Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.
This is my refrain, it seems, when it comes to staying in touch with people…
…and I’m getting to be okay with it. Before you brand me a callous, selfish warthog, let me backpedal.
Someone calls, emails, texts. I freeze. Not really, not literally (most of the time), but kind of. And then I answer in my head. When I answer in my head, I think, “I really need to actually answer, and soon.” That self-prodding may go on for days, weeks, months.
Mind you, this is only in regard to personal correspondence. At work, my brain sees communication differently: it’s a game, like Galaga, where I shoot down tasks—bing, bing, bing—so I can travel lightly toward the future. It’s kind of a requirement for getting paid, too. And I do enjoy getting paid. Don’t even think about interrupting my Galaga flow by calling or sending me a personal email at work. I’m there to work, yo, and I have enough trouble focusing as it is.
I’m guessing that the insane volume of email, calls, and meetings I handle 10 hours a day has something to do with my brain shutting down on my personal stuff. But I also know that at least two other things come in to play.
First, I was conditioned, like a rat, to dread phone calls and meetings. I can thank my mother for that one. Blaming childhood experiences may sound lame, but I can only move past it if I recognize that it just…is. See, my mother used to make me talk to her creditors when they called. She said they wouldn’t yell at a kid. She lied. I’d also have to personally walk in and tell someone that a bill was going to be late, which destroyed me, because I was a sensitive kid, made hyper-sensitive by those experiences. And I can’t forget the multiple times that she’d write a hot lunch money check, and I’d be called to the school office and be reprimanded (and not privately) by the secretaries, one of whom was a popular girl’s mom. You can imagine what that did for my image.
Dread. Dread all around. I learned that the world was not a safe and secure place that the person who was supposed to protect me and make me feel safe was more invested in watching out for herself. It didn’t take long for me to be scared of a ringing phone or a personal interaction, and I’m kind of angry at the amount of money I’ve had to spend on therapy to undo a lot of what she did to me. Still, some fossils from that time remain, and I’m still digging them up.
The second thing has to do with others’ expectations. Communication these days is lightning-quick, and lots of people believe that everyone should answer everything immediately, or provide an excuse about why they didn’t. Sure, my iPhone lets me see your email or text while I’m at work, but answering it is a whole other ballgame. I’d have to step out of The Zone. I am paid to be in The Zone. And if you call while I’m driving, eating, enjoying my family, watching a movie, relaxing? Nope. Not going to happen. And if you leave a message, I will not listen. Voicemail should be shot.
But the people closest to me know about all this, and they don’t really seem to care. My best friend and I have gone months without speaking, but we know we still care deeply for one another. We don’t take silence as a personal affront. And my dad, about whom I care tons and tons, knows that I think of him fondly, even though his Father’s Day card is still chilling in my filing cabinet at work.
This stems from me wanting to have quality communications. When I think of how long it would take to have a real, honest, deep conversation, I have to work to fit it in, so it gets delayed. And the Father’s Day card? I want to write The Message To Rival All Messages inside it. Emails? I want to think before I write.
And the big thing here is that I don’t expect anything more or different from anyone else. If I don’t get a call or a card on my birthday, I don’t think much about it. I assume that everyone is telepathically wishing me well, and that’s good enough for me. In fact, I like to relax on holidays, and knowing what you now know about me and my relationship with phones, you can imagine how stressful it becomes to be jarred out of my gourd by constant ringing.
All around me, I hear things like, “I know she got my text, and it’s been ten minutes!” Or, “I’m so sorry I didn’t answer your call. I was tying a tourniquet on my wounded daughter’s leg.” Or, “He must hate me because I didn’t hear from him at all on Thanksgiving.”
I’m here to say that it’s quite possible that communication breakdowns are actually communication slowdowns.
Your tools are for your own convenience, not someone else’s. And if you’re miserable spending an hour talking to your downer uncle about his new ailments? You can cap it at five minutes. Or not answer. There’s a point where information entropy is not convenient or healthy, and if you’re ragged or dead from stress caused by an overcharged brain, you’re probably not able to be fully present for your beautiful friends and family when it really counts.
And if I owe you an email, rest assured that you are on my mind. I know. I know.
In “Moleskin,” conversation partners are reunited in this ‘missed connection.’ Alex Ortolani’s characterizations are spirited and believable, and yes, you will be rooting for this couple to speak the international language.
Brad Felver’s gripping flash, “In the Walls,” follows a drywall hanger complicit in the revenge fantasy of a fired coworker who gives in to his baser instincts.
George Moore declares that “the poem’s blind,” and he shows us how it’s a good thing that “The Poem Talks Back.”