Save the Post Office: Write to Your Friends ~ Matia Guardabascio

I have over four hundred friends on Facebook. Sometimes I wonder how many of them I actually talk to, how many I actually hang out with, or whether or not it matters if I do either of those things. Virtual communication and social media undoubtedly have many advantages, the most important of which being the immediacy of getting in touch with someone, like with text messaging. Social media, e-mail, text messaging, these are all synonymous with instant communication, or better yet, the instant gratification of immediately establishing contact with someone. But I wonder, how much of the human experience gets lost in virtual communication?

I cannot say that social media is destroying the bonds of friendship and really mean it. People are more connected than ever—finding long lost family, or friends from elementary school you thought you would never see again. But there is a difference between a Facebook friend and an actual friend. You know, a friend—someone you trust. Someone you actually talk to and know.

The interpersonal touch is obviously missing. You can’t shake hands with someone online. While social media offers many means of communicating, the intimacy of talking to a single person at one time is lost.  Facebook pages and Twitter accounts share information with everyone all at once. It’s all public. Even posts on friends’ pages are visible to anyone with access. People may be connected in a more vast and efficient way, but the intimacy, by which I mean the attentiveness, focus and honesty that goes hand in hand with one on one conversation, is all but lost in such a fast and efficient method of communication.

The epistolary form—letter writing—is a far more personal way of communicating with a good friend. People express themselves differently in written form than they do verbally or in a brief post on Facebook. Writing letters to friends opens up a whole world of expression that is otherwise buried by the concise methods of expression in virtual communication.

I write letters to some of my friends, mostly to those who live in other countries or on the Pacific side of the United States. These are friends I no longer get to see or talk to on any kind of regular basis. Writing letters to them enables me to tell them everything I want them to know—the kind of things one confides in good friends—in a space I choose to dedicate to them. And only them.

Sitting down to write a letter can be an arduous task sometimes. One of the reasons I use letter writing to communicate with my far away friends is because I can’t tell them directly what’s going on in my life on Facebook without telling everyone, or sending a long winded email. A letter carries with it the connotation of being long correspondence and of being personal. Still, the actual act of writing a letter requires a similar effort to writing a paper in that it requires a particular kind of uninterrupted focus, not to mention time. When I write to a good friend I have to focus only on that friend and what I would say if we were alone on a porch or by a fire drinking a bottle of wine. Letter writing requires honesty, focus and time, three things that are hard to come by in a world that insists on instant communication. But once the habit is established, writing letters to friends becomes a consistent way to speak truth to those who are too far away for a few beers and an afternoon chat on the porch or the stoop.

When you put your words on paper, you are creating a record. A record of a thought process, of an idea, or of a moment. And when you take the time to attach your words to a page and send them to the intended audience, you will have said everything you wanted to say, but couldn’t because other people were around. That friend now has a record of a moment in time in your life that he or she can read over and over again, if only to hear your voice.

Whenever I know I am to receive a letter, I wait anxiously for the mailman to come. I rush to the mailbox after he leaves and sift though it as if I’m searching for something of more value than a hidden treasure. For that reason, the mailman has always been one of my favorite people. I love expecting something other than bills to come for me. And the mailman is always the guy who gives me the good news.

There is something to be said for the anticipation of receiving snail-mail correspondence. The world of social media has undoubtedly spoiled us. Now, instant gratification is an every day thing when it comes to communicating. Waiting for a letter takes too much time in a world obsessed with efficiency and speed. But with efficiency and speed running the world of communication, how much substantial conversation can really be had? Already the deterioration of the English language is underway. Text messaging alone has been the biggest culprit… cuz like i luv like talking to u w/o actually speaking, u kno? Because of our abbreviated methods of communication, no one really seems to be talking or writing at length anymore. No one has the time because we’re all too busy trying to keep up with the pace of this virtual world.

But, how great a feeling is it to get a birthday card in the mail—the thought that someone actually took two seconds out of their day to think of you (and maybe help you out with a check or some cash)! They actually bought a stamp for you! How awesome is that? I mean—who buys stamps anymore?

But what would happen if we couldn’t buy stamps anymore? Or get birthday cards in the mail? What would happen if the Post Office died? Well, the answer is the same as it always is when a government service is diminished or disappears: the private sector takes over that entire market. UPS, Fedex, and DHL would be in charge of making sure your correspondence or package would be taken care of logistically! But at what cost? Soon you would be spending dollars instead of cents to RSVP to a wedding or mail a college application or send a ‘thank you’ note.

The Post Office is our last hope for paying a reasonable price for anything! While we’re paying four dollars per gallon for gas, you’re still paying less than fifty cents to mail a letter, less than a dollar to mail a letter anywhere else in the world. It’s easy to take advantage of a service like the Post Office because it has been around for as long as the United States has been a country.

The Post Office has this illusory aura about it, that it will always be around because it’s an American institution. But like most illusory things, this is untrue. Because communication has now exceeded speeds that the Post Office can maintain, its potential disappearance is now a real threat, as evidenced by the hundreds of Post Offices that have recently closed, and the thousands of postal workers who were consequently laid off.

We will lose more than jobs if the Post Office goes out of business. Listen to me… If you don’t write to your friends, then the most inexpensive service known to American society will die. And with it will die your last chance to really correspond with someone in the last intimate form of quality non-verbal communication.

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Photo courtesy of vocabulary.wordpress.com

(http://vocabulry.wordpress.com/2010/07/31/epistolary/)

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Road Trip: To Sanity and Back ~ Matia Guardabascio

I have been struggling all week to write about the Rally to Restore Sanity, which Alex and I attended in Washington D.C. last Saturday. At first I thought I was just tired after having driven one thousand miles to D.C. from Boston and back. I had many conversations with people about the Rally, and was able to speak about it with ease. Why then could I not strap down my thoughts to some loose leaf? Why?

I spent the week pondering this simple question until finally, the answer dawned on me. Why can’t I think of one meaningful thing to say about the Rally? Because people don’t care about it. How can I write about something no one cares about? Or what’s more, why don’t people care? Could it be because the whole event was immediately buried by the media, practically the moment it was over? Could it be that the comparison to Woodstock, made by countless media outlets prior to the event, turned people off, or caused them to dismiss it as some crazy hippie gathering? Could it be that the event, which was also labeled as “entertainment” by those same countless media outlets, instead of as the political gathering that it was, caused people to dismiss it even further? Perhaps the answer is “all of the above”.

Let me be clear about one thing: I did not go to the Rally to be entertained; I went to be empowered. And I was.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me boogie on back to the beginning: Boston, the night of October 28th. I left work at my normal time and rode the train home as I usually do. When I got to the station in my town I ran over to my already packed car and drove directly to New Brunswick. Nothing like a four hour race to Jersey after a long day of work with Issac Brock, Jimi Hendrix, and the Eagles of Death Metal for company. I slept soundly that night after splitting a bottle of chianti with my hosts, who always put up with my silliness whenever I come to New Jersey.

The next day, a friend and former writer for the JVP met me at 8am. We visited the bank to exchange a bag of coins for cash, grabbed some pancakes at the Palace Diner, then hit the road by 9:30am. By the time we got to Baltimore, the party music was already bumping. We arrived at Alex G’s apartment around 1pm. The drive was shorter than I had anticipated. Somehow Alex managed to get us a serious hookup for parking. My little Masshole Jetta sat by itself in the half circle in front of his huge apartment building for the entire time we were in D.C. Thank you Alex.

After catching our breathe, resting our feet, and snacking to the tune of Nas for two hours, we set off on what would become a twelve hour drinking marathon. The only word to describe the nature of our situation during that time other than belligerent is excessive. Perhaps youth is cruel after all, or is it whiskey?

Regardless, youth is what got us out of bed the next day, armed with breakfast sandwiches, coffees, waters, cameras, film, and, of course, my press pass. While my driving buddy survived the twelve hour marathon, he did not make it to the Rally in time to meet up with Alex and I, so the two of us embarked on our mission to find a good spot at the Rally.

This endeavor proved to be most difficult. There were, literally, hundreds of thousands of people descending upon the National Mall for this Rally. When we realized that planting ourselves with a good view among the enthusiastic crowd was not going to work, we made our way outside the designated areas for the public attendees, and up toward the stage (which was about 5 blocks away). We took turns leading the way through the swarms of excited people; there were tons of young people, many in costume or carrying signs. I could say that young people made up the majority of the crowd, but I’d be lying to you. So in the interest of truth, I’ll tell you what I really saw. I saw babies– yes, infants– and their parents, and their grandparents, and their aunts, uncles, neighbors, their teachers, their preachers, and their future college professors. Every kind of person these babies will meet in their lives was at the Rally– except for Glen Beck, of course. I didn’t see him there, except on the giant TV screens when Jon and Stephen showed us what the platform of fear in the media looks like.

After forty-five minutes of weaving through the largest and most diverse collection of people I have ever seen or been a part of, Alex and I finally made it to the Press entrance. A press pass goes a long way, let me tell you. The security official inspected my pass and waved me to enter. I told him that my camera man (pointing to Alex) was also with me. The guard let us both through to the spacious, guarded press section, which came equipped with its private selection of portable potties! We were not only in great audio range of the stage, but our view was direct and close to it as well. We could actually see Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osborne perform together. We could really see Kareem Abdul Jabar come on stage to prove a point to Colbert on behalf of Jon Stewart: that he cannot make generalized statements about all Muslims hating Americans because it is simply false. We actually got to see Tony Bennett sing “God Bless America”; and we, or at least I, sang along with him.

Alex and I were lucky. We did not have to climb a tree, or climb on top of portable potties (even collapsed ones), or sit on each other’s shoulders to get a good view. We were not those people who tried to jump a guarded fence to find a better place to stand.

When Jon Stewart came out to make his speech, he thanked us all for coming out, and appeared to be humbled by the size of the crowd that had responded to his call. If I had to wager a guess as to how large the crowd was, I’d say there were at least a few hundred thousand in attendance. Still, that feels like a modest guess. After having been in that crowd, and having had a good enough view to see the magnitude of it, I would even go so far as to say that half a million people were there. Look at this shot, which was taken after the Rally had ended and we had walked several blocks away from the National Mall:

Rally5-1

Consider this: the crowd you see in this photo is only a fraction of the people who attended. This is just one boulevard going off in one direction away from the Rally.

As soon as Stewart started talking, the crowd quieted down immediately and gave him their utmost attention. The level of respect for the man that I witnessed among the crowd was grand. More than anything, it was uplifting to see, to witness in real life how one person can reach across generations, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and states, to peaceably unite an enormous group of people. There was an electricity in the air as he talked to us and grew more passionate. He talked about how every day in this country people find a way to take care of their responsibilities while working together; the only place this spirit of ‘working together’ does not occur is in government. He talked about how the outlet for people to express their grievances and their discontents with our government, the media, is the system that is broken. As Stewart talked to us, he moved around a lot on stage, gesturing with his hands as he grew more passionate. And while his passion was obvious, it was not overwhelming. It was just right, in fact. 

Not surprisingly, when I got back to Massachusetts, people had hardly heard anything about the Rally, only what they’d heard prior to the event taking place. The question about the Rally that I answered more than any other was some version of this: “Was it really like Woodstock where everyone was… you know… (puts pointer finger and thumb to mouth to mimic smoking a joint)?” My answer: “No. It wasn’t like that at all. Not even in the slightest. People were there for the cause, not for music or for drugs. The spirit and energy of the crowd alone made that obvious.” What can I say really? People were attentive, respectful, eager to listen, and generally speaking, in good spirits. They really were. And as a result I felt connected to the people around me, even though I quite obviously knew none of them (except for Alex of course). For the first time in my short life I experienced that feeling of connectedness on such a large scale. The feeling is non-replicable. 

But now reality settles in again. The media will (and did) treat the Rally as they see fit, not as it was. And while I felt inspired and empowered by Stewart and the atmosphere of the Rally, I find that at present, I have never felt more discouraged or powerless. Why the contradictory feelings, you might ask? Because here I am, sitting at my desk, writing this article, and I know that the connectedness is gone. Why is it gone? Because now, a week later, when the Rally has been successfully buried by the mass media, all I can feel is ignored. I feel belittled. And more so now than ever, I feel like change is neither imminent, nor possible.

Perhaps this is the great downfall of all political movements: what to do when the Rally is over. What do we do after we disperse and return home? How do we keep the spirit alive when our platform to do so, the media, refuses to acknowledge it, refuses to cover it, as if it never happened at all? A tree did fall in the forest. I was there to hear it. Hundreds of thousands of people were there to hear that tree fall. And yet, here we are, a week later, and no one knows that tree was there in the first place. It is a sad day for America when thousands of eager voices come together to be heard as one and someone turns the volume off.

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Original Publication Date: 11.08.2010

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Inside JVP: An Interview with Dan Bracaglia by Ben Kharakh

If a picture’s worth a thousand words, then a prize or two wouldn’t do their quality any justice. Although I doubt that sentiment makes Dan Bracaglia think any less of all the critical praise and awards his photography has earned him throughout the years. Whether it’s with the Targum, his photoblogs, or elsewhere, Dan’s web and print presence makes an indelible impression: this guy is going places. And in this Q and A, JVP’s former photography editor looks back on where he’s going, where he’s at, and the path he’s been on along the way.

What brought you to Rutgers?

What brought me to Rutgers? Well I guess I was technically brought to Rutgers by my Mom’s minivan on a rainy August day back in 2006.

For real though: I went to Rutgers because it was the first school I applied to and the first school I got accepted to.  After that I said to myself, “Fuck it, I don’t want to be bothered filling out any more of these bullshit applications that ask me to sum up my aspirations and life”, I mean fuck I was eighteen years old, I don’t have a clue what I am doing with my life now, how the fuck did they expect me at eighteen to know that shit.  Not to mention the fact that I put in absolutely no effort (ok maybe a little effort) in high school. Well, I mean, I got by with straight B’s, but in high school, that’s no effort, regardless of whether it’s an AP class or not. So, Rutgers was pretty much my best option; and I sure as hell wasn’t going Ivy League (my parents told me my choices were a state school or Ivy League).

Also it should be noted that my mother attended Rutgers and dragged me to the college tour.  All I remember from it was that Cheese Whiz had been invented at Rutgers. That was enough for me; I was sold.

How’d you decide on your major(s)?

I knew I was going to major in journalism before I applied to Rutgers.  I always loved story telling, especially through visuals. It was a no brainer.  Funny story: I almost didn’t make it into the journalism school because I got a C in the very first journalism intro class that I took, which was also a prerequisite to applying to the school.  You needed a B in the class to apply. I had to take a Library Studies course instead.  I wrote some b/s paper about how the Segway was a complete failure (not sure now how that was related to the study of libraries).  However, I never got anything lower than a B+ after that class in the journalism major.

When and how did you develop and interest in photography/politics/journalism? How did you explore these interests growing up?

Photography is my passion.  I am lucky that I figured out what makes me happy at an early age.  Unfortunately what makes me happy isn’t exactly the most lucrative thing in the world.  As for politics, both my parents are lawyers and I was raised to, naturally, be political.  I minored in political science at Rutgers and actually only needed to take one more class to make it a double major, but refused to because it was some garbage intro class.  My parents think that was a bad decision; I think, who the fuck cares what you majored in? As of recently I have temporarily written all things political out of my life, including voting.

As for photography, I started a badass monthly “Zine” in high school called Dan’s Zine (yeah I was pretty vein).  To this day I am still trying to relive the glory of my high school days.  All I did every day after school was go out skateboarding with my friends, shoot photos, write obnoxious stories, and interview bands.  The zine lasted three years and we published 35 issues.  I had a sandwich named after me at my local town deli.  Like I said: the glory days.

What sort of aspirations did you have growing up and which of these, if any, are you putting the most effort into making a reality?

Growing up I wanted to be a rock and roll star.  I wanted all the girls to throw their panties at me when I walked down the street.  I wanted all the guys to be like, “I wish I was him”.  This is still my dream.  I want to be Bob Dylan.  He is a god to me. He is the most unexpected, shot in the dark, shit on your head dude ever.  I would love to shit on everyone’s head.

For real though, my dream is to own my own highly successful, highly controversial, super cool company, which I have complete creative control over.  I do well when I work for me.

What am I doing to accomplish this?  Gaining experience and knowledge and waiting.  I am like an assassin waiting on top of a building patiently until the moment is right to go in for the kill. That was fucking corny and untrue actually.  I am more like a dude trying to live his dream and make the right connections and gain the right knowledge first.

I just want to have complete control over my own destiny and be able to do positive things in my own way without anyone telling me what to do.

My real dream growing up was always to win a Pulitzer Prize for my photography.  If I could do anything with my time, I would photograph things that matter and change public opinion for the better through my images.  I feel I was born a slightly better than average photographer.  Photography was the first thing I realized I was good at (there were probably about 500 things I learned I wasn’t good at before discovering photography).  It would be a shame to not use my talents for positivity.  I truly believe in the power of humanity.

How did you change over the course of your time at Rutgers?

I changed a lot at Rutgers, although many of those changes are not ones I want to publish on the Internet, like the copious amounts of drugs I ingested—kidding!

My experience at Rutgers did exactly what a college education should do: It expanded my mind, taught me a lot about mysely– my strengths and weaknesses, the world around me, and the people around me.  I am very grateful for my education.

What have you been up to since leaving RU?

Since leaving RU I got into grad school, withdrew from grad school and took a job as the Associate Online Editor at Popular Photography Magazine.  I am currently working on nearly a dozen personal creative projects.  I have a live stop action short film in the works that I am real excited about.

How’d you become involved in the JVP?

Mike Stu got me in JVP way at the beginning when it was still a concept.  Despite my long-term affiliation, I have let JVP down far more times than the amount of times I did worthwhile things for it.  Although the photos that appeared with my Chris Dagget piece did win a New Jersey Press Association General News Photography Award (although they won for the identical images printed in the Targum).

In closing, follow your dreams. You can do anything you want, as long as you’re not a total bum.

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Are you going to the Rally to Restore Sanity?

WELL, YOU SHOULD!

It takes place on Saturday October 30th in Washington D.C. at the National Mall. Check out the website for more information:
www.rallytorestoresanity.com

If you can’t make it, then be sure to check in with the Johnsonville Press because I’ll be there covering the event and providing live updates on our Twitter page. Sign up to follow us on Twitter so you don’t miss out! (www.twitter.com/jvpress)

Also look for an article during the week after the Rally for a detailed account of the event along with photos for your viewing pleasure.

Cheers,
Matia Guardabascio
Editor-In-Chief

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Photo courtesy of bc.edu
(http://www.bc.edu/centers/cwf/global/meta-elements/jpg/natl_mall.jpg)

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