It’s that time of year when we review our good and bad investments. In 2020, many of us had the opportunity to invest in something other than a daily commute to work or participation in an extracurricular activity. When faced with the prospect of living out a version of the movie “Groundhog Day” (where each morning you relive exactly the same day, over and over) — didn’t you just want to roll over and go back to sleep?
Some people were able to work from home by setting up a computer and adapting a spare room to serve as a revolving classroom, conference room and panic room.
While Zooming has been a lifeline — allowing us to see familiar faces, sans the masks or contagious contact — the feeling of normalcy it initially provides is fleeting.
While we used to enjoy a night out with friends after a hard day’s work, we now find ourselves sitting in front of the TV, binge-watching reruns.
I’m not comfortable with too much solitude (unlike my husband, whose friend wanted to make him a T-shirt with the slogan “I was made for social distancing”). Every day I’m like an expectant puppy, looking for any kind of interaction.
I watch excitedly for the mailman, even though I’m usually the recipient of items addressed to “occupant.” I can hear my grandma’s sweet voice singing, “I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter, and make believe it came from you….” Maybe it’s better to post than to receive?
It’s hard to remember a time when I wrote letters on paper — before the advent of email. My father’s parents moved to Florida when I was born, and as soon as I could put two words together, I was coaxed to write to them. My mother recently downsized and passed along a bag of letters I had written to her when I moved to another state and started a family. They read like a diary of my kids’ lives, written when I lacked the time to enter much more than statistics in their baby books.
After saving 5,000 communiqués in my electronic mailbox, I was notified that it was about to burst. Why would I hang on to a conglomeration of mostly irrelevant missives? It’s not like I’m going to print them out for posterity … yet “delete permanently” seemed so final. These days, I send what looks like footnotes to my kids, with messages so concise they can be squeezed into a text.
I think again of my grandmother, who spoke to her family regularly, despite having to pay for each toll call. If there was a bit of gossip to share about the latest family escapades, she would say coyly “a little birdie told me....”
These days people prefer to express themselves in a post, limiting what they say within a set number of characters. They trade brevity for substance, sometimes using their words to be snarky and strike out at others. It’s then that I remember my grandma saying “tweeting is for the birds,” and how right she was.
I have long-lost friends who live alone and, due to COVID, they are basically confined to their homes. In these stressful times they’ve been inundated with upsetting news on many fronts. These are folks on Facebook or on my Christmas card list — all who receive a condensed version of my year in review. But now, I’m making it more personal, whether digging up a shared memory, including an embarrassing photo or asking questions that may inspire a reply. I’m writing in longhand, despite my personal struggle to recall just how to form cursive letters.
Revisiting the art of letter writing is a worthy investment that brings rewards both incremental and meaningful. The more you practice cursive, the easier it flows. So when you’re thinking of communicating, consider putting a stamp on it — because it’s guaranteed to last “forever.”
Susan Lanterman’s essays have been published in annual editions of “Skyline,” a collection of prose and poetry by Central Virginia writers.