This is something of a Part Two to “On Not Going Home for the Holidays and the Possibility that I Don’t Hate America” because I decided the topic of communication and keeping in touch, while related, warranted its own post. In retrospect, the Peace Corps anecdote from the beginning of my last post would perhaps have been better suited here. Oops. Drawing from that, I’ll start with the topic of letters—and postcards of letter length—which I have (re)discovered during my time in France. I really hope the act of writing and sending snail mail continues to eke out a niche existence because I find there’s something incredibly special and rewarding about the whole process which simply can’t be replicated digitally. From the exhilaration of finding an aesthetically pleasing postcard to the timeless joy of putting pen to paper to the wholesome feeling of going to the post office, an entire emotional journey takes place before the letter has even embarked on its pilgrimage. And that’s not to mention the fact that letters offer a unique opportunity to say things that just don’t quite fit in your average one line text. A note on French post offices, or at least the one I’ve frequented in the center of Lyon: in order to mail a letter one must first purchase a foreign looking stamp from a fancy automated machine and then wait in line to hand the final product to a postal worker and watch as they carry it away, wondering if it will ever reach its final destination.
Ok, ok, I admit I’ve sent a grand total of four letters since I’ve been here—three of which made it to their desired recipients—and although I have more in the works it’s undeniable that the vast majority of my communication is accomplished via the interwebs. However, I’ve found that even these messages differ greatly from my du jour communication stateside. While I’m prone to sending lengthy (and I mean lengthy) texts no matter the circumstances, here I tend to fall into journaling-in-text-form even more often than I do in the US. Whether or not the recipients of these missives appreciate the content is debatable, but on a personal level I appreciate the opportunity to keep my family and friends up to date on my activities while simultaneously creating a record for posterity(‘s sake).
Finally we come to the form of communication with which I struggle the most: the call. Or the facetime. The skype. Whatever doesn’t leave one or both parties on mute on any given day. Other than ringing my dad from the gym as a way to distract myself from the monotony of the elliptical, I’m not huge on real time conversation at Georgetown. For some of the same reasons mentioned in my last post—namely that I’m never too far from a trip home—I don’t stress too much about not hearing my loved one’s voices on a regular basis. Plus, scheduling is always a hassle. Thus, when I finally managed to organize two calls within the space of Thanksgiving week after over a month without a single chat, I was surprised to realize how much of a difference it made having “normal conversations” with the recipients of my record-length texts.
During the first of these sessions I briefly got the chance to Skype in to to my grandmother’s traditional community potluck Thanksgiving during a pie break in between the annual woods walk and the evening sing-along. Due to technical issues I could hear but not be heard, so I got a shaky-cam tour of the gathering while smiling and waving in silence, a digital ghost. The call was cut unceremoniously short when the connection faltered and moments later I was evicted from the school library because it was nearing the 9 p.m. (Lau, I never thought I’d say it but I miss you) closing time. Despite these less-than-ideal conditions, I was deeply moved by the glimpse I got into the world from which I’m temporarily (and temporally) estranged. The snippets of conversation, the hellos from passersby, and the humorously awkward one-sided narration attempts from my mother and sister were just what I didn’t know I needed to get me through till winter break.
Then the Saturday after Thanksgiving, I virtually joined my friends’ hangout at our favorite coffee shop. Again, the conditions were not ideal (I was huddled in the cold outside a McDonald’s) but at least this time I had the luxury two-sided conversation while being passed from one set of hands to another in a dizzying spiral. Although it was fun, and enough to tide me over, when I go back I’ll have a newfound appreciation for the ability to control the direction of my gaze.