The Futility of Writing Letters

Every year or so I blast out a message online asking if anyone would like to receive a letter or postcard in the mail, the condition being that they need to send me a response. Usually people say they would love to get one and promise to reply, but the replies never come. Or if they do reply, it’s one or two at most and then they dry up forever. There have been a few exceptions to this, but not many.

So why don’t people write letters? The most common response is probably, “I’m too busy.” That’s a pretty lame excuse. How much time do you spend every day playing with your phone, on Facebook or watching TV? Seriously, it doesn’t take much effort to shave ten minutes off of some time-wasting activity and scribble out a few lines on a piece of paper.

Another excuse that I’ve heard: “I don’t have stamps” or “The Post Office is so inconvenient.” Baloney. If you live in the U.S., or basically any other developed nation, this is not a valid excuse. Do you know how easy it is for you? Do you know the gigantic network of people who are ready to serve you by mailing your letter? You can put money in your mailbox and receive stamps the next day! You can put a letter in the mailbox six days a week and it will be taken care of!

Try living in a developing country. The postal service here in Vietnam seems to consist mainly of languid bureaucrats opening packages and soliciting bribes. Receiving mail here is a luxury for most people; it is not delivered daily, there are no regular carriers coming to every residence and there are no neighborhood post offices. I’m relatively lucky working just a few blocks from the central post office in town. If the post office wasn’t nearby it would be a nightmare getting things in the mail.

Back to letter-writing though, it seems mostly like a exercise in futility for me due to the limited responses that I get. I’ve heard of people looking up random addresses and mailing Christmas cards there; maybe I should try something like that with letters… I might get some responses.

I guess the gist of these paragraphs is this: take a few minutes every week to write a letter or postcard. They are rare and invaluable items in this day and age and show an immense amount of care to those that receive them. Also, if I write to you, write back.

2012: The Year I Became a Runner

Summary of my running accomplishments in 2012.

I started running with the intent to improve my aerobic performance for badminton. However, at this point in my life, running has taken over as the main sport in my life. And this past year, 2012, is when it happened.

In the latter half of 2011 I started casually jogging around a track that was across the street from my office in Saigon. On my first day of running and walking, I wasn’t sure if I could complete one lap of 250 meters. However, I surprised myself and was able to do it.

It took me six months to work up to running 5km nonstop. On February 23rd, 2012, I finally accomplished this feat, the day before my 29th birthday. On February 27th was the first time I timed my run and started recording times and distances to track my performance. I continued tracking times and distances for the rest of the year.

So here are a few stats from the data in 2012, the year I became a runner:

  • Total recorded distance (actual higher): 492 miles (792km)
  • Longest run: 13.2 miles (21.3km)
  • Fastest time: 7:30 per mile for 3 miles (~4:40 per km for 4.8km)

As we’re getting into this new year of 2013, I’m happy to say that I’m going stronger than ever. I’ve registered for a half marathon here in Eugene, and I’m thinking about running the Seattle half marathon at the end of the year as well. My goal is to run a full marathon in 2014.

I’ve gotten this far with the support and encouragement of numerous friends and family. Thank you; you know who you are.

On Being a Millennial in America

I am subscribed to Harper’s Magazine and enjoy reading it every month. One of my favorite sections of the publication, and the item that drew me to the magazine when I was a teenager, is the Harper’s Index. In the Harper’s Index, they list off a number of statistics in a manner that usually come off as surprising and humorous. For example, here are two statistics from their January 2013 issue:

Average salary earned by a full-time-employed male college graduate one year after graduation: $42,918
By a full-time-employed female graduate: $35,296

What they’re doing here is highlighting the difference pay for men and women and how women still aren’t treated as equals in the workplace.

But then I started thinking about my own situation as a member of the millennial generation, and here are some of my own statistics, presented in the Harper’s Index style:

Number of years since I’ve graduated from college: 8
Number of masters degrees I’ve obtained: 1
Highest hourly wage that I’ve earned in the U.S.: $11
Average annual salary amount this translates to: $22,000
Percent lower than the average female salary one year after graduation from college: 38
Percent lower than the average male salary one year after graduation from college: 49
Number of months that I’ve had health insurance in the U.S. since graduating from college: 3

As a person born in the early 1980s, I consider myself to be of the so-called “millennial” generation. Like many of my generation, I did everything I was supposed to do: I went to college, I got my degree, I volunteered abroad for several years, I got my MBA, I worked in a field I enjoyed, etc. Then in September 2012, I found myself looking for a job in Oregon. And I couldn’t find any full-time, stable employment. And I still can’t find any.

So what’s going on, America? I did exactly what I was supposed to do. Where is this well-paying job that I should have, according to Harper’s Index? Well, the same Index also has this item:

Rank of “attire” among the leading reasons “millennials” are unsuccessful in job interviews: 1

To which my response, in Index style, is:

Number of tailored suits I own: 2
Approximate number of ties in my closet: 20
Approximate number of tie knot styles I have memorized: 3

My qualifications are sound, I know how to dress and present myself, so what’s going on, America? Why can’t I find a job? Is it because nepotism, cronyism and corruption are just as prevalent here in the land of the free as they are in third-world countries? Is it because that, no matter what the job reports and economic forecasts say, the American economy is dying a slow death?

For such a large nation, an incredible amount of the U.S. economy is based on personal debt. You want a college degree? Here’s your debt. You want a car? Gotta take out a loan to pay for it. Want a house? Gotta get a mortgage and pay back your debt for 30 years or so. Well America, you tricked me into the college loan debt, but not the other stuff. Here, let me present it in the Harper’s Index style:

Number of cars I’ve owned in the U.S.: 0
Amount of real estate I own in the U.S.: 0
Number of cars I intend to buy in the U.S.: 0
Amount of real estate I intend to buy in the U.S.: 0

And it looks like I’m not the only one. Increasing numbers of my generation are not buying cars and owning a home is becoming a more unattainable dream. Good for us! If the American economy is suddenly faced with a generation of people who refuse to buy into these lifelong debt schemes, change might actually occur.

Allen Ginsberg wrote: “America I’ve given you all and now I’m nothing.” I’d like to amend that quote for many people of my generation: “American I’ve given you all and you’ve taken more.”

As this year of 2012 draws to a close, here’s my favorite statistic, presented in Index style:

Number of years until I will go back to Vietnam: 1

Yes Vietnam, where jobs are plentiful, rents are low and you don’t need a car.