All my stationary for letter-writing

I used to write letters to people on plain notebook paper. Plain notebook paper is fine and all, but suddenly, when you are thinking about your recipient opening it from the envelope — and seeing the dirty-white color that tints to pea-green in certain lights, and the clash of the blue lines with the red vertical stripe — it always turned my stomach somewhat. A letter is like a gift — and you’ve already put so much time into writing it, and it is such a thoughtful gesture, it seems such a shame to spoil it with ugly paper. So I now have quite the stationary collection, and this is how I use them:

Number 1: Wishful thinking

This is my regular workhorse. This is pretty; but also mass-produced and somewhat commonplace. So I can send it both to friends, or just acquaintances, or anyone. Also, it came with 60 pages! So it’s always there to lend a hand when I need it. I’ve had it for 4 years, I believe, and I only have like 8 pages left. It’s just been my go-to. If I ever needed to write a letter to anyone, then this was usually the first sheet to grab. By the way, the green sheet gets separated from the pink Wish List. I got this for maybe $5 from Student Stores in Chapel Hill — back when it was still independently owned 😦 But I have seen this particular set in several stationary and office supply stores since.

Number 2: Botanicals

Now that my previous workhorse is near its end, I got a new one! I’m talking about the lined sheets on the right of this image. Again, very pretty, but still quite sensible and practical and straight-forward. There’s like 100 of those sheets, but I can fit less words on them. So this is now my new go-to. I got this for 75% off — maybe $2 or $3 — from the already low price at Half-Price Books in Rice Village in Houston (on the sad occasion of the closing of the store).

Number 3: Poinsettias

I do have one more go-to, though, but only during a specific season. If I’m going to write someone a long letter during the holidays, say between mid-Nov and New Year’s (as opposed to sending them a holiday card), then I’ll use this. I got this from a little printing store. It was 25 sheets for maybe $10 or so. I still have a lot of these left.

Number 4: Wedding flowers

I never like to send the same stationary paper to the same person twice. So, after I’ve sent someone a letter using the “Wishful thinking” paper, often I would use this. This paper also fits an awful lot of words on it, so it’s good for writing nice, long letters. The only issue is, it’s so sort of romantic, that I can’t send it to just everyone without it seeming odd. But mostly it was fine. I got this for around $1 in Amman, Jordan, a few years ago, and it came with 20 or 25 sheets. It was a little tumble-down shop under a bridge in the heart of the city. The paper is, however, actually printed in China. So even in Jordan, their things are made in China. Alas, I only have like a single sheet left!

Number 5: Blue paisley

The fates truly favored me, because after a few years of stationary-hunting, I became friends with someone who paints and prints stationary herself! She made this set above, which I really think is the most delicate and pretty stationary I ever saw. Honestly, the picture here doesn’t do it justice. All the strokes are so soft and fine, the colors are so dreamy, the design and dots tiptoe like lovely flower-shadows across the page. So, after I’ve written to someone with the Wishful Thinking and Botanicals and Wedding flowers, then I use this. Because if I’m writing them my third or fourth letter, then it’s obviously a very special friend, so I try to save that for this. The exception is, that this paper is so pretty, it can also be used as a “thank you” note — even if it’s more of a formal acquaintance. Also, I know from who I can buy new packets, so I can replenish!

Number 6: Hogwarts parchment

I got this also a few years ago from the Scribbulus shop in Harry Potter World. It was an exciting find — but I also hesitated to buy it, because I wondered how well ink would show up when you’re trying to write on something that’s already so dark. And indeed, my hesitations proved correct — I do often have to really smash the pen against the surface to make it dark enough to see. I always worried, are my friends going to strain their eyes reading this? I stopped, for example, using this to write letters to old people, I just felt it wasn’t fair. Also, although I was a Harry Potter fan, this stationary is just not that pretty! I even fell into a situation where I bemoaned that it contained a whopping 25 sheets of parchment — would I ever be through with them? I remember after having used it a few times, thinking perhaps I was over halfway done, I decided to count what was left, and I counted 17 more sheets. 17 more sheets that had to be written on! When I bought this, I still hadn’t bought “Wishful thinking” or “Blue paisley” or many of the other stationaries that you see here. I think the only one I had was the wedding flowers one, and that one is just too “I love you”-ish to be sending out all the time. So I bought this somewhat out of desperation — it was so hard, in those early days of stationary hunting, to find any stationary at all in the stores. However, today, there has been progress and I only have like 5 sheets of this left. I wrote on it to many of my friends my own age, especially those who I knew also liked Harry Potter. It was $13 when I bought it (I’m sure there’s been inflation since) but I wouldn’t repeat the purchase due to the aforementioned reasons and because JK Rowling seems to have gone off her rocker.

Number 7: Florentine

This is another stationary with a delicate design that is so pretty — and it comes with a matching envelop as you can see. It only came, though, with 10 sheets! So this is certainly not a “workhorse”, rather, this is a fleeting-moment-in-time sort of paper that I use for people who have already received 4 or 5 letters from me. I’ve already used 6 of the sheets. This was $13 from Payn’s Stationary Store in Berkeley.

Number 8: Too pink

This one is too pink, indeed; but it was priced at 49 cents at a dusty second-hand store, and I thought, who else is going to buy it? At least I know I’ll make use of it. And it did indeed come in handy, because like I said, I don’t like sending someone the same stationary twice; and some people I’ve sent like 7 letters to, or more. So in a pinch, if I’m rummaging through my drawer and have used all the other varieties, then I can use this. I only got it last year, and I’ve already used 7 of the 10 sheets it came with. It has matching too-pink envelopes. And even though I got it from a second-hand story, it was actually still wrapped in the original plastic wrapping (at least I think). So really it was new.

Number 9: Minnie Mouse

This I didn’t pay for at all, but found in a box of someone’s old stuff. It’s 30 or 35 years old, haha. And there’s still plenty of paper in this pad. I have used it to write to some kids; and for people who have reached the end of the tether of my stationary paper — and who are close friends — ok, and probably not any men — I will use this, too.

Number 10: Sweetest beginnings

This comes from a little shop called “Sweetest Beginnings” nearby. These are small pages, just a bit smaller than my hand, so you can’t write a whole lot without using several of the pages. This is good for writing short quicker letters. It was $5.50 for 25 sheets, and I have used 40% of them.

Number 11: too hard to write on

Someone gave this to me. It’s very pretty, but unfortunately, the paper is bad quality and it doesn’t really soak up ink or something. It’s hard to write on. So I use it like this: if I’ve written a letter on the stationaries above, and I just need to write one or two more paragraphs and I don’t want to use a whole new sheet, I just finish the thoughts on this.

Number 12: Rose garden

I don’t need to tell you how pretty this is! This is not strictly sheets of stationary, it’s more like cards, both where it concerns the shape and size, and the firmness of the material. I can use it as a thank you card. And, if it’s someone I’ve sent lots of letters to, and just want to send them a quick hello, I can use this. This was $14 for 10 cards and matching envelops from the same place where I bought the Florentine above. I still have a lot of these, mostly because I couldn’t resist and bought two packs!

Number 13: Rose semi-colon

My same friend who made the Blue Paisley made this. She had some spare sheets and gave them to me. The rose semi-colon is very pretty. Since I only have 5 or 6 of these, they are very special, I haven’t used any of them yet, and they’ll go to people who are on their 10th letter or something.

Number 14: The blue goose

I got this when I was seven years old, before I had any interest in writing letters. Also, I thought the blue goose was ugly and rather looked askance at the whole conception. It was only in later years that I thought it so cute and sweet and quaint. I didn’t pick it out myself (obviously, since I didn’t even like it), my parents did, and I think they picked it out because according to the price tag that’s still there, it cost 92 cents. Also, even though it was “for me”, by the time I rediscovered it years after the purchase, there were only like 15 sheets (out of 36) left. I maybe used it once in my childhood, so I don’t know what happened to the rest — especially since I think it physically reside among my possessions the whole time. Well, I came across it again in the early days when I’d started writing letters to people, so I thought its appearance providential and used it — until sentimental promptings took greater sway and I could no longer bear to part with it except for very special circumstances. You would probably have to be dying at this point for me to send you this 😦

Number 15: laser cut prettiness

When I was at UNC, I decided I wanted to learn all the cool stuff in the Makerspace, so I got pretty pieces of firmer paper — not quite cardstock, but still stiff and firm — so that I could practice with the laser cutter on them. But you see here that some of these paper sheets have lovely blank gaps in the middle where you can write; so I have used these as letter paper, too. It’s fun. You can’t write a whole lot; but sometimes the letter is less about what you have to say, than about sending something that is really pretty and dreamy and maybe a bit odd or whimsical. The problem with these is that I have never found envelopes that are big enough to fit them without needing to fold the cards — unless you get giant ugly envelopes. No, I take that back. There’s a stationary store in Rice Village in Houston where I found the right size. But after spending about 10 seconds in the store, it was obvious the family that owns it, and all their workers, are nasty disgusting revolting racists, so I didn’t want to give them my money. And although I have scoured stationary stores without obvious racists since then — and before then — I still cannot find the right envelop size.

A cautious online presence for a PhD student?

When I was a Ph.D. student, I got “the talk” quite often from family members, telling me that my online presence was going to be “problematic”. Not because there were pictures of me doing drugs or anything. But because I was writing an opinion column for the Daily Tar Heel (the nation’s finest university paper), and apparently I was saying things I ought not to say. What will my fellow grad students, professors, future employers think if they see some of those articles, I was cautioned?

So I held back a little bit — just a very tiny little, mind you. I thought: as soon as I’m done with school, and I don’t have to worry about what the department chair thinks of me, then I can be totally uncensored. As soon as I don’t have to worry whether if something I wrote online affects whether my dissertation is accepted, whether I get a slot speaking at a conference.

But … that’s not the case! Because as soon as you get your degree, then you want a job … if you’re worried about how your online presence affects your dissertation, then won’t you worry about the impact on your job search? And once you have a job … maybe you’ll eventually want a better job. And on and on. At each stage, there will be people evaluating you and snooping around your online life. When I was in the PhD bubble, I seemed to think that if I could just finish up, I’d be free from all such concerns. But no … they stick around indefinitely. So are you going to stay quiet about things you care about forever? What if other people can learn by the things you write about, or identify with the same experiences? Especially if those experiences have to do with racism or injustice of some type … or just how to navigate a difficult process … are you really going to keep all that bottled up inside you because you fear what future employers and your PhD committee will think? Cause if that’s the case, you’re have to keep it bottled up forever — or at least until retirement — although I’m sure in retirement we can find yet someone else whose disapproval censors what we write online.

Also, as far as I know, those Daily Tar Heel articles never became an issue for anything I ever applied to. I even have some of my favorites posted on this website, and I never ever during a job application process had a lot of people clicking on those links (WordPress tells me if people do). Even if you went onto the page with all my articles on the Daily Tar Heel website … see, I wrote 24 articles in total and a lot of them were very trusting and humble and begging. You’d have to go through all of them to find the angry, vindictive one, and a busy hiring manager doesn’t have time for that.

Also, at this point, I have even more writings online! I have this website and blog; then I have the articles I wrote for WIRED magazine; plus the articles I wrote for the Daily Tar Heel, plus other miscellaneous webpages about this and that and the other. Buried in all this, you’d really need to search to sensitive topics I’ve written about. Most people don’t have time to do that, and I guess they see the nice surface veneer of everything, and would never think anything else is lurking underneath!

So the doomsday predictions never came true. And just to be clear — I was definitely not throwing around racial slurs or anything disgusting in what I was writing about. I was mostly writing about Islamaphobia. And people told me that would cause a problem. Well, you know what? My soul might have died and the respect I have for myself would have died had I not written those things. I’m not saying I was 100% right in everything I wrote. In some cases, I realize that I even think a little differently now. But the idea of having censored myself for fear of what future employers or my PhD colleagues would have thought — it just smacks too much of mercenarial overtones and lack of integrity.

Also, and here I rest my case: Once upon a time a woman at UNC Chapel Hill was enrolled in the Ph.D. program for epidemiology. While writing her dissertation or something, she took a short absence and went on the Bachelor TV show as a contestant! Like, she was wearing pretty and skimpy dresses, and talking about her boyfriend and dating status, in front of the entire nation. She got lots and lots of press. But now she has graduated and is a professor at Duke and has published tons of epidemiological articles and shows up in videos saying very complicated epidemiological things. So if she could go on the Bachelor as a PhD student and still pull through, why should the rest of us be worried?

 

Finding a Syrian-Danish-American online

A long, long time ago — 2012 to be exact! — I read an article in the Huffington Post. It was a somewhat whiny article, I thought, and it was in response to some sort of uproar about Muslims in America happening at the time (though there have been so many uproars, I don’t even remember was the specific trigger was for this one.)

Any case, I thought the article was whiny, and then it also annoyed me on a whole different level. The author was female and Muslim and young, like me, and she claimed in the article that she was an immigrant with roots in Syria and Denmark. I seem to have a special affinity for getting annoyed at any American — especially a Muslim American — especially a female Muslim American — who claims roots of that sort.

So I searched for this girl online, as I’m oh, so good at doing, but unfortunately I didn’t find out a lot about her. Well, there was a lot of information, I suppose, like where she went to college, and something about her dad being really sweet, which I rolled my eyes at … but what I really wanted to know was all her history and all her feelings as related to Denmark. But I didn’t find anything out — I just found a video of her in which she further expounded on her article, in which she was three inches from the camera screen and speaking earnestly, and amongst the gobs of things that she said, she mentioned — rather flippantly, I thought — that her family comes from the Middle East and Europe. Again, I was so, so annoyed. And more annoyed at having no other information to go off of.

And mostly I assumed that her Syrian parents must have immigrated to Denmark; she must have lived in Denmark briefly as a child; and then she moved away to the United States, and she’s never been to Denmark since, and she has no more connection to the country other than some dreamy, begging sort of insistence that she really is Danish, something that she clings to so she can feel superior to all other Muslim Arab immigrants in the US, acting like she has some sort of direct link when probably she doesn’t know any Danish, doesn’t remember anything about Denmark, doesn’t have anything to do with Denmark, and just holds Denmark up as some flashy ornament to decorate herself that she never even had to pay for. Whew!

So I kept on thinking all that about her; every once in a while, I’d search her name and see if I could discover something else, but I never did. Considering that was back in 2012, I of course went through transitions, moves, and living as the years went by, and eventually, I forgot to search for this Muslim American with roots in Syria in Denmark, and at last, I even forgot her name. There came a few times within the last few years when I remembered her and felt curious, but try as I might, I couldn’t find her.

Now, it’s eight years later, and I find myself back to where I started in North Carolina. Maybe it’s been staying home all the time for quarantine, but over these last weeks my curiosity grew over finding this person. Every time I searched for things like Danish Syrian American Muslim writer or Muslim American with Danish and Syrian background, the wrong things were coming up. The only other things I remembered were that I had first encountered her in an article she’d written for the Huffington Post, that she was a fresh college graduate in 2012, or soon-to-be, and that she’d called her dad sweet in the article. Finally, I started searching for things like Syrian-Danish-American female writer Huffington Post. Or for Syrian-Danish-American university student. Still nothing … and I feared that, now that it’s eight years later, this person’s assumed-to-be tenuous links with Denmark must be even more tenuous. Maybe she’s even erased all mention of Denmark from her online presence.

At long last, I went back to the detail about her dad being sweet, and I searched for Huffington Post muslim dads sweet. The third result was a HuffPost article somewhat cheesily titled I am not oppressed. It seemed promising; I clicked; and I found her. There is was. The female Muslim American who writes and has roots in Denmark and Syria.

Now that I knew her name, I could search for her outright. This lady has built her own media company since I last ‘met’ her eight years ago, and has articles about her on CNN and everywhere. She’s on all these 30 under 30 lists. I found her Twitter account, where not only was she followed by people I know (so close!) but in her profile description she has the word immigrant followed by a Danish flag. Ha! I found out her birthdate, the year she was born; and yes, I got confirmation that she had in fact been born in Denmark, back in 1991. I think back to what I was doing in 1991 — not too far from this girl’s very birthdate, in fact, and it makes me a little sad. Oh well. The whims of fate and destiny.

Seeing that Danish flag, of course I was all ready to think: aha! Still at it! Still clinging on to Denmark just because she wants to, like a hollow empty jug she’s lugging around. Well, I kept poking around the Internet, as I do, and eventually, after finding out how many brothers and sisters she had and all about her experiences after September 11, I discovered her mother. Her mother, who is a common housewife, is not so common: she started a whole initiative to help Syria and has a Wikipedia page. Her mother, in fact, has a TED Talk you can watch online (so does the daughter). And on the Wikipedia page, I found out that not only was the girl I’d been searching for all this time born in Denmark, but in fact, so was her mom. Her mom had not in fact immigrated from Syria at all, though I guess her mom’s parents did. The mom not only was born in Denmark, but grew up there, went to school there, I guess got married there, lived the first years of domestic bliss there, and gave birth to her oldest daughter there, before moving away. See, I had made some problematic assumptions of my own: it had never occurred to me that all this might be the case. I’m so used to thinking that Arab or Muslim parents in Europe or the US must be immigrants, what else could they be? So now I can see what she meant by always saying she was an immigrant to the US with roots in Syria and Denmark.

Scicomm tips: making maps

I had to make a map of Brazil — of a specific province in Brazil called Paraná. The map was for this story, that I also wrote. The map is the second image. I know it looks small and insignificant, but my, that map took me a long time to make.

It first takes a while to process through what maps you will need. Then you have to find them. In my case, I need at the very least a map of Brazil and a map of Paraná. Luckily, I found those shapefiles (map files) easily enough through quick searches. And then I opened up the map software I like to use, which is QGIS.

I like that one because it is free and open-source, and who wants to pay or get reliant on ArcGIS anyways?!

Now, what I still had to figure out was, how would I add the rest of the world in the background. First, I tried with the OpenStreetMap option that is available right in QGIS.

Adriana Alves parana map
Map with OpenStreetMap in the background.

However, I ended up not liking this because way too many cities were labeled, and there were distracting black squiggles that you couldn’t even read everywhere. It just made the map look busy and pock-marked.

Luckily, I then ran into something called Natural Earth. It’s a map-making kit. I found it on this great tutorial that explains how to make pretty maps in QGIS. I have been using this tutorial, I believe, for perhaps 8 years by now. I discovered when I was working in Maryland. And this tutorial is so nice and step-by-step, and it keeps getting updated. It is still as relevant for QGIS today as it was 8 years ago. I swear, every time I make a map in QGIS, I come back to this tutorial. This time, it’s been updated with a link to the Natural Earth kit. I downloaded the kit and used it for my own map of Brazil. It took a bit of clicking around to understand how the maps in the kit are arranged, but I finally figured it out, and I ended up with a nice background of the western hemisphere:

Adriana Alves parana map 3
A nice map showing Paraná in Brazil. Made with Natural Earth.

Maybe I should have made the inset map of Paraná smaller? Well, any case, I’m sure there’s still room for improvements, but it’s a nicer and cleaner map than the first one I made. At least, you can see exactly where Paraná is, right? That was the whole point.

All about pens

Today I saw an hour-long demonstration by a professor at Rice, all about pens. It was very interesting!

He had a pen straight out of the 1800s, or 1700s. It doesn’t look like a pen; it looks like something you’d have in a toolbox to scrape paint. It’s a wooden stick to grip, and then it has a metal “nib” on the top. There’s no thin tube of ink on the inside, indeed, there’s no space to shove in such a tube in the first place. Instead, you have a little pot of black ink beside you, and you actually sit and dip your pen in the inkpot, and then you write or scribble or draw a few strokes, and then back you are in the inkpot, dipping your pen. This is called a “dipping-pen”. I’m amazed! I never knew that was how it worked. What in the world. So that’s how they wrote in the olden days, apparently. You just dipped your dipping-pen into a pot of ink, and that would be enough ink to maybe write a word, and then you dip and repeat.

Also, did you know that you can apparently (try to) take a syringe, break into your pen, squeeze all the ink out with the syringe, and then replace it with whatever type and whatever color ink you like? Sometimes it works, sometimes you just destroy the pen.

“We fell in love in a hopeless place”

This was my third article for The Daily Tar Heel: “We fell in love in a hopeless place.”

If you go to my “writing” page, you will see that it’s one of my favorite articles that I wrote.

I wrote it during a pretty stressful time; and I wrote and re-wrote and crafted every word as carefully as I could.

And I always thought I must have succeeded in what I was trying to say, because afterwards, some people came up to me and told me in person they’d liked it; others wrote Facebook messages. Sometimes it was messages from strangers. It meant a lot. I was always very happy with that article.

I just re-read it for the first time in over a year, and now I’m not so sure! Is it too jumpy? I mean, I had a 500 word limit, so things had to be kept tight, but I seem to zig and zag from topic to topic without ceremony, and even though I wrote it, and it’s my own experience, I got a little confused – wait a second, what are you (am I) talking about!