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Not-so-intimate knowledge

December 10th, 2004 · 6 Comments

I felt guilt this year over our holiday greetings. Emotional energy, as well as physical energy, is at a premium. So I decided to conserve and send out a card with a minimal amount of effort. On-line I played with a photo until I found an option that would work for our family. Added a couple lines of type, including our names, and presto, finished! For those who would like to read further about our family, yes, I put the blog urls…

In years past I would spend weeks creating the Christmas card. First there was the photo for which I would agonize and waste rolls of film. This year I used a picture I took spontaneously of the kids, who happened to all be in red and happily cuddling, one night on the sofa. Other years I preened and posed them before the fireplace, propping up wobbly babies and then running to the camera until I could catch a gummy smile.

Then I would work on the Christmas letter, my novelette, a summary of the year. It was one of the only times I would create a composition, so I enjoyed playing with words. I’d debate which verb to use in describing our travel adventures. I’d consult a thesaurus and think about how I could creatively talk about our work and the children’s accomplishments.

This year I felt I didn’t have time or energy for such intense creation. And, I wondered, who wants to read it? Does anyone care where we went on vacation? Or does our card get dumped into a pile once the envelope is opened? It’s a busy time of year and it seemed presumptuous for me to assume that others would want to read a lengthy exposition of our life. I guess when I had more time I thought others did too. Now that I’m busier, I imagine the rest of the world is also as busy. Plus, this year, due to our road trips, we have seen many of our friends and family, and been able to share with them in person.

It seemed silly to spend time rewriting or trying to summarize what I’d put on this blog. And I realized that those who read what I post here may know me better than many of our holiday card recipients with whom we correspond only once a year. So why duplicate efforts?

But the guilt still got to me. Again, another page of the rule book to destroy. I used to judge others, wondering why the Christmas card they sent was so devoid of personal information. Pictures of family or perhaps only a printed card with a stamped signature. I’d get upset over it. And now I have sent out the same.

One of my motivations for blogging is to receive a sense of intimacy. That’s why I read and write. Christmas cards no longer fill that need. I’m glad to hear from others. But this exchange of holiday greetings in the mail seems to have become a social obligation more than intimate communication. Email and blogs are where many of my conversations occur. I can share myself and others can respond. We can do dialogue. It’s living. Christmas cards are dead trees. But it’s a tradition that won’t die easily. I do like the creativity and I do like cards. I like to see the smiling faces and get a glimpse of our friends and family.

However, I’m realizing that intimate knowledge doesn’t come from a one-card conversation sent at the end of December. It’s a product of repetition, initiative and time. It comes from getting together for coffee or playdates. It comes from phone calls on rainy days and picnics on sunny ones. It comes from emails typed at midnight. And it even comes in some sense from what we write and read of each other on these daily Christmas missives we call blogs.

Tags: journal

6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Katherine // Dec 10, 2004 at 5:57 pm

    I really liked this post. I was thinking the same thing this year about cards vs. blogs. Cards seemed no longer necessary now that I’m blogging. It think it’s the first time I didn’t summarize the year in our Christmas letter. We went for a strange different style because it seemed like there wasn’t much to say after having blogged since May. On the other hand, most of the people we send cards to probably don’t read my blog. So it’s a weird phenomenon.

  • 2 Chas Redmond // Dec 10, 2004 at 10:22 pm

    I guess I would respectfully disagree. I receive lots of email from friends, read a few of their blogs, get sent emails with photos, talk to them on the phone, etc. And, yet, I still enjoy reading their once-a-year Christmas story (journal) which I realize is penned for my benefit and many others I don’t know. It puts that person’s inside on the outside. Rather than synthesizing who they are from what they write via email, I read what they say they are through their own well-chosen words. Words chosen specifically for those who may not be on their email list but also for those who are.

    In a sense, not doing something which you have done in the past creates a sense that there is a change in you from those who have expected and received the Christmas post in the past – even if it’s the only thing they got from you the entire year.

    I would recommend a reconsider. Not everyone blogs (by a long shot – you’re still in a unique minority here) and not everyone uses email as extensively as you think they do (and email users who use it for personal rather than professional are still in the vast minority of adults and IM isn’t even a proximity of the formality email is for the younger set). And, the art of letter writing has been in serious decline since the advent of easy long-distance phone in the 60’s, so anything one can do to continue that lost art is a glorious tribute to the power of the word.

    When you write something in a blog or even in an email, you might think for a minute about the implications, how it might be inferred, the double entendres, etc., and give it maybe a one-time read through and then it’s either “send” or “publish.” When you compose a letter which will be printed, folded, stuffed into an envelope and sent using real money (stamps) with further effort to address both to sender and your return, it makes it a different message. Your message, which electronically might have been a collection of thoughts, now must be coherent and cohesive. It must have a beginning, a middle, and an end – and perhaps an epilog.

    That makes the communication a completely different form and type. Not only that, it compels the receiver to read it because everyone is aware of the time required for such a communication and therefore the level of personal commitment on behalf of the sender. You ask, “does anyone really read these things?” The answer is, of course they do, they are compelled to read them because they are aware of the amount of time you put into creating it. Further, that level of commitment on your behalf is as personal as giving someone a hug or kiss on the cheek. It’s a personal touch because you were personally involved in its creation. It’s not just another “yeah, thanks, bye” phone call or an ordinary “saw that, thanks.” email or even a slice of daily life as portrayed in your blog. That’s the whole point, it’s not a slice of your life, it’s a compression of everything you think about, care about, have worried about and which delighted you. It’s a synthesis of you and not an abstract of you. Therein lies the difference.

    Please reconsider.

  • 3 Ernest Prabhakar // Dec 11, 2004 at 9:32 am

    Hi Julie, Well, your URL-laden card worked well for me; I had been meaning to add you all to my RSS feed, so this was a good reminder, and probably easier to consume. Hopefully this will help me keep better up-to-date on you all. Blessings, Ernie P.

  • 4 Katherine // Dec 11, 2004 at 4:11 pm

    Thanks for the card, Julie! My mom got hers a few hours before I did! She prompted me to check my mailbox hopefully…and I enjoyed it. Of course, I did always read and enjoy the letters too, but you only have so much time in your life these days! I can understand Chas Redmond’s points, but you have to do what works for your family each year, without stressing you out.

  • 5 enochchoi@yahoo.com // Dec 11, 2004 at 10:12 pm

    loved the card. the pic is pinned via magnet to our fridge. your girls are lovely!

  • 6 Julie // Dec 12, 2004 at 1:36 am

    Thanks to everyone for the comments.

    Glad you liked it (them? post and then card?), Katherine.

    Chas, I’m sorry I didn’t have the time and energy this year to do a letter. Maybe next year.

    Great to see you here, Ernie, and thanks for your blog too! Yes I hope we can keep better in touch with each other..

    Thank you, Enoch.

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