About 18 months ago, when we decided to put our house on the market, we had already found the new house we wanted to buy, so we had to get our old house staged as quick as little bunnies to get it listed and sold in an effort to not carry two mortgages.
The plan was that, while we were packing up stuff to clear the house out and make it look the exact opposite of how my family lives in real life, instead of culling out stuff to donate or trash at that time - which is stupidly time-consuming, but is what people have to do if they don’t want to MOVE THINGS TWICE, like a bunch of idiots - we would just have to chunk everything into storage and deal with it on the back end, after moving to the new house.
So up until last week, we’ve been paying $200+ each month for a storage unit to house all the shit we’d amassed over the previous 16 years at our old house that we didn’t have time* to comb through until now.
As I went through some of the boxes, I came across all the old scrapbooks and photo albums I’d created through the years, and - just like always - I was sidetracked and instead of emptying the boxes that filled the entire front room of our house RIGHT BEFORE THANKSGIVING GUESTS ARRIVED, I frittered away the afternoon, flipping through the pages of the albums, laughing and pointing at the pictures and covering my mouth as I sucked in my breath over the ones I just couldn’t believe.
I even caught myself saying out loud, “Ohmygosh, look at this one!”
All by myself.
You know what stinks worse than rotted egg-fart sandwiches?
Nobody has pictures printed, anymore.
Everything is digital.
“It’s all right here on my phone!” we proclaim, and “All my photos are in the cloud!” we broadcast proudly, but what’s the effing point?
What’s the point of having silhouettes of your kids holding hands and running into the ocean with that gorgeous sunset behind them?
Why even bother keeping that shot of your daughter’s first time ice skating, now that she’s a competitive figure skater?
Why would you gobble up the storage of your phone with those snaps of your son walking off the plane after he returns home from deployment?
What is the actual effing point of all those memories collected in the cloud if nobody’s sitting around looking at them?
I love that photo taking is digital, now, because it’s so convenient, we actually take so many more photos than we used to.
But it makes me sad at the same time.
We’ve lost the family pastime of sitting around at Thanksgiving and Christmas with photo albums in our laps, laughing and crying together over those magical moments made when we were younger.
Connecting with each other as we reminisce over photos taken not just of the big, momentous occasions, but of the day-to-day, seemingly mundane activities “way back then.”
Along the same lines, we don’t write letters by hand, anymore, either.
One of the most incredible parts of the research for my upcoming novel is going through boxes of my ancestors’ memorabilia.
Photos taken in the early 1900’s, documents of the military service of my great- great- grandfather or uncle or what-have-you.
And the letters.
When I come across a handwritten letter, I’m giddy with excitement. I hold the paper by the very edges with the tippy tips of my fingers, and open it as gently as I can.
Then I put it up to my nose and smell it.
I do not know why I do this.
Touching these letters - the same paper that was held by a relative more than 100 years ago, or even 50 years ago - makes me feel connected to them in a way nothing else can.
There’s something more meaningful in the words they’ve written when I see them in their handwriting.
I picture them sitting in their shabby wooden chair pulled up to the table in the middle of a hot kitchen before it becomes busy with the bustle of prepping the evening meal. They’ve got their pencil in hand and they scribble out a note in barely legible cursive, telling about how hot the summer has been, and how one of the kids has been “feeling poorly” for nearly a month, and how the crops are skinnier this year than ever before.
It’s a better snapshot into their lives than even the photographs they’ve left behind.
Without those letters, we’d never know their thoughts and feelings about what was going on in their lives.
And to know I’m holding the exact piece of paper they held when they wrote out those thoughts and feelings sends a time warp of electricity through my fingers, connecting me to that ancestor that three or four generations has otherwise separated.
I love the convenience of emails and texts, but our descendants are going to miss out on so much of their connection to us because there won’t be handwritten notes and letters to leave behind.
Not only that, but it’s such a sweet surprise getting a handwritten note in the mail from anyone these days!
I’ve been a customer of Dia.com’s subscription styling box for a while. A few weeks ago one of their stylists sent me a handwritten note in the mail, telling me she followed my blog and on Instagram, and wanted me to know. (Hi Jamie!)
Wasn’t that just so nice? It was such a delightful gesture that made my whole day, and still warms my heart a few weeks later. It probably only took her a couple of minutes at the most to write out the note, but that extra effort of hand writing a card, licking an envelope, stamping it, and walking it down to the mailbox (or even to a downstairs post box in an office building, if that’s the case) is so much more than just banging out an email.
And much more of a connection.
It’s the same thing when it comes to handwritten thank you cards.
Listen here, don’t look at me like I’m a blue-haired old lady by saying so, but this is the single best way to stand out from others BECAUSE NOBODY ELSE DOES IT ANYMORE.
It’s a practice tattooed into my brain from a hard-nosed professor at the University of North Texas, Ernie Farr, who most people felt was a tough old biddy. Not me. I thought she was a teddy bear, even though she’d shout at us about manners and business etiquette.
To this day, I send handwritten thank you notes after a job pitch, or a speaking engagement, or any time someone has gone out of their way to help me or my business and blog - no matter how small.
Nowadays, the response I get is usually an email saying something like, “Oh my gosh, I got your old school card in the mailbox today!” or “Look at you, sending out snail mail!” and we chat back and forth a bit over email and laugh about how old fashioned but charming it is to receive a handwritten thank you card.
And now I’ve made a connection with that person who would otherwise never remember me.
While I’m blathering on about things we don’t do anymore, I have to share the most troubling, absolutely the most bothersome habit that makes me want to spit rocks.
We no longer say “excuse me” in the grocery store.
And by “we” I mean almost everyone.
Except for me.
I say it.
And the more I say it, the more pissed off I become because I’m saying it to straight-faced robots who never effing respond.
Even if I’m the one who’s being inconvenienced by someone else’s haphazard use of the grocery basket, I automatically say, “excuse me,” without even thinking BECAUSE I’M A NICE PERSON, and nine times out of ten the a-hole running me off the grocery aisle doesn’t even respond.
I ask you: WT actual F??
There’s something I’ve always been proud of as a Texan. We really do have Texas hospitality - a friendly quality you won’t find anywhere else.
But we’re losing it.
We’re becoming just like everyone else.
We’re becoming invisible to each other.
We’re losing our connection.
All we’ve got to do is look people in the eye. Say “hi.” Smile. Say “excuse me.”
And write letters.
And thank you notes.
And print out pictures.
It might seem old fashioned, but these are the little actions that connect us to each other and to those who follow us.
*This is a pack of fat lies. We did have the time. Mark harped on me for more than a year to get with the program on clearing out that storage unit, but I employed my favorite inherited trait from my mom’s side, and stuck my head in the sand, forcing thoughts of that wretched storage unit out of my head any time they’d try creeping in.
Some people are in denial when it comes to alcoholism in their family, or when they have a loser husband who’s cheating on them and they refuse to see it. Me? I’m in denial about things that seem hard or are lots of work, and I’ll not only avoid thinking about them, but when forced to, I will literally throw myself onto the floor in a puddle, whining and flopping around like a fish, and kicking my feet like a 2-year-old.