve plot dilemmas. He’s too busy eating leftover Halloween candy. Jerk.)

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Why a typewriter, you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked. (Actually, no, I’m not. I get tired of this question after the 237th time.) I use a typewriter because sometimes—just sometimes—you need to see the paper move. Physically move. And you need a device that makes it impossible to self-edit along the way. During NaNoWriMo—during any first-draft stage—you need to move forward, always forward.

Don’t look back! That’s what I hear when I listen to the hummmmmming of my Selectrics. They’re marvelous beasts for typing for long periods of time. I often have to tear myself away from the keyboard because it’s such a delight to use. Give me a Selectric keyboard over any computer keyboard any day.

If you’re participating in NaNoWriMo this year, leave a comment and tell me what your process looks like. Mine involves not only the Selectrics and the rhino mascot, but also copious amounts of caffeine, a lot of ’90s alternative music in the background, and a heavy reliance on voicemail.

 

Weighing In

blue tape measuring on clear glass square weighing scale

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I’m on a diet. Well, no, let’s say I’ve changed my way of eating. Doesn’t matter what I’m doing differently (it’s the keto diet) or why (I’m diabetic and fat). It just matters that I try to avoid that scale in the bathroom as much as possible (it hates me).

For years, we had an old mechanical scale in there. Oh sure, it worked just fine, but I wanted to get rid of it because it was ugly and, well, it worked just fine.

So I bought a fancy digital scale, even though I try to avoid unnecessary battery usage because, at some point, you have to change the battery. And whatever type of battery it needs, that’s the one I just ran out of.

But I digress. I thought the digital scale would be fun … and would be easier than trying to read the old-fashioned scale’s wavering needle without my glasses every morning (or every other morning, or every other other other morning—it all depended on how much conflict avoidance I was mastering that week).

What I quickly discovered was that this thing shows weight changes to a tenth of a pound.

Wait … what?

If you’re doing great on your diet, this is an awesome thing. But if you’re like me, you’re constantly looking for ways to fool it into thinking you’ve lost weight overnight. At least a little

For those of you who silently curse your maddeningly precise digital scale, as I now do, here are some tips for pulling the wool over its proverbial eyes. I bet it gets you at least a tenth of a pound lower:

  1. Stand on it with one foot in the air. Okay, no, this doesn’t work.
  2. Stand on it with one foot on the floor. Okay, this works but it’s cheating.
  3. Stand on it while leaning up against the wall. Okay, this also works but is also cheating.
  4. Stand on it first thing in the morning, before you eat breakfast. This should work, unless you woke up in the middle of the night and grabbed a snack.
  5. Stand on it naked, avoiding any glances in that full-length mirror on the back of the bathroom door. Some things you just can’t unsee. Your spouse may be required by law to see you naked, but nobody said you have to.
  6. Stand on it after you’ve gone to the bathroom. I won’t elaborate on this.

If all else fails, then try this:

7. Stand on it after you’ve trimmed your nails, cut your hair, coughed up all the overnight phlegm, Q-tipped your earwax, and blown your nose.

You’re welcome.

Getting Our Picture Taken

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So, it was time for the yearly mammogram. Oh, joy. One of the few times someone squeezes my breasts and I don’t enjoy it. It’s like getting groped by Optimus Prime.

But, as we women all know, it’s a necessary task as we age, especially if we have a family history of breast cancer, which I do. So, I go. And I’m grateful for the kind, gentle technicians who work with me. (The technicians are gentle. That machine, though, is another story.)

They’ve updated the tech since last year and now it takes 3-D images, meaning they lock one of your girls into place, squoosh it almost flat, and the camera machine thingy circles around the smooshed breast to get images from all around it.

Yeah, it’s about as much fun as it sounds. Especially when the technician has to remind you to hold your head back so the camera doesn’t swing around and whack you in the face. It’d be just my luck I’d get bonked with the machinery and end up unconscious but still trapped, smooshed up against the plate, waking up later with a monstrous headache and a big square bruise on my boob. Try explaining that to my insurance company…

Beyond all that, let’s review what we need to do, friends, to keep ourselves healthy:

  1. Do a self-exam at least once a month in the shower. Or have your partner do it for you for extra fun. Think of it as an Easter egg hunt for very, very, very tiny Easter eggs… that you don’t really want to find.
  2. If you’re over 40, schedule a mammogram once a year. This is especially important if you have a family member who’s had breast cancer. Or if you’re a masochist.
  3. Remember not to put on deodorant or powder or perfume the day of your mammogram. These will interfere with the results. Besides, you’re not there to entice the technician, right? Save that smelly crap for your spouse.
  4. Try not to flinch when that technician comes at you with her blue latex gloves and helps you place your girls on that cold, clear plastic squishing plate. And don’t blink when she tries to engage you in normal conversation while manipulating your armpits so the camera gets the image right the first time. (“How about those Steelers?” is a good conversation starter almost everywhere. Almost.)
  5. Getting pictures taken of your girls is a vital health screening for us middle-aged women. But, before you leave, remember to ask the technician for a few wallet-size pics for your husband. He’ll thank you. Well, mine would, but then again, he’s an engineer, so the rules of normalcy don’t always apply to him.

I made it through another mammogram last week, and I get to breathe easy till next summer. (Literally. You can hardly breathe when that machine clamps down. Yikes.)

I hope all you womenfolk out there suck it up and get your mammos! They could save your life. Just try not to take them too seriously while you’re in the middle of them.

“2018”: How are we saying this?

It’s been more than eighteen years since the year 2000 hit and we all started writing really wrong dates on our checks. I think I’ve waited long enough to ask the question we’ve been anxiously asking ourselves for nearly two decades. (And, by the way, how has it been nearly two decades since Y2K? That seems to be the really frightening question.)

So, tell me, do you call this year “two thousand eighteen” or do you say “twenty eighteen”? Or are you drunk or high and don’t know what year it is? (Okay, that last question is really off the subject. Let’s act like I didn’t ask that one.)

I find that I’ve been using the “two thousand” version of the year when I speak. In fact, most people I’ve heard say the year out loud have been saying it that way. A few folks say “twenty eighteen,” and frankly, they still throw me off when they do it. For a nanosecond I have to see the “2018” in my mind and realize they’re talking about the year we’re in. It happens seldom enough to feel jarring, even now.

Strangely enough, most of the times I hear “twenty eighteen” are on car commercials. So, someone’s selling a “twenty eighteen Kia Soul” or is begging me to come on in to get a trade-in for a “twenty eighteen Ford F-150 pickup truck.” (For what it’s worth, I’m not interested in a pickup truck, but thanks for asking.)

Now that this new millennium is old enough to vote, let’s ask the question we’re all dying to ask: do you prefer “twenty eighteen” or “two thousand eighteen” when you speak?

Also, was it a conscious decision or did it just happen organically?

Also also, do you think you’re going to change your mind?

Also also also, this is about as controversial as I get. Try to rein in your excitement.