In college I was friends with a guy named John. Initially we met because he was taking surveys in the Student Union for our college newspaper. The following year he was my editor when I started writing for the newspaper. And then we were placed in the same English class.
Sometimes we would get together for lunch to discuss literature and life in general. I remember him telling me that he felt out of place in our generation, our decade. He was was more interested in older times, older ways. I didn’t really understand what he meant or why he felt that way.
Four years later, I think I get it.
The more I grow up and the more technology advances, I find myself retreating to old fashioned ideas and pining for what used to be. Not in every way, of course – mostly in the area of movies, books and social media. I’m all, “they just don’t make ’em like they used to.”
The other night I watched All About Eve and thought about how most people would’ve thought it was boring because it moved so slowly. But that’s what I loved about it – there was no rush to capture attention, there was no rush to the end. The movie didn’t need to cater to the instant gratification that we’re programmed to expect and it didn’t have to be overly indie/bizarre to make up for the fact that everything else has already been done before.
Of course I still enjoy some of the latest and greatest movies, but I often find myself walking away from viewing them with a sense of loss. I’m like that old guy from The Holiday…
I have the same feelings about books. Sure, I appreciate David Sedaris and The Kite Runner and The Harry Potter series (among others) – but there’s just something sacred about Mark Twain and John Steinbeck and J.R.R. Tolkien and the like. When I finished East of Eden in Starbucks earlier this year I closed it, placed it on my lap and blinked back tears. My heart was racing and my hands were probably shaking. I couldn’t move or think about anything else for the next 15 minutes. It was that good and the ending moved me that much.
And then there’s social media. Obviously I blog, and yes I’m on Facebook. I use email and a mobile phone. With the exception of my blog, I use the other devices to stay in touch with people who come in and out of my life.
I’ve been grappling with this idea of using social media (mainly Facebook) to “stay in touch” for a while now. Funny, because there’s no touching involved – there’s no physical contact, only virtual. Is it worth it to cling to the surface of relationships that were once deep? Is that really better than no relationship at all?
Right now my actions say yes – clinging to the surface is better than nothing at all. So I look at photos and status updates, I’ll write on walls and sometimes I’ll message or email. I’m happy to know what people I care about are up to…but at the same time it feels cheap, almost like I’m cheating in a way. I’m not really involved in his or her life – I’m merely a bystander, an onlooker, a creeper.
(But in truth, I don’t think it’s creeping because it’s not like I’m looking through a window or anything – people put that stuff online for the world to see. I just wanted to write creeper right then, okay?)
Like I said, I’ve been thinking about this for a while. And then I went to Buffalo for Thanksgiving. There, my aunt handed my brother and me letters that my grandfather had written my grandmother during the 1940s (they were apart because he was in the military.) I never knew my grandfather because he died before I was born…and I’ve never felt more close to him than when I held those letters. They were real, they were tangible.
And just like when I finished East of Eden, my grandfather’s letters moved me to tears:
April 28, 1948
My Sunshine Darling,
You are my sunshine darling for without you everything would be dark. Yes, talking to you, my dearest sweetest sweetheart, on Sunday was indeed a spring tonic to me. As always it brings you so close to me that sometimes I almost instinctively reach out for you. Yes, darling, I wish that I would awaken you mornings and say, “Good morning my lovely Duchess,” I love you this morning and every morning of my life…love to my beautiful wife.
Yes, his words are poetry, but I would not have been as moved if I were reading an old email he sent her. I held the faded paper, I saw his slanted handwriting. In that moment I knew I would never have a late night text conversation with my future boyfriend/husband, nor do I want to receive emails from him. I’m desperate for the real thing.
When my friend and roommate picked me up from the Atlanta airport on Black Friday, I went on a tangent about how I’m tired of counterfeit relationships – relationships that only continue to exist because of a screen. I felt like I was quoting Almost Famous, “From here on out, I am only interested in what is real. Real people, real feelings, that’s it, that’s all I’m interested in.”
At the same time…I still struggle to let go of relationships, no matter how artificial they remain.
And so I’ve realized it’s going to be more of a process for me to ween off social media (again, mainly Facebook. But also email.) I’m already a letter writer, but my hope is to use it as my primary way to stay in touch. I like snail mail because a) it’s real b) it’s like a secret between two people and c) it slows everything down – just like them olden days.
I haven’t seen my college friend John since he graduated almost five years ago, nor have we stayed “in touch” through social media. Two years ago he wrote me an 18-page letter. I still have it – and today I appreciate it more than ever before.
Thanks, John, for allowing our relationship to remain old fashioned and authentic. You said you weren’t made for these days, and lately I’m beginning to wonder if the same is true for me…