First wave of ink + sky postcards!

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The first wave of ink + sky postcards was mailed out yesterday to a group of former students. They live in states including Michigan, Georgia, Ohio, and Illinois. The second wave of postcards departed this morning.

If you are a former student of mine and would like to participate in the Postcard Project, please message me on Facebook. I have three cards remaining. There is no cost for you to be involved; I am taking care of all of the shipping expenses.

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The envelopes pictured above, which I found at STAPLES, feature stamps from the O Beautiful” series that was released by the United States Postal Service on July 4, 2018. Unfortunately, they are no longer available for purchase.

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Note — The image of the “O Beautiful” stamps was found at the United States Postal Service’s website.

Send your love a letter

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With all due respect to the appeal of flowers, chocolates, and fancy dinners, have you considered writing a letter to express your feelings? There’s still time.

It can be simple, inexpensive, and absent of rhyme. (Leave the poetry to the poets.)

But your note can possess the strength to last forever — to serve as a timeless symbol of your devotion, your gratitude, and your heartfelt sentiments.

Try something different this year: send your love a letter.

Postcard Project

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Dear former students,

This website, ink + sky, functions like a classroom; it is a place for learning, growth, community, and creativity. It is a safe space. Like my former classroom, my blog is not a place for harm or hate.

It is also not a platform for advancing others’ personal agendas or promotional campaigns. We all possess invaluable First Amendment rights, and venues and vehicles exist for us to exercise those rights. Please take advantage of those resources instead of attempting to use ink + sky. Thank you.

Please read the following information carefully before you request a postcard:

Harm

If your response to the writing prompt (“I am trying to figure out…”) suggests any of the following, your postcard will not be published:

  • Harming yourself.
  • Harming someone else.
  • Being harmed by someone else.

For help in these matters, please contact local law enforcement, a health-care provider, and/or a trusted friend or family member.

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Hate

If your response suggests any of the following, your postcard will not be published:

  • Hate language of any kind, including symbols and/or images that represent hate groups, their missions, and/or their tactics.
  • Religious or political criticism.
  • Slurs and/or derogatory language related to gender, sexual orientation, religion, nationality, ethnic and/or racial identity, age, class, financial status, and disability.
  • Defamation of another’s character.
  • Support for any activity (criminal in nature) that could result in distress to people and/or animals.

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Personal Agendas and Promotional Campaigns 

To exercise your rights of free speech and expression, please consider starting your own blog if you would like to advance a personal agenda or distribute promotional media. 

If your response suggests any of the following, your postcard will not be published:

  • Religious or political commentary. This includes contentious public policy issues (border wall, immigration, health care, etc.).
  • Profanity beyond those words permitted in classrooms (i.e. Mr. Bishop’s).
  • Recreational drug use, even of legal substances (e.g. alcohol and marijuana).
  • Any references to the debates about abortion, gun control, euthanasia, the drinking age, and/or drug legalization.
  • The naming, description, and/or imagery of genitals and/or sexual acts.
  • Advertising for non-profit organizations or for-profit entities (companies, individuals, etc.).
  • Marketing (web addresses, phone numbers, street addresses, QR codes, etc.).
  • Publicity for gangs and/or gang membership.
  • “Secret codes” of numbers, letters, and/or symbols that could be used to transmit information to others in order to advance a personal agenda.

Classroom

My blog, ink + sky, functions like a classroom; it is a place for learning, growth, community, and creativity. It is a safe space.

Assuming you have read this far — and that you agree to the parameters described above — please message me on Facebook and include this phrase: make it count. I will mail you a pre-stamped postcard like the one below. Directions are printed on its reverse side. The rest is up to you.

Note — A limited number of postcards have been created. Please request one only if you are committed to completing it and mailing it back to me. I am covering all of the expenses of this writing project. Be mindful of that fact.

We are all people first.

Sincerely,
Mr. Bishop

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Note — The photograph featuring the “no hate” sign was taken by T. Chick McClure, and it is available on unsplash.com. The image of the binder and bar chart is by rawpixel, and it was obtained from unsplash.com.

A letter to Terry Bradshaw

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With the Super Bowl coming up tomorrow, the time is right to share these two artifacts from my younger days — a colored-pencil illustration and a printed letter to former Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw. If you watch Fox NFL Sunday, then you are likely familiar with Bradshaw’s unique mix of humor and insight.

Growing up in the 1970s and early 80s in Pittsburgh, PA, my brother and I quickly became fans of the hometown Steelers and their roster of now-legendary players including wide receivers John Stallworth and Lynn Swann, defensive tackle “Mean” Joe Greene, linebacker Jack Lambert, fullback Franco Harris, and center Mike Webster. Please see the end of this blog post for critical health information about Webster, who tragically died at the age of 50.

These men that we cheered on felt less like all-stars and more like the tough blue-collar laborers who spent their days in front of blast furnaces in Pittsburgh’s steel mills. The members of our football team were symbolic neighbors. Here is an example of those everyday heroes. These are the members of the formidable defensive line known as the Steel Curtain: Joe Greene, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White, and Ernie Holmes.

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Although I never played even one season of touch football as a kid, cheering on the black and gold was almost a cultural requirement if you lived in Pittsburgh at that time. After all, under the watchful gaze of coach Chuck Noll, the Steelers won the Super Bowl in 1975, 1976, 1979, and 1980. They were the first NFL team to win four championships.

It must have been close to 1980 when I created the illustration pictured above — and the letter seen below. Despite the time and effort that were invested in these two pieces, I never mailed them to their intended recipient. Sorry, Terry. I hope you can forgive me.

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The sheer number of spelling errors is laughable given the fact that I became a high-school teacher and earned a master’s degree in English literature and composition. But at least you can see that even as an elementary school student I was dutifully editing my initial draft. The erasures are evident, but my “corrections” may be just as bad as — if not worse than — the mistakes that came before them. I was really trying hard, though.

What I find especially charming is the question that concludes the letter:

isn’t it niec Terry _____?”

The superscript yes no and accompanying arrow bring to mind the stereotypical folded paper note passed to a love interest across the classroom. Such missives often seek an answer to this question: “Do you like me? Yes or No.”

I’ll never know if Mr. Bradshaw would have found value in my artwork or composition skills, but as a man in his forties I take pride in the fact that I created these offerings — and that I was thoughtful enough to keep them as part of my small collection of childhood memorabilia. I still enjoy expressing my creativity, and I love to explore the possibilities of the written word. Those two interests have only grown.

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This Sunday the venerable Tom Brady (age 41) and the much younger Jared Goff (age 24) will take the field at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta with their teams, the Patriots and Rams. Although I may watch part of Super Bowl LIII, I’ll still be rooting for the Terry Bradshaw and Pittsburgh Steelers of my youth. The game seemed much simpler then, more like a true athletic contest than a media-saturated “event.”

But I recognize that somewhere in New England and Los Angeles there are young boys — and girls! — excitedly drawing pictures of their gridiron heroes and penning sincere letters of admiration. I hope that the parents of those children encourage them, and that they search out stamps, envelopes, and mailing addresses. But before you send off their illustrations and fan mail, please take pictures of their finished work. Years from now, you’ll be grateful that you did.

The Brothers Bishop (1980) — Pittsburgh, PA

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The importance of Mike Webster (1952-2002):

If you have seen the 2015 film Concussion, which stars Will Smith as the real physician Dr. Bennett Omalu, then you are likely aware of Mike Webster’s name. In that sobering movie, Webster is played by actor David Morse; his portrayal of the declining physical and mental health of the former Pittsburgh player is haunting. If you enjoy football, I strongly encourage you to watch this film.

Mike Webster, who was a Hall of Fame athlete and recipient of four Super Bowl championship rings, played for the Steelers from 1974 to 1988. But the man known as “Iron Mike” eventually suffered unbelievable horrors because of the game he loved. As a center, Webster’s body — including his head — was hit repeatedly by opponents. The innumerable collisions caused what is now recognized as CTE or chronic traumatic encephalopathy. The condition, which forensic pathologist Dr. Omalu was instrumental in identifying, is unforgiving in the way that it destroys the brain.

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After his career ended in 1990, Mike Webster’s life began to unravel. The best description of what occurred to him can be found in his New York Times obituary. In that article, Webster’s downward spiral into homelessness, addiction, and psychological trauma is described. Mike Webster went from an on-field superstar to a divorced, confused, shame-filled, and broken man in less than ten years. He died at the age of 50 of a heart attack.

The damage from concussions is very real. And those injuries harm not only the physical body, but the mind.

Please investigate the topic of CTE, and please use good judgement when deciding how you, your friends, and/or your children play sports that can result in repeated blows to the head. Short-term success is no replacement for long-term suffering.

Note — The photograph of the players who formed the Steel Curtain was obtained from the Heinz History Center. The photographs of Terry Bradshaw and Mike Webster were borrowed from the website of Behind the Steel Curtain. The publicity image for the Super Bowl was found on the website of the Tampa Bay Times.

Postscript to a meal

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If dessert marks the close of dinner, then a thank-you card serves as its postscript — an after-the-event affirmation of hours well spent and company fully valued. In this era of instant messages and time constraints, however, the thank-you card is often disregarded as either unnecessary or anachronistic. These beliefs could not be further from the truth. Rarely will a tweet or emoji-punctuated text make a memorable impression on a host. But a card featuring a personal greeting almost always will.

This blog post documents the process of preparing one such card for transit.

Two nights ago I enjoyed a wonderful evening of food and fellowship in the home of a dear friend. She and her husband — a man talented in both the woodworking studio and the kitchen — prepared a hearty meal of parmesan-encrusted chicken, cold corn-and-pepper salad with citrus vinegar dressing, steaming brown rice with peas, and freshly-baked cheese-herb bread pulled from a cast-iron skillet. Two other guests (my best friend and his wife) agreed that the fare was delicious.

After the meal, the five of us retired to the great room, where we sat in front of the fireplace and traded accounts of recent travels, memories of family courtships, and updates on hobbies ranging from photography to hatchet-throwing. As can occur on evenings spent indoors while wind rushes through snow-draped trees, time seemed to slow. Meanwhile, digestion proceeded steadily within our bellies. And before we knew it the hostess produced parfaits of fresh raspberries, brownie bites, and fluffy whipped cream. Our discussion continued as spoons clinked lightly while teasing the chilled dessert from tall glasses.

After returning home that night I dove into my supply of cards in search of the right thank-you to honor such a wonderful evening. The one I selected is pictured above. This card, which I purchased for $1 at Trader Joe’s, features artwork by printmaker Yoskiko Yamamoto (pictured below) of The Arts & Crafts Press in Tacoma, WA. Yamamoto and her husband, Bruce Smith, founded TA&CP in 1996. All of their publications “have been letterpress printed and bound by hand.” Please check out ArtsAndCraftsPress.com for an amazing selection of limited-edition woodblock prints, stationery, coasters, calendars, and more.

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To my pleasant surprise, I realized that the hanging lamp on this card features a mission-style design. The same aesthetic is found on the beautiful handmade furniture in the host-couple’s great room. (The husband built it!) Mission furniture emerged in the United States in the late 1890s, and got its name from California’s Spanish-style missions. The furniture’s focus on simple horizontal and vertical lines — often showcased in oak tables, chairs, and chests — contrasts with the ornate Victorian furniture that had long been popular at the time.

Mission furniture, which is linked to the Arts and Crafts movement, was produced by several famous artisans including Gustav Stickley (1858-1942), an American born from German immigrants. A number of fascinating resources exist for learning more about this influential furniture manufacturer including The Stickley Museum in Fayetteville, NY and the 20th century estate home that he designed (now a National Historic Landmark) at The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains, NJ.

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My first step in preparing the card was working through a rough draft of the greeting by scribbling initial thoughts on a tablet. I almost always do this so that I do not make silly word-choice mistakes or run out of room when writing on the card itself.

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Switching from print to cursive (which I find more smooth and formal) I then edited the draft even further while transferring it to the card’s interior. Observe the date in the upper-right corner, something that I believe every hand-written missive should possess so that the recipient — who is likely going to keep it — can place it accurately in history. Note — The salutation is unfinished in this photograph, but was completed prior to inserting the card into its envelope.

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With the greeting composed, I next needed to choose a stamp to apply to the white envelope. I had a full sheet of “O Beautiful” stamps, which the U.S. Postal Service released on July 4, 2018. Each row of the stamps corresponds to a line from “America the Beautiful.” What we know today as one of our country’s most patriotic songs was actually first a poem published in 1895 by poet and social activist Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929). The bright and varied colors of these stamps make them perfect for white envelopes.

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I chose the fourth stamp in “The Fruited Plain” series (second row from bottom) because it contained a collection of purples, greens, and golds that was similar to the colors in Yoshiko Yamamoto’s woodblock print. There is no reason that a stamp needs to coordinate with a card, but I found the parallels in palette to be very pleasing.

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Postscript (or “PS) — The next time you are invited to a home-cooked meal, please send your host a card or brief note to recognize the occasion. He/she will appreciate the hand-written message of gratitude, and I suspect that you will feel a surge of pride and accomplishment for honoring the time, care, and attention that the host invested on your behalf. A thank-you card is always a sign of good taste.

Note — The photograph of Yoshiko Yamamoto was obtained from a 2016 article on the website of Spaceworks Tacoma. The photograph of Gustav Stickley was found on the website for The Stickley Museum in Fayetteville, NY.