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.

__________________________

Photo courtesy of vocabulary.wordpress.com

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

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Inside JVP: An Interview with Alex Giannattasio by Ben Kharakh

I found out about the Johnsonville when I overheard co-founder and former editor-in-chief Alex Giannattasio talking about the JVP with Professor James Livingston. (You call it eavesdropping; I call it journalism!) It wasn’t until the spring of 2010 that I’d reached out to the JVP. Once I did, I fell head-over-heels. It was as though I was at the top of a snowy hill, leaned too far over the edge, and suddenly found myself rolling downwards at a high speed– throwing up all over myself, and throwing up even more after having swallowed my own throw up (effectively regurgitating what I’d just regurgitated).

The downhill vomitorium is an effective analogy of what my relationship with the JVP was like when Alex was around: I’d make my way to Alex’s, tell him everything I’d thought about that week, he would give me his insights, I’d mull over his take, and a few days later I’d have my latest article.

While Alex might be in law school and no longer physically around to chat about my latest piece, his presence is always felt whether it be in his comments, guidance, or ever-growing legacy as a contributor. And while this Q and A isn’t the same as having Alex around full time, it’ll have to hold you over for now.

What brought you to Rutgers? The State of New Jersey. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into where I would be going to college. Rutgers offered me a quick and cheap option with no fuss. I took it primarily out of convenience and now I’m glad I did.

In JV Press On, you said your high school guidance counselor said you were lucky to get into Rutgers. Why was that? Simply because I didn’t shop around for schools or put much effort into the admission process at all…

How’d you decide on your major(s)? My first semester classes were laid out for me upon arrival. One of them was Introduction to Ethics, taught by Professor Ruth Change. I loved the material as well as the professor, and I got really into the class. (I recommend to anybody taking a class with her if you can). It was such a good experience that I signed up for more philosophy classes and a major just followed from there.

I also undertook a history major later on in my undergrad career. Around junior year, I realized that I already had quite a few history credits under my belt simply as a result of taking classes I was interested in and that had been recommended to me, most notably among these Professor Phil Roth’s classes in Luso-Hispanic Dialogue and Colonial History. He’s an excellent professor who’s extremely knowledgeable in his field, and I’d definitely recommend taking his class if you can.

For the most part, my major selections were happy coincidences.

What about history and philosophy clicked with you? Argument. The two topics take slightly different approaches, but in the end, they are all about argument. Crafting arguments is something I’ve been naturally drawn to since I was a little kid. That, and the material is interesting. Of course, it’s easier to sit down and read something if you’re interested in the topic. Historical and philosophical writings can be very interesting.

What’s your relationship with writing? What’s my relationship with writing? That is a tough one…

Writing is just another means of communication. Objectively, there isn’t really anything special about writing that makes it any better or worse than any other form of expression or means of communication. What is important is that people are communicating, expressing themselves, because this is how we as humans learn and share, build societies, and get things done.

Personally, I prefer to express myself in writing as opposed to in person. I always feel more confident in an expression of my opinions and positions when I’ve had the chance to sit down and think about them first. Writing them out gives me the opportunity to do that. I also really enjoy the satisfaction I get from producing a quality piece of writing. And of course, it’s a nice feeling to know that my writing is improving all the time.

On the other hand, I have a tendency to labor over my writing. I invest a lot of time and emotional energy when I write, which is good for the final product, but it can also be very draining. In order to improve your writing you have to keep pushing the limits of your ability, which can really stress you out while you’re doing it. Having worked with a number of writers, I get the feeling that really good writing comes more naturally to some people: personally, I’m not one of them. I’ve had to put in quite a few hours to get anywhere. But in the end, it’s like anything: practice makes improvement.

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? When I was real little, I wanted to be a scientist, an archeologist or an engineer. Clearly, those aspirations ended when I took up philosophy, and especially when I committed to law school, although I sometimes regret giving them up…

Growing up, I always found different ways to make money. I always had a new scheme, some more effective than others. That ambition has stuck with me to this day. In the short term, I’m focused on establishing a comfortable living for myself and my family. In the long run, I’d like to be able to transition from a more lucrative but stressful lifestyle to a more peaceful, self sustaining lifestyle. I’d like to retire to a farm and grow produce for myself in the next thirty years. I’d love to be surrounded by a natural setting using my hands to produce real products. But that is more an ideal than a goal. We’ll see what happens….Right now, I’m focused on entering the world of productive adults. I get money, you know?

When do you find yourself regretting them and why? I like to build things, to work with my hands to a more tangibly productive end. With a humanities degree, the closest I ever get to that is by writing. Science, on the other hand, gives you more opportunities to build stuff. So I sometimes regret the choice. On the other hand, if I make enough money to pursue a few hobbies, like carpentry and farming, I think it’ll be worth it…

What sort of things do you like to build? I enjoy working with wood. I got into woodworking and carpentry in high school; I was something of a shop kid. On one occasion, me and some other students built a couple of 6 foot tall, functioning trebuchets, medieval catapults. But I’ll build anything, as the situation and circumstances necessitate.

What sort of schemes have you been involved in? I’ll give you an example. When I was in high school, I used to take breakfast orders from kids. Then I would wake up early, run down to Mcdonalds, BK and Dunkin Donuts with a wagon, and pick up the orders. I’d deliver the purchases in the morning for a nominal fee. Eventually, the school decided to put an end to that scheme, but I made a buck while it lasted…

What inspired you to go to Law School? I wasn’t so much inspired to go to law school; it was more like I fell into it. Law school is the natural next step after a humanities degree, specifically one in philosophy/history. Of course law school is the place to be if you want to make something of yourself. So many people are going off to law school now for just that reason, and I’m among them. I have high hopes that by the end of my 3 years at law school, I’ll have a good idea of how I can make a positive impact on the world while doing interesting and engaging work. And the skills I’m learning are invaluable. At this point, I couldn’t be happier about my decision to go.

What were some of the biggest surprises you found in Law School? It’s nice to be surrounded by a group of very intelligent people inside as well as outside the classroom. Also, nothing can really prepare you for the workload, or the style of learning and writing they seek to teach law students. But you pick up on it as you go.

What’s the work load like at law school and style of learning/writing like at law school? Basically, the work load is not so difficult that it’s beyond you, but you still gotta bust your ass to do well. Personally, I enjoy law school quite a bit, though so many of my peers think I’m crazy for that. Frankly, it’s not something anyone wants to read me talk about, so I wont.

You live in DC now. How would you compare New Brunswick and DC? It’s certainly not easy to compare a small town of 50,000 people to a major metropolis holding several million. For one, DC is less dirty; there is less trash in the roads, the sewers are well managed, and you wont see gas leaks spouting fire on any given day. On the other hand, both cities do have quite a few homeless people walking around. In both places you can find significant disparities between the well to do and the poorly off, though these discrepancies are, of course, much more stark in the major city. I enjoy[ed] living in both places for different reasons: in DC, there is always something to do; the charm of NB, however, is that if there isn’t really much to do, you can always do-it-yourself, so to speak.

How did you change over the course of your time at Rutgers? Unavoidably, I grew up. College is where you learn about yourself, and I certainly did a lot of that at Rutgers. More specifically, each year I had a new independent project, just to keep myself busy and engaged. The most recent of these, of course, was the founding of the Johnsonville Press. I suppose the best I can tell you is that I became who I am today while I was at Rutgers, and I have no regrets.

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In the Margins of Life ~ Brian Connolly

Turning to a colleague, I asked, “What’s this ‘Doctober-fest’ that everyone’s been talking about?”

He smirked, taking note of my ignorance.

“What?” I inquired. Suddenly, I was interested. Before I only spoke in order to break the silence of workplace monotony. But now we had the beginnings of a conversation brewing. Cooking with fire, if you will.

“Two things.”

“Yes? I’m all ears sweetheart.” The “bro-mantic” undertones were almost palpable.

“One—it’s ‘Doctober,’ not ‘Doctober-fest,’ or whatever the fuck you called it.”

“Oh…I wonder what I was thinking of?”

“Oktoberfest, you jackass.”

I paused,; my mind was momentarily lost in thought. “I can see where I confused the two. I had some wine last night. Imported stock. So, that train of thought makes sense.”

Shaking his head, bemused at my eccentric musings, my peer continued: “And secondly, he’s a baseball player. For the Phillies.”

That did it. Conversation over. Well, it was good while it lasted. Sports are by no means my area of expertise. And we both knew this.

Knowledge like that lies in the margins of my brain. And that got me thinking. What else is there in life’s little corners?

Historically, the outskirts of such things like manuscripts have been very fruitful entities. Take, for instance, Bede’s Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum. Within, tucked away in the margins (see what I did there?), is the first surviving poem written in English. Quite the discovery, I’d say.

It’s certainly more interesting than what I write in the margins of my notebook. During one boring lecture, I jotted down this treasure in the sidelines of a piece of paper: “You sir, are just one dick, in a great big bag of dicks.”

Moving away from that oh-so interesting snippet of dialogue, I frequently find physical objects, those not of an artistic persuasion, to follow instep with this thought process. Take fast food and the obligatory order of French Fries that go along with it. Extra fries will always get lodged in the recesses of the bag. They will. It’s just a fact.

And these estranged pieces of potato will, without a doubt, taste better than the rest of the order. It’s one of life’s little boons.

What other great surprises remain hidden in the margins? (Fuck, I’m going to need a synonym for ‘margin’ before this article is done. What shall it be…? Brim, verge, side, etc?)

The shoreline of social interactions, too, is a veritable cornucopia—pretentious much?—of interesting occurrences. Take for instance, a rainy day in New Brunswick. Huddled in the library, reading whatever wrinkled paperback you can get your hands on to pass the time, you strike up a conversation with some random person who turns out to be really cool.

Isn’t that the best?

You’ll never talk to them again. You weren’t planning on conversing with anyone that afternoon. Hell, you don’t really even know who they are. Yet it happened. And it was fantastic.

What I’m trying to say is simple, folks. Just stop and fuckin’ smell the roses from time to time. Take a look around. No one’s stopping ya.

_______________________________

[1] New Brunswick, much like Seattle, New York City, and Edinburgh, is one of those cities that get infinitely better with rain.

Photo courtesy of insideview.ie

(http://www.insideview.ie/irisheyes/2004/08/the_art_of_dood.html)

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