One of the things I find really interesting in the time-spending of some of the great minds in history is that many of them set aside time for “correspondences.” They would sit down for 1 or 2 hours of the day or evening to respond to letters, see visitors, make calls, etc. It’s such a quaint idea to me — Tchaikovsky, or Victor Hugo settling down at a desk with pen and paper, a stack of open letters to respond to and a list of others to write, and setting to it. When was the last time I even wrote a letter that wasn’t just a thank you card for a gift Linden had received?
Of course, things are different now. We don’t write letters so much as write emails, send texts, leave Facebook comments and the like. And with this digital form of correspondence, we are corresponding throughout the entire day.
But I think there’s really something lost in this modern method of correspondence. Sometimes, literally lost. With bulging inboxes, frequent pings, and so many scattered places where we conduct our relationships at a digital distance, there’s no pile of to-respond-tos to leaf through. It becomes really easy to neglect a correspondence, especially when a longer, more thoughtful reply is required, one that you can’t compose on the go.
This happened recently with a serious, personal message from one of my closest friends. I completely dropped the ball on getting back to her, and as a result, I hurt her. And I feel like shit for it.
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I think at the heart of my admiration for the “correspondence” hour is not just the cozy vision of the desk and opened letters, but the idea that our relationships deserve our dedicated attention. All relationships take work. And when you live far away from friends and family, you have the added layer of having to put in a conscious and constant effort to keep in touch. It takes time.
As a mom, time for me has become very strange. So much of my waking day is focussed on another person, and I often feel like my day doesn’t start until Linden goes to bed. But there is still time there. I have managed to make time, if only one night a week, to write the self-styled life. Some nights, it takes a lot of effort to get out of the house when I’m exhausted and just wanting to become one with my couch. But it has become easier. It’s become a routine for me. An important one. My writing nights are sacred.
There’s no reason why other things that are important can’t similarly become normal routines, even within the limited extra-baby time I have. The reality is that some things must. Nurturing my relationships is definitely one of them. It’s not enough to have my phone in my back pocket at all times, checking it more often than is probably healthy. Even when it feels like there’s no time, I have to make time.
I knew there would be take-aways from studying how Charles Darwin, et. al. spent their days. You might think it’d be something deeper: reading serious literature or taking up a serious academic subject. But I’m thinking a “correspondence” evening is in order.
Have you noticed this shift with the prevalence of digital communication? Do you have a system for managing correspondences with your family and friends?