Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reflection, FAQ, and Espresso

I'm not sure that I've been away from my blog long enough to really reflect effectively. For one thing, these last two days have been full of work adventures and more than my share of celebration New Year's Eve. But I do want to sum up the experience for those who are interested, and offer some suggestions for those who'd like to read other blogs. I thought I'd start by answering a few questions I hear pretty often:

Q: Does the President write back?

A: Sadly, no. I've gotten about 40 form-letter responses ("Dear Friend, Thank you for writing about _____. The President thinks _____ is important/complicated/challenging/essential. blah blah blah. Signed, The Autopen") I don't mind this, actually. The President gets 40,000 e-mails and letters every day. If mine never made it past the secretary's secretary's desk, that's not entirely surprising.

Q: Are you going to keep blogging?

A: Maybe? I'm certainly not going to continue with Dear Mr. President, if only because I can't commit to writing every day with school and work and my 2011 resolution to train for a marathon. That being said, I don't imagine I'll be able to give it up entirely, and maybe in a month or so I'll start a new blog. If that's the case, I will post it here.

Q: What is an Espresso Book? Do I want one? Can I get one?

A: The lovely University Bookstore has a machine named Homer, also called an Espresso Book Machine. This small press is used to self-publish or to print public domain titles. Because I'm a bibliophile and because the internet won't fit on my bookshelf, I'm going to print an Espresso book containing every letter I wrote this year. It will have no extras, nothing that you cannot get 100% free on this site. That being said, if any one does want a copy (and if you are my mother or my sister or taught me in Elementary school you are already getting one and no you cannot pay for it,) please e-mail me at I'm going to charge whatever the cost of printing is ($20-40 depending on the number of pages and the number of copies)- I won't be making a single dime on this, I promise- and the more copies I print the less each one costs. It probably won't be ready until February. It will not hurt my feelings if you do not want to order one so please don't feel obligated by friendship to order.

If you are interested in the EBM I encourage you to check out the Shelf Life Blog for more information.

Q: Are you happy or sad to be done?

A: So much of both. I've never completed anything like this before, and while I'm tremendously proud of what I have written, I'm also exhausted and ready for a break. I think this has more to do with the obsessive political news-reading routine I had going. It can really take it out of you to read some of these stories and some of this spin over and over again every day. That being said, I'm not a big fan of "story fatigue"- it has to be way worse to live some of these stories than it is to read them. So, while I am taking a break from seeking out the tragedy, the outrage, the injustice, I'm not going to live in ignorance of it. I just need a week or so to be a student. And about 36 straight hours of sleep.

Q: I need new reading material!

A: My suggestions for daily/frequent reading:

Daily Kos is a very mainstream democratic blog that has some very talented writers, diaries from dozens or hundreds of fellow dems every day. The site can be too conservative for me on some issues and recently the Israel/Palestine censorship issue stirred a boycott from many pro-Palestinian bloggers. For all of its faults, Dkos offers insight and analysis that you won't find in the mainstream media as well as many powerful personal stories from bloggers around the world. I encourage all of you to check it out. If you're interested in political blogging this is a great site to get started on- you'll get honest feedback and tons of support from the community.

Wild Wild Left is a smaller community than Dkos, and much further to the political left. This site is managed by a really remarkable woman who supports a family, struggles with a really appallingly unfair amount of tragedy for one life, and still manages to maintain her blog and promote other bloggers. She's been incredibly supportive of me and my writing and I'm always grateful for her comments and opinion (even when we don't agree.) This site is home to a number of eloquent, impassioned writers and a great place for debate and discussion.

My friend George is working on his own 365 project, called 365 spins. He listens to one album a day and writes about it. Music lovers of all stripes will enjoy his reactions to everything from Nick Cave to Mariah Carey.

Book-lovers should check out my friend Brad's blog UsedBuyer 2.0. Reviews, readings, quotations, essays, and caricatures from life and literature- what more could you possibly ask for?

Jason Vanhee is a great writer. His short story blog, A thousand stories and one story, is updated twice weekly (Monday/Thursday) and always a good read. He encourages reader suggestions for story ideas and also has more than a few great novels up his sleeve.

My blog list of links in the side bar --> has a number of other great writers, great news sites and interesting things to check out. Enjoy!


A: Oh yeah. I got a great letter from a lovely guest blogger, which I'd planned to use to give myself a night off around the Holidays. That felt too much like cheating, so I decided to post it here. Please enjoy this letter from Chev, a frequent subject in my writing herself, and if you enjoy it check out her blog at Jesuis un vagabond.

Dear Mr. President,

My best friend has written a letter to you every single day this year. I find this an amazing feat. In a country where we are actually allowed to criticize as well as praise our leaders, too few of us take advantage of that right. Some think she's crazy for choosing to "thinking about politics all the time" (I'll bet you wish you had the luxury of that choice, huh?), but I'd argue that she's taking claim of her rights and managing to stay on top of what's happening in this world. Which is not always easy.

I'm emulating her with my own letter to you. I'm not sure of my ability to comment on current events or offer intelligent policy suggestions, the way my friend does. The most recent news article I read was in a Time Magazine from August. What I do feel qualified to write about is my identity as an American, and how you've impacted that. In fact, I think I spend more time thinking about "America," the ideal and the reality, than most politicians.

I work for you, though you don't know me. I'm a Peace Corps volunteer in West Africa. Being so far from home, in a country that can feel so different than home, I think endlessly about home. I am surrounded by people who are obsessed with America. They all have shirts adorned with your face. They don't always know that America isn't in Europe or that we don't speak French. What they know is that America is a magical, wonderful place in which there are endless jobs and money. That America is a place where people don't have malaria and babies don't die from diarrhea. I spend a lot of time arguing for reality, explaining that we don't all have multiple cars and TVs and we don't all live like Akon (the eternal symbol of West African success in America). I've been trying to explain the abomination of health insurance. I spend a lot of time insisting that this country has a lot that America can't offer; neither one is "better", they're just so different.

But the truth is, I miss America. A part of me is glad that I get to live here just for two years and that I have America to return to as my home when it's all done. Some of it is because the grass is always greener on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean. Some of it is simply because, in a way I never could have imagined before one fateful night in November of 2008, I love my country.

The country I currently live in is about to have an election. The people don't really have a choice. This is a complex issue with a lot to be said about it but it comes down to this: we all know who's going to win. However heartbroken I was by the 2004 election, however ashamed I am of my country people for how they used their choice in this last midterm election, I have always remained proud that we have a choice.

Your election represents to me a moment when Americans made the right choice. No amount of CNN analyses or Glenn Beck rants or disappointing midterm elections can take that away. It brought to me the idealism and joy and energy that made me truly fall in love with my country. In your election I discovered within myself an overwhelming optimism and hope for our world which I thought had died. I discovered in others shared dreams.

I voted for you not because I expected you to fix everything or because I expected to agree with everything you do. In fact, I knew very well we disagree on some major issues. I voted for you because you are an intelligent, reasonable man who can defend his beliefs. Because I knew that when I was halfway around the world I'd be proud instead of ashamed to tell people "I'm American" if you were my president.

Clearly, it hasn't been easy. It's a tough time for our country. It's a tough time for the world. There's been a lot of criticism - some of it justified, most of it not. I don't want to dwell on what's been good and what's been bad at this moment. Maybe I'm just in more of a position to gloss over the imperfections than most. It's like the relationship most young adults have with our parents: maybe we're embarrassed to say "I love you", maybe their habits get on our nerves and we roll our eyes at them, but when we're away from home, when we're sick or scared, we just want the comfort and protection of them more than anything. That is how I now feel about America. Time and an ocean have given me perspective on what it means for me to be an American, what it means to be patriotic. I now can realize that I have a culture, and I miss it. I miss the American people, I miss the ease of interactions with people from my country. I miss my land.

If I am to make any entreaty it would be to ask you to never lose your remarkable ability to treat the American public like people capable of making decisions who deserve to know the truth. Sometimes we don't act the part, but we're grown-ups. When I walk into my bureau in the capital city, I see a picture of you. It always fills me with pride. You aren't perfect, your presidency can't be perfect, but I respect you and, finally, I feel able to respect my country.

What I really wrote to you to say, then, was this: Thank you.

As we say here when facing something formidable, "Bon courage."

Most sincerely,


Well said, friend. I miss you more than words can say. Stay safe.

I suppose that's all I have to say. I really can't thank all of you enough for reading, commenting and supporting me while I did this. I hope that you write your own letters (or e-mails) to President Obama or to any of your elected officials the next time you want them to know they're screwing up or doing a good job. The most important thing we can do for our country is to participate in our democracy and communicating with our leaders on the 364 non-election days every year is just as important as showing up to vote.

Thank you so much. It has been a truly amazing year.

Yours with love, respect and gratitude,



If you're a reader in the Seattle area, you should know that frequent-commenter (and Libertarian, but we won't hold that against him) Matt has offered to bring beer to blog party to celebrate this all being over. I won't hold him to his promise, but he does have a point about the occasion for celebration. I'll post details for that when I get it planned-perhaps once the book is done? Anyway, I'd be honored to have you all in one room and share a few drinks. I'll feed you all well, I promise.

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