Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Quality of Connection

"Esther, having just moved to a new place, without good friends on the East Coast, this is not a healthy thing to do. Your San Diego friends won't write you letters. They won't pick up the phone as easily as they might contact you on email or Facebook, and you can't expect them to. You might become very isolated. And that could lead to becoming depressed."

I'm not going to talk today about the isolation that can be a part of life at home with small children. But that kind of loneliness was the context of my friend's concern, and both she and I have a pretty good idea of what that feels like.

A few days ago I wrote about how good it feels to share something wonderful that just happened even when there isn't a live grown up anywhere in sight. If my son has done something thrilling, Daddy is out of contact on his way to work and my West coast friends won't be up for hours, where do I turn? To the internet, of course! No matter what the day or hour, there is somebody on the internet who is listening. The internet itself is listening.

In this case, when I found myself full-to-bursting with the news that my 2-year old is beginning to learn to read, I had less than an hour to wait before I could have picked up the phone and called my husband. Then again, my husband might not have been the best audience for my delight, having recently expressed mild concern after cleaning out my car and finding 1st and 2nd Grade McGraw-Hill reading textbooks tucked underneath the driver's seat. These were the result of a Freecycle mixup, I quickly assured him. I was supposed to get the bag with the cloth barn and farm animals. But he had raised an eyebrow, and I had taken the note.

I could have waited a few more hours and called my homeschooling sister, who would not only have been appreciative of Milo's progress, but could also have helped me understand what to teach next and how best to teach it. Or I could have waited a few more hours after that and called Milo's grandma, who would have been unconditionally tickled. But I didn't call her. I didn't call any of them.

On the same cross country drive that I mentioned in the Open Space post -- the post on which Chelsea commented that media chatter helps protect us from our loneliness -- my family and I stopped to visit my grandmother in her nursing home in northern Utah. For a few hours on a Sunday morning, Milo alternately hid behind Daddy, crawled in and out of his sister's car seat and suspiciously eyed the metal walker, while Stella and I sat -- mostly in silence -- and held my grandma's hand. The centerpiece of her room and of our brief conversation was her bulletin board, which overflows, sometimes two deep, with pictures and letters and postcards from her eight grandchildren and now eleven great-grandchildren. Except, really, only nine great-grandchildren. There were no pictures of my kids. Not one.

Do I have any excuses? Well...I haven't had a way to print pictures. I have a printer, but the color settings are wrong and I don't know how to fix them. And I haven't had a way to take pictures that seemed worth printing, since I have an overdeveloped aesthetic sense and have only recently started learning to control my camera. And I've never had pictures professionally done, because I just have never had the time or the money for things like that. And I've been, you know, so busy, and we do visit her, at least occasionally, and one thing and another, sending pictures to Grandma is something that just never, ever happened.

I finally took the photos. I printed them at Target. I put a stamp on an envelope. I wrote out the address. I wrote my kids' names and ages in black marker on the back of each picture, trusting that somebody other than me will help my grandmother pin them up onto her bulletin board. It wasn't really very much effort, but it was a little bit of effort. It was a little bit of effort targeted directly to a person whom I love.

At least a few days a week I capture something funny or clever or important about my day, and I post it as a status update on Facebook. This also takes a little bit of effort. But instead of sending it to one person, I put it up for anyone to see. Does this interest you? If so, come in and have a conversation. If this interests you, be a part of my relationship circle. Be my friend. Be my family.

We all have seasons in our lives, and for me, this period of having no job and two kids under the age of three is an intense season of family. That's why this blog is so heavily populated with the colorful personalities that I'm bound to by blood or marriage, including the pretty girl in these pictures, who is the daughter of my brother. The transition from work life to family life is a real thing that's happening to me right now, but it isn't at all the point I'm trying to make. Blood family or soul family, either way, what I'm trying to talk about is the locus of intention.

I created a message, yes, but I did I finish the job? Did I decide where to send it?

On that morning a few days ago, when I couldn't wait a single second to express my sense of celebration, I sat down and wrote a letter. (Really? A letter? Who writes letters anymore?) Yes, I think so. I put the words on the page. I put effort into telling the story. The only thing I skipped is the address line. I didn't choose the target. Instead I put the information in the blogosphere, and I waited for the target to choose me.

This consumer-driven exchange may be ideal for information. I can find my way to the "how to" that I'm looking for. I can read the article that interests me. It's lovely for finding other people's insights, and I suppose also for various kinds of solace and inspiration. But for me right now, at this moment in my life, I'm not sure that consumer-driven contact can be a good model for friendship.

Friendship takes work. I'm not great at it. I never have been. And I'd rather face that than to keep my life full of shadows of friendships, electronic maps of who happened to notice what, when, and did I get your attention today, or do you happen to share this particular opinion that defines the two of us as members of one group. I'd rather go to the effort to learn how to take better care of the many wonderful people that I already have. I think in the long run that is what will take better care of me.

And of course, here I am telling you all this in a computerized version of my life, complete with computerized tea dates and computerized discussion, and I've made an effort to attract my San Diego friends, whom I miss, to this blog for just that purpose. Feel free to poke fun at that as you like.


Kiki said...

I am just fascinated by what you are about to do. I spent this morning working on a staged reading of a play where people can have cell phones implanted in their teeth. What technology is doing (and done) to us - in the way we communicate and learn is intriguing.

15 years ago, I lived in a different country with no computer and no cell phone. I had a scheduled time when I would go to a pay phone and call my parents collect. They would refuse the charges and then they would call me back. Depending on the name I used, they knew which public phone to call me back on. I would chat with them for about 20 minutes and that was it.

I became an avid letter writer. My mom, my friends & my grandparents, would all receive letters. One of my dearest friends would write to me every day, but only mail once a week. I did the same with her. The weekly deliciously large envelops were thrilling to receive. Like a Jane Austin heroine, I would take my mail, run to my room, lock the door and devour the read. We both used these yellow tablets that would fit beautifully (without having to fold) into a 6X9 envelop.

I had a ritual of sitting at my desk every night to compose a letter. I carried a notepad in my bag to record any silly thing that would happen during the day.

I still have all the letters my friend wrote me. And other letters I received while abroad. My grandmother saved all the letters I sent her.

... Although my dad has a computer, he never checks my kid's blog. They have dial up and it frustrates him. So, I end up printing and sending pictures to him every couple months. I have the kid include a drawing, which makes it special.

Everyone likes to receive mail.

enough from me... Kirsten

D. W. Jacobs said...

OK... I finally worked through my own cyber blindspots and figured out how to post. The difficulty turned out to be a symptom of the current browser wars. My comment on your blog

Check out LEISURE: The Basis of Culture by Josef Pieper.

He seems to be a kindred spirit. He would approve of your experiments. Some reviews from Amazon follow...

"Pieper's message for us is plain.... The idolatry of the machine, the worship of mindless know-how, the infantile cult of youth and the common mind-all this points to our peculiar leadership in the drift toward the slave society.... Pieper's profound insights are impressive and even formidable."-New York Times Book Review ---"These two short essays by a contemporary German philosopher go a long way towards a lucid explanation of the present crisis in civilisation.... The first essay... should be read by anyone-and young people in particular-anxious to come to some conclusions about the nature of society." -The Spectator, London --- "[Pieper] has theses that are so counter to prevailing trends as to be sensational; and he has a style that is memorably clear and direct." --Chicago Tribune --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

Product Description:
[I love this title for Amazon's synopsis of any book, but its even more odd for this particular book. I think this is what Pieper was talking about. The Amazon description itself (see below) is quite good. DWJ]
In this elegantly written (and produced) work, Josef Pieper introduces the reader to an understanding that leisure is nothing less than "an attitude of mind and a condition of the soul that fosters a capacity to perceive the reality of the world." Beginning with the Greeks, and through a series of philosophic, religious, and historical examples, Pieper demonstrates that "Leisure has been, and always will be, the first foundation of any culture." Of the frenetic contemporary clamor for things, entertainment, and distraction, Pieper observes, "in our bourgeois Western world total labor has vanquished leisure. Unless we regain the art of silence and insight, the ability for non-activity, unless we substitute true leisure for our hectic amusements, we will destroy our culture -- and ourselves." For, to Pieper, slavery is a state of mind and soul into which entire peoples descend when mental, moral, spiritual, and political independence is corrupted by a preoccupation with material well-being. Long unavailable, this reprint of the original edition of 1952 includes an introduction by T. S. Eliot.

Esther, your writing on this blog is wonderful.


Esther said...

Wow. Whatever I'm doing, I'm doing right to have the two of you commenting.

Kirsten, I know that you had been a letter writer, and was really intrigued by that when I heard it. I've never written letters, but my mother used to get them from her readers. And sometimes they'd be essay length, confessional, literally tear-stained. That phrase "pour your heart out" comes to mind. Your Jane Austen heroine would be hard pressed to compete.

And...try this on, for a little perspective in time. Your baby's blog may well have been the first one I ever took the time to look at. I remember not quite understanding how to read it. And then in this short time, (four years, right?) my google blogroll now has twenty-some blogs -- far too many to actually read every day -- and I've written three of them myself. Another alarming thing about technology is how fast it happens.

Doug, that phrase "slave culture" is one that has hovered just outside of my thinking on this. Slaves to media, slaves to commerce, slaves to advertising, slaves to information acquisition. But I am not ready to expand the personal experience to the wider analysis of culture, at least not yet. I'm glad to know that Mr. Pieper is on the case, and I will certainly find a way to order his book. Thanks for always knowing what I should read next!

And, the browser wars, really? The MOXIE blog was on wordpress instead of blogger, and I think I actually liked that a little better. But this is where I've landed, and I'll only be here for a month so I will press on. I'm glad you are now able to comment.

Esther said...

Also, I think DW Jacobs is potentially a replacement for the web-based library catalogue. This could solve the research problem!

D. W. Jacobs said...

By browser wars, I just mean Internet Explorer, Safari, Foxfire, Opera, and now Google's Chrome. With every update, they get bigger and "better" and more bloated, and too often, they lose key functional capabilities, some to the point of simply crashing over and over again. I keep shifting browsers as they lose compatibilities and ease of access to different websites. Long story, but its part of the needless drain on American life. Software, like medical drugs, are pushed onto the market much too soon, making us all guinea pigs.

Gee, if I'm a replacement for a web-based library catalogue, does that make me one of those aging disused card catalogues waiting for someone to open my useless drawers? Or perhaps I'm more like the dumped and scattered cards.

The state of the art renovation of the downtown LA library came up with some novel uses for the old cards from the catalogue drawers. They've been placed behind glass and have become wallpaper in the elevators. A consummation devoutly to be wished... to become an antiquated element in a modern interior design.

As for slaves... did you know the Roman slaves had significantly more holy-days and days off than the American worker? That's one of the social values of many Gods and Goddesses... more days off from work! I learned that fact from an old beat poem, but can't remember where I saw it. Perhaps you can find it as you browse the libraries of Boston.

I highly approve of your inclination to simply wander through the stacks, letting your intuition lead you. That's how I initially stumbled onto the English medieval text... THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING. That title just leaps out at you when placed in a small branch library in the San Fernando valley.