Perhaps you’ve experienced something like this cycle of emotions recently. This morning, as I woke up after a few days of isolation, dread, and an incipient sore throat—all of which resulted in an unpleasant stupor of “Dateline,” napping, wall-staring, and phone Scrabble—I put my feet on the floor and said to myself, Today is going to be different! I marched determinedly about my apartment, tidying, making coffee, preparing to work, listening to podcasts. I felt somewhat optimistic. But soon I had tears in my eyes, because I was listening to the news. (It was Tuesday’s stellar episode of “The Daily,” in which Michael Barbaro talked to Dr. Fabiano Di Marco, the head of the respiratory unit of a hospital in Bergamo, Italy. “It’s like a war,” Di Marco said.) But my goal, in addition to staying informed, was to be productive, and that would require avoiding my stupor. So I took my own advice from the piece I was trying to write: I called a loved one on the phone.
I picked up my landline—yes, landline—and called Janet, my late mother’s best friend, a retired music teacher who lives on Cape Cod. Janet had e-mailed to see how I was doing during social isolation, decorating her message with shamrocks and kissy-face emojis. It was a great e-mail, but I wanted to hear her voice. “Sarah!” Janet said. She was smiling—I could hear it. “Let me put down my chanter.” She was practicing her bagpipes; it was St. Patrick’s Day, in the time of the coronavirus, and she was preparing for a one-woman parade. “I’m going to play ‘The Minstrel Boy’ and march down the street,” she said. “I’ll send you a video.” Talking to Janet, I could hear the amusement and energy in her voice; she’s always ready to laugh, even now, and she’s always up to something. She talks in vivid anecdotes. We caught up, gossiped, railed against political incompetence, laughed our heads off. Hanging up, I felt more alive.
I’ve wanted to write for a long time about the particular joy of talking on the phone. Not video chat, though that has its charms. (Among them, this week: virtual coffees and cocktail hours, Zoom meetings, seeing how your parents look, saying hi to your favorite rambunctious little kid.) But for sheer connectedness, the phone has something other forms of communication don’t. For the past few years, I’ve harbored a secret theory—that our love of the intimacy of podcasts, of the near-startling pleasure of curling up with the immediacy of a human voice in our ears, is connected to our loss of that pleasure from talking on the phone. People too young to have grown up doing so tend not to get why you would do it at all. Suggesting a phone call gets a laugh; saying that you have a landline gets a polite, reeling covering-up of something like pity. (A friend of mine, a few years ago, called his younger date, after some cumbersome texting, to sort out meetup logistics. She was freaked out. A phone call? “That’s what my dad does,” she told him. Then he was freaked out.)
In any case, I get it. Messaging has overtaken phone calls for good reason—convenience, desirable asynchronicity, privacy, a certain respecting of boundaries. When you’re using your phone primarily as a screen, flipping between, say, Twitter, Scrabble, Overcast, Instagram, the weather, your camera, a document, Google Keep, and the neurotic bunch of timers you keep for yourself to try to impose structure on your day (or maybe that’s just me), having your phone suddenly come alive, vibrating, making noise, being overtaken by the name and image of a gabby relative—in short, turning into a phone—can be jarring. (Aaah! What are you doing here?) Suddenly, this person is in your house. Beyond that, phone calls now tend to take place over crappy-sounding technology—tinnier, spottier, less reliable than during the golden era of the phone gab. It may be hard to remember, under those circumstances, the appeal.
But we all know, instinctively, about the power of the human voice. You may even have voice mails, left years ago, that you’ll never delete. I have them from loved ones who have died—the “Hello, dear!” of my Aunt Adelle, the mile-a-minute thinking aloud of my friend Michael. (“I kind of feel like we’re dealing with ethics, and I hate dealing with ethics. Call me back, bye.”) Think of the recent videos from Siena and Wuhan, in which people sing or call out, connecting from windows and balconies during social isolation, across distance, à la the twilight bark in “101 Dalmatians.” This week, I’ve been doing that with relatives I’ve loved all my life but haven’t caught up with in a while, their distinctive voices coming to me from Santa Barbara, Lubbock, Memphis, Hartford, Barre. And I’ve been doing it with people across town.
The phone calls have reminded me, with new clarity, about the things that are expressed in tone, beyond words. Last night, I listened to a younger co-worker friend tell me a story he’d planned to share over a drink, about a burial he’d arranged for an elderly friend who’d died. As he described the series of kindnesses he’d encountered—of a city worker, of volunteers at a Jewish service organization, of the men in the minyan who came to the burial—I could hear a whole bouquet of notes: amazement, respect, quiet gratitude, affection, his own understated kindness. Before we hung up, I told him I was glad to know him. A couple of hours later, he called again, for a different kind of bonding: out for a walk on the deserted night streets, he’d accidentally kicked a rat. Now he needed someone to shudder with. “It was soft,” he said. We recoiled together, noisily commiserating. Then, hoping to consolingly redirect the rat energy, I told a story about a time when I’d made a yowsers connection myself: scurrying down Mulberry Street, past a gesticulating anecdotalist, I inadvertently caused my own groping. (“Was it as good for you?” the startled man called after me.) Roaring about the surprising little revulsions of New York City streets—all our shared notes of surprise and hilarity and empathy and horror—is exactly the stuff of a good gab. And when you’re living in isolation, it’s reassuring to make some noise.
If you’ve fallen out of the habit, or never had it to begin with, here’s what to do. First, find the best equipment you can: ideally, a real phone. A landline is optimal, or a cell phone with decent audio, held right up to your ear. Avoid the diffuse echoey sadness of the speakerphone, the vulnerable voice bouncing around an open room or, God forbid, an open car. No screens, no juddering technology or buffering, no contending with the distracting horror of your own disembodied face. Just voice: mind meeting soul meeting timbre. Don’t have a TV on; don’t have a laptop in front of you. Sit in a favorite chair and look at your plants and your books. They are beautiful. Look out the window, the trees outside. Listen to your friend.
Second: the friend. The right friend. A good-laugher friend, a pal-around friend, a rollicking-bear-hug friend. Often, at the beginning of a really good phone call, my best friends and I do a little joyous hollering—ha-HA! There you are! It’s good to hear you!—to voice, in brouhaha form, the happy relief of being together. (The older I get, and the more complicated hanging out with my friends has become, that kind of togetherness feels like a gift.) Usually, these conversations, these in-cahoots, let-it-all-hang-out gabfests, feel like an illicit stealing away of time: a pleasurable combination of life-strategizing and zingers with my friend in L.A., who’s driving through traffic or navigating Gelson’s; or with the friend in Riverdale, who’s walking her lovable three-legged dog; or with the one in Manchester-by-the-Sea, who’s sneaking out to go night-surfcasting after her kids are asleep. Now we’re all in our houses and apartments, trying to stay sane.
That’s it. Find a good phone, focus, and be together. It will do you some good. On the phone, you’re not performing for a camera, or observing your friend and their house. You’re not typing. You can get to essentials with a different, more human part of your brain. At work a week or two ago, we got certain things done efficiently because of conversation. Now, working remotely, a similar efficiency, involving tone, back-and-forth, joking, and brainstorming, can happen on the phone. Boring things are best handled electronically; complex, more abstract things, involving ideas or problem-solving or solace, are better handled with the nuance of voice. People who grew up in a phone-centric age—being fourteen, say, and lugging a rotary phone with a curly cord into a bedroom and closing the door, working up the nerve to call a cute boy, talking to his mother first—understand the phone’s particular immediacy very well. For decades, the phone company’s jingle was “Reach Out and Touch Someone.” Now, for a while, it’s the safest—and best—way to do it.
from The New Yorker March 18, 2020 And here's another article that talks about some of the same things Psychology Today Why Video Chats Are Wearing Us Out, by Doreen Dodgen Magee
Two robots are coming.
Hide the WD-40.
Lock up your nine-volt batteries.
Build a booby trap out of giant magnets;
dig a moat deep as a grave.
"They're Coming for Bankers!
"They're Coming for Lawyers!"
"They're Coming for Doctors"
"They're Coming for Entertainers!"
This outbreak is the eyes of the hippopotamus.
Death and politics are always coming for you,
heading inevitably toward collaborative writing,
brandished golf clubs,
in the meantime, talk and laugh, love and wait.
My junior year at Corcoran College,
in Corcoran, New Hampshire,
Super Goat Man was brought in to fill the
Walt Whitman Chair in the Humanities.
This reminded me of Mrs Speir, who
surfed her house down Moriches Bay
in the storied hurricane of 1938.
"She clung to the roof. It made her quite famous."
Cherry, whose favourite things include
rules, anti-drug programs, and grilled cheese,
told other stories from that time:
affairs, gruesome deaths, hearts sundered by grief.
I have notions of the things I do not know.
Premonitions are impossible, and they come true all the time.
The second law of thermodynamics says it can't happen,
but you think of your mother and then she calls.
She had a dream that something dark approached her,
unable to move her arms and legs,
unable to speak.
Several hours later, she found herself standing at the window
without knowing how she got there.
Many of the long-stay male patients were poorly attired;
the fronts of their thick serge shirts were heavily stained with food
and there was a dearth of ties.
A woman of sixty-eight lay down to sleep
and had a feeling as if shocked,
then felt paralyzed and heard vivid sounds of people coming up the stairs
with a sense of violent intent.
A middle-aged man had a feeling of shadow falling over his body,
hunted by enemies,
hearing extremely loud screams.
One spoke about his grandfather,
Yunel Escobar, who was dying in a different country,
a member of the semi-conceptual, site-specific, confessional-reminiscent school
of contemporary British art,
who hit a two-run double and then took third on defensive indifference,
setting off a fracas.
I think the Botox seeped into his brain. He’s like a vinyl sofa with teeth.
Another wanted to talk about his baseball team
— its first time in the playoffs.
A third explained that he was making a list
of all the ways to categorize people.
Crest or Colgate, Apple or Android.
People who joke about farts and people who don’t.
People who say “I love you” at the end of every phone call
and people who can barely bring themselves to say it at all.
In this garish, hyper-colorful, and sort of stressful musical
the costumes are wild; confetti’s a constant;
the air was rough —
leaves and twigs that had snapped in gusts whipped at our faces;
Peter Pan made up like Edward Scissorhands,
as if a neutron bomb had been dropped on the Happiest Place on Earth.
The songs are what they’ve always been—
if you’ve heard them, you’ve heard them—
and the singing’s just fine.
Like some eighteen-year-olds, cooped up in their intensely private minds:
either you’ll totally get it, or you really, really won’t.
Don't be afraid of anything beyond your control. Don't be afraid, for
instance, that the building will collapse as you sleep, or that someone
you love will suddenly drop dead.
Eat an orange every morning.
Hope for everything. Expect nothing.
Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room
before you save the world. Then save the world.
Make eye contact with a tree.
Don't stay angry about anything for more than a week, but don't
forget what made you angry. Hold your anger out at arm's length
and look at it, as if it were a glass ball. Then add it to your glass ball
Do not spend too much time with large groups of people.
If someone murders your child, get a shotgun and blow his head off.
Expect society to be defective. Then weep when you find that it is far
more defective than you imagined.
Look at that bird over there.
Don't expect your children to love you, so they can, if they want to.
Be on time, but if you are late do not give a detailed and lengthy
Don't think that progress exists. It doesn't.
Do not practice cannibalism.
Imagine what you would like to see happen, and then don't do
anything to make it impossible.
Forgive your country every once in a while. If that is not possible, go
to another one.
If you feel tired, rest.
Do not wander through train stations muttering, "We're all going to
Don't be depressed about growing older. It will make you feel even
older. Which is depressing.
Do one thing at a time.
Keep your childish self alive.
Answer letters promptly. Use attractive stamps, like the one with a
tornado on it.
Use Colgate toothpaste in the new Tartar Control formula.
Be honest with yourself, diplomatic with others.
Do not go crazy a lot. It's a waste of time.
Dig a hole with a shovel.
Don't read the newspaper more than once a year.
Learn how to say "hello," "thank you," and "chopsticks" in Mandarin.
When there's shooting in the street, don't go near the window.
Kurt Vonnegut tells his wife he's going out to buy an envelope.
“Oh, she says, well, you're not a poor man. You know, why don't you go online and buy a hundred envelopes and put them in the closet? And so I pretend not to hear her. And go out to get an envelope because I'm going to have a hell of a good time in the process of buying one envelope. I meet a lot of people. And see some great looking babies. And a fire engine goes by. And I give them the thumbs up. And I'll ask a woman what kind of dog that is. And, and I don't know. The moral of the story is - we're here on Earth to fart around. And, of course, the computers will do us out of that."
We’ll have an economy based on wind.
I never understood wind.
You know, I know windmills very much.
I've studied it better than anybody I know.
It's very expensive.
They're made in China and Germany mostly —
very few made here, almost none.
But they're manufactured tremendous —
if you're into this —
Gases are spewing into the atmosphere.
You know we have a world, right?
So the world is tiny compared to the universe.
So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything.
You talk about the carbon footprint —
fumes are spewing into the air.
Whether it's in China, Germany, it's going into the air.
It's our air, their air, everything —
White House transcript of President Trump's speech to the Turning Point USA Student Action Summit, West Palm Beach, Saturday December 21, 2019
"I find beauty in what everyone else sees as ugly — rugged skyscrapers, beaten-up warehouses, things that are very run down. When I take on something like this, I have to give it 110 per cent. For me, it's addictive. I started, so I just had to finish."
The “Dark Waters” Image Book consisted of forty-six laminated pages that followed the linear and thematic trajectory of Bilott’s crusade, a sort of map of Haynes’s ideas for the movie’s visual language.
The album also included a list of the painters and photographers Haynes had chosen to inform the film’s palette and perspective, among them Gerhard Richter, Gordon Parks, Andreas Gursky, William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, and Joel Meyerowitz.