Sunday, March 29, 2009

Alone time

"Call me back, or not, I don't really have anything to say, I'm just giving you the driving-home-from-work call."

Since getting a cell phone, especially since moving to Cali and away from being able to hop in the car for a quick weekend mini-vacay, the driving-home-from-work-call has become a near-daily event. For a long time, the free long-distance of my Sprint [somebody pay me] cell phone plan allowed me to maintain close relationships with dozens of people at a bargain rate. Along with e-mail, it's why I got the ball rolling on our grad school reunions.

But during the last couple years, the purpose of the call really started to devolve. The opportunity to catch up with someone I hadn't spoken to in months and get updates about a new job or kid or pregnancy or vacation, had become an autonomic exercise in giving running commentaries on the traffic I was stuck in, making a joke about something immature (if I was talking to a guy), talking about sports or leaving a voicemail with literally no point.

Seriously when I think about it (I was going to write "analyze" rather than "think about" but that's sooooo over-labeling the actual neural activity), whatthefuck? I don't have anything to say? Then why the hell am I on the phone so often?

Well, I'm not anymore. A few months ago atfter talking to one of my former students about how much unplugging from her phone, the Internet, e-mail, texting, Facebook and IM was therapeutic to her during her winter break I got envious. I realized that I had so little time alone anymore. When you live with two roommates whom you like hanging out with, there's not much time to yourself—two of us are usually at home. I work in a very collaborative office, which is also a good thing, but obviously that means it's not a very isoalted, clean-room setting.

So since then I ceased the clockwork like routine of get in my car, plug in my headset, decide who to call (usually Scott, Bill, Erin, Monika or Courtney), find their name in my address book and press "call", then started the 24-minute drive home. Often, it was a great time to ask about how jobs were going, how the home improvement projects were coming along, were there any new dates or discuss/argue about politics. I truly valued the calls, but at the same time there were just as many voicemails left that contained the words "I'm just giving you the driving-home-from-work call."

In the ensuing six or seven weeks I've transformed what is the bane for so many in the City of Angels—the sluggish traffic—into my own private Idaho, er, quiet isolation.

Having lived alone for four years (and LOVED it), I saw this as my chance to get back to listening to music. Like really listening to it (well, closely enough but still paying attention to the road of course. I've made this drive more than 1,000 times, it's cool.).

So far it's been excellent. I listen to more NPR and my CDs. And maybe more importantly I get a chance to decompress physically after working. I've cut back a wee bit on my at-home drinking b/c the edge of the day dissipates with every traffic signal. While I used to rue the fact that there were about 30 traffic signals on my seven-mile commute, now I almost take a small joy when I see that I've gotta stop. Maybe it's one more song I get to listen to. Maybe it's one more tension from work that gets killed by the recycled air in my car. Maybe it's one more second of anticipation of dinner or Lost that massages that crink in my neck. I dunno. But it's been soooo worth it so far.

The challenge is not to let this commute-cell-phone-call diet lead to a loss of contact with my friends. That 9:30 to 10 p.m. Eastern Time window is a good time to call when you live in California. And I don't Facebook or Twitter.

It's amazing (and largely awesome) that we live in an era in which staying in touch with people has never been easier. But I worry that we're sacrificing something. Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own that "the hard is what makes it great." He's not entirely wrong. A friend recently revealed to me that since becoming Facebook friends with someone they actually communicate less. Sure it's easier than ever to know what little joys/frustrations/wonders we have (Mike ... loves his new jeans ... is happy that the Sparklett's water guy changed the cooler today so he didn't have to ... wants to know if he was as unreliable as a teen as his students are), but do you remember what your friends' voices sound like? Can you tell by the typeface they choose to create an emoticon what they're really feeling, the way you can tell by a verbal pause that they just withheld something important in an anecdote? [OK, enough anti-twitter/facebook rant.]

So if you read this and haven't heard from me in a while, that's gonna change. My co-worker Laura writes letters (by hand!) to her friends every week. I think I should do that. Watch the mail.


I've been addicted to this of late.

No comments: