26 September 2013

An Open Letter to Congressional Republicans From a Guy With a Gaping Hole In His Side

Hey, Remember that time Congressional Republicans shut down the government for the express purpose of halting Obamacare? Yeah. That was pretty messed up, especially since it was before the whole website debacle, so it's not like they even had that as a talking point; it was just Socialism and Death Panels blah blah blah. As someone who values being healthy but whose body often seems to have other ideas, I was more than a bit pissed. 

Dear Congressional Republicans,

Hi there. I'm a guy with a gaping hole in his side--not even slightly kidding about that. You're killing me over here.

Obamacare will literally change my life, improving my lot, along with that of millions of other people like me. And when you threaten to shut down the government in hopes of preventing this life-saving, money-saving program from ever coming to fruition, well, I kinda take that personally.


Credential Check, or Who The Hell Does This Guy Think He Is?

Don't you dare lecture me about the value of hard work and sacrifice and aspiring to be your best. I know it, I've lived it.

About that hole in my side. I have an ileostomy. Translation: my colon was surgically removed and now I poop into a bag. It's not something I particularly wanted to say here on my blog--or to anyone, anywhere. Hello, I'm Doug, I poop into a bag. What's your name? 

But you, Congressional Republicans (and with a special shout-out to Senator Cruz), seem pathologically incapable of understanding that there's a vast world of people and experiences beyond your own. So here you go; here's mine. I’m thirty-two years old, healthy, active, clean-living ... and I poop into a bag. Health care isn't some abstract thing for me. It's a weight that I carry every day--for years, a weight of constant, debilitating pain and anxiety, and now a literal weight, in the form of the poop-bag attached to the hole in my side.

20 September 2013

Real Mail Week, Part 4: Aerograms As Travel Guides

It takes you a while to discover the secret. The reason this letter is not just interesting but kind of brilliant.

David in Edinburgh, a guy you've never met or heard from before, sends you this homemade aerogram:

You unfold it. Inside, it looks like this: 

You keep unfolding and find an evocative story of wandering around Dublin.

Welcome to Dublin. You're going to love it. ... 
Big open field on the campus, tonnes of people lazin' about on a Friday evening. Sun turnin' orange and about twenty minutes left before it disappears behind the buildings on Dame Street. Smiling now, thinking back on it. You know that blue tint the sky gets on a hot evening in the early summer ...
You think: This is kinda trippy and definitely awesome. Writing with a serious sense of place and voice.

As you opened the aerogram, more sheets of paper, loose paper, fell out. You line up the sheets, take a picture.

19 September 2013

Real Mail Week, Part 3: Aerogram Awesomeness

I know I'm far from the only person who loves aerograms, those wonderful sheets of paper that combine correspondence with (super easy) origami--"the height of epistolary convenience," as Don George put it on Gadling a while back. (See also Evan Rail's essay "An Aerogram From Berlin" for World Hum.) 

And judging from the fact that my aerogram template has been downloaded some 9,000 times, it's clear that there are more than a few people looking for ways to continue sending aerograms, even if they're no longer available at any given post office or stationery store. (I did recently discover a form of aerograms, called Mailblok, hidden under a table at my favorite stationery store. Don't let the packaging fool you, though--it may say "Blue Airmail Paper" but the paper itself is that shade of blue known as "actually just plain ol' white.")

Anyway. I get excited anytime anyone sends me anything, but I do a special little Mail Nerd Dance when an aerogram shows up in my mailbox. Sometimes they use my own template. Sometimes it's one of the ones from Mailblok. Sometimes it's just a standard piece of paper that's been folded in on itself carefully. And sometimes it's a work of art. The master of the artistic aerogram--and postcards, for that matter--is Jeff in Aurora, Colorado, who gets points not just for creativity but also for diligence--he persists in writing even when the other correspondent (me) doesn't hold up his end of the bargain.

Here are some of Jeff's masterpieces:

18 September 2013

Real Mail Week, Part 2: Hemingway, Che, and a Bagpiper Go Into a Post Office ...

It's International Real Mail Week! I decreed it so, even if I'm the only one observing it (I sent letters to 104 heads of state, but they all must've gotten lost in the mail ... which is mighty ironic, if you think about it). Yesterday was all about the epic Pantone Postcard Conspiracy that has been filling my mailbox for over a year. 

Today: More postcards. Here are some of my favorites, as many as would fit onto my coffee table (about a third to half of the cards I've received since the last postcard gallery update). 

Click for larger version.
Now, the main reason I love postcards is that they're art plus narrative in one compact package that you can hold, feel, put on your refrigerator, or arrange on your coffee table. Beyond that, though--and I'm gonna get all writer-nerd on you here--I also love how they force you to tell a story succinctly and even give you a writing prompt on the other side. I particularly enjoy sending postcards from places OTHER than what's on the front, and then tying that image into my commentary on the real things I'm seeing around me. But then, I'm weird.

17 September 2013

Real Mail Week, Part 1: What It Looks Like When You Get 116 Color-Coordinated Postcards

Be careful what you wish for. You may be an aficionado of old-school mail, for example, but if you publicly proclaim yourself as such, and ask people to write to you, well ... 

They will.

That's only a fraction of the correspondence. Specifically, the fraction representing the number that will fit on my coffee table for photo-documentation purposes. I'm gonna need a bigger coffee table.

You people. You impress me. Your letters. Postcards. Homemade aerograms with elaborate collages. Correspondence from every continent except for the one covered in ice, which is considerably trickier in every way, and I'm not even sure if it's possible for people to send postcards from there (and my book hasn't yet been translated into Penguin, so none of them have written to me yet).

As for my own impressiveness ... well, it doesn't measure up, I'm afraid. I'm way behind in my correspondence--and "way" in this case means, oh, "In some cases more than a year." I'll just repeat that for purposes of full public shaming: Over. A. Year. Behind. I'm sorry. Really. Truly. Sure, I've got excuses. Which one do you want? I've been beyond busy. Had a book published. Went on book tour. Was a guest speaker on a big ol' ship for four weeks. Got more assignments, which I had to juggle with my day job. Moved. Planned a wedding and then, last month, got married to an amazing, wonderful woman (our vows were adapted from our early love letters to each other; she's also a fan of old-school correspondence). (Wedding pic below, BTW.) 

But still. I've been remiss. So this week, I'm catching up, at long last. I'm putting pen to paper and writing back. And I'm also putting pixels to ... well, pixels, as I also finally catch up on posting photos of some of the highlights of your correspondence. 


Today: The Great Pantone Conspiracy

As noted previously, shortly after I put out the call for correspondence, a couple of years ago now, I started getting Pantone postcards--that is, postcards that looked like giant swatches from the color company Pantone. To date, I have received at least 116 such postcards, from strangers and family and long-lost friends, from Indonesia and Switzerland and Morocco and Chile and Cuba (!) and other places near and far.

The pace has slowed down since the early days of the Pantone Conspiracy, but they keep trickling in--as you'll see, I got two more yesterday.

So here is what 116 postcards look like: 

Except, wait, right after I took that photo, I looked on the floor and saw that I forgot a few: