Sunday, January 23, 2011

Inconstant Contact

When it comes to staying in touch with people, I really suck.  I have often wondered why this is.  When it comes to friends in the here and now, I’m generally quite enthusiastic.  Oh, sure, I’m slowing down in my old age: not so many concerts any more, not so many parties (not that I even get invited to as many parties these days, but you know what I mean), and very few games of Asshole.  I do miss playing Asshole.  Sigh.

Sorry ... where was I?  Oh, right: slowing down.  A bit, yeah, but I still like to hang out with my friends here in California.  I was just at a poker game on Friday night, in fact.  It was a lovely way to lose $30.  And we do lunches and things of that sort.  I like spending time with my friends.

In fact, friends are probably the single most important thing to me.  Some people might value “family” over “friends,” but my family are friends of mine, so that’s a bit of a false dichotomy.  I’ve certainly no love for possessions, and I’m not much of a believer in solitude.  A good book is good, a good joke is great, a good song is sublime, but a good friend is priceless.  There are very specific reasons why I put friends at the top of the list, and perhaps one day I shall explore those in this venue, but for now let’s just take it as read.

So, if friends are so important, whyever is it then that when one of them moves away from me, or as has happened relatively recently, I move away from a whole flock of them, I become positively awful about contacting them?  Not only do I tend not to initiate contact, I don’t even regularly respond to it when initiated from the other side.  Let’s ignore letters—who writes letters any more?—and even phone calls, which, after all, require a commitment of a contiguous block of time.  No, let’s jump straight to email.  ‘Cause I’m a geek, right?  I should love email.  And, in fact, I do.  I even get pissed off when other people don’t respond to my emails.  And, yet, here I am, sucking just as hard as any doctor, lawyer or accountant, as if I were equally incapable of electronic communication.

So I’ve got no excuses.  Not even to myself.  It’s not like I know why and I just can’t explain it to you.  Nope, I have absolutely no clue.  There are no good reasons that I can see.

Of course, I’m a procrastinator by nature, so maybe that feeds into it somehow.  When I receive an email from someone I know, I often “mark” it somehow (in Thunderbird, turn it red, or in Gmail, put a little star beside it), to remind me that here’s an important email that I really need to respond to.  In a day or so, I think, I’ll find the time to sit down and put together a cogent, heartfelt response.  Generally speaking, I find these marked emails lying around in my inbox after six months, or a year, or two years even, and by that point I’m just too embarrassed to send a response.  (Actually, sometimes I do anyway.  I also often wonder what people think when they get a reply to their email from last year.  Probably think I’m a looney.)  So, procrastination is probably playing a bit part.

Now, it makes sense to me why I don’t respond immediately to emails.  After all, I check my email several times a day, and many of my potential correspondents do the same.  Let’s stay in touch, sure, but do we really need to be sending four or five emails a day back and forth?  No, probably not.  Back in the olden times, two letters a month was probably considered a rapid-fire conversation.  Of course, they were hefty letters, but, as I’m sure anyone who has continued to read this blog despite repeated warnings to the contrary has long ago sorted out, I don’t have a problem producing a significant word count.  No, a fairly lengthy email once a week—even twice a week—seems to me to be a perfectly reasonable rate of speed for electronic communication between absent friends.

So all I really need to do is set aside some time over the weekend, seemingly, to produce one or more of these emails.  Realistically, if I composed one email—one single email!—every Saturday, I could easily keep pace with all the folks who email me to see what I’ve been up to lately, and still have time left over to reach and touch a few people on my own initiative.  But I don’t do that.  And I really, seriously, cannot work out why that is.

I can come up with a few reasons why it is not.  The first and foremost one being that it’s not because I don’t care.  Because I do, quite deeply.  Many of these people are folks for whom I would gladly sacrifice any amount of time, money, or comfort.  So if you send me an email asking me to leave work immediately and wire you a thousand bucks because of some family emergency, that’s likely to get you a response.  But for some reason if all you’re looking for is a reply to how I’ve been recently, you can expect me to ignore you for months at a time, if I ever get back to you at all?  What kind of sense does that make?

I can also say that it really isn’t a lack of time.  Oh, I’m busy, no doubt.  But so’s everyone.  I’m not so important that I can realistically claim to be busier than you are.  And, honestly, I spend a fair amount of time laying on the couch doing jack all.  Now, I’m not the sort of type-A personality to convince myself that any second not spent being 100% productive is a wasted chunk of life that I can never get back.  I firmly believe that everyone needs to take some time and just chill out and do much of nothing.  I’m just saying that I probably accumulate more such time than I can strictly claim as requisite for proper mental health.  Certainly enough that I would feel guilty trying to toss off the excuse that I couldn’t return your email due to all the extremely important reruns of Good Eats that I’ve been watching.  (Even though I occasionally try.)

So, other than my procrastination theory (which is pretty damned weak), I don’t have much in the way of explanation as to why I’m so bad at staying in contact with old friends.  And it bothers me.  Partly it’s a bit of guilt for not responding to emails, but, honestly, guilt’s not my thing.  I don’t really regret too many things in life, and, when I do, it rarely lasts very long.  So the bigger part of the concern is that I am perceived as apathetic.  I don’t much care what other people think of me, for the most part, but then my friends aren’t exactly “other people.”  As Seuss#Misattributed">some famous fellow once said, “those who mind don’t matter, and those who matter don’t mind”: well, my friends are certainly the ones who matter, and I _hope they don’t mind, but I suspect their patience is not infinite.

I often tell myself I’m going to do better about this.  Of course, I often tell myself I’m going to do better about a lot of things.  So far, limited success.  Now, another thing I firmly believe is that no one is perfect, and that it logically follows that we cannot expect ourselves to be perfect, and that therefore we must admit that we have faults, and we must occasionally just accept our faults, and give ourselves permission to be imperfect, rather than trying to correct them all.  Which is not to say that we should never try to fix our defects, only that we have to pick the worst of the lot to concentrate on, and let the others ride.  So far I suppose I’ve been letting this one ride.  But I’m not sure that’s too good an idea any more.

I hope that any old friends of mine who happen to stumble across this meandering self-exploration will understand (at least vaguely) where I’m coming from, and perhaps be comforted that I wasn’t ignoring them on purpose.  I suspect, though, that many of them have already worked this out about me, and they probably just shake their heads (with any luck, fondly) and put it up alongside my tendency to be too loud, or my fondness for the word “fuck” at often inappropriate times, or my inclination towards ranting about mostly trivial matters.  At least I hope they do.  And, if any of you are reading this, I would just like to say:

I love you guys.  Seriously.

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