I seem to have developed chat-room fatigue. I can’t keep up with all the ways there are to virtually communicate with my friends, family and colleagues. One day everyone wants to be on House Party, the next Zoom seems to be in favour. Skype appears to have become positively outdated in this new world we are living in, though I do have the odd friend who still prefers it. Sometimes, my mum will ring for a good old-fashioned FaceTime; my dad prefers a video call on WhatsApp. It’s hard to keep up – especially when I am forced to factor in the endless virtual play dates my daughter wants me to schedule in with her friends. She disappears into her room with my phone, and for 15 minutes I enjoy listening to her cackling wickedly with her best mate from school.
All this technology is of course brilliant – I am very grateful that I am able to stay connected with loved ones during this time of physical distance. But it has had an unintended effect on me, something I absolutely could not have predicted three months ago: it has turned me into an obsessive letter writer.
Weirdly, writing someone a note feels more intimate in this day and age. When you can call up anyone from your sofa, sending them a card seems somehow special – it shows that you have given them a whole lot of thought (even if, like me, your handwriting is absolutely terrible). I have always kept a box of cards for thank-you notes, not to mention birthdays that catch us unaware – and yet, until now, it has been used only occasionally, a forgotten cache gathering dust under the bed in the spare room. But in this new existence, I rise early each morning and reach into it for a couple of cards. I sit down at the kitchen table, decide who I would like to write to – my in-laws, perhaps, or my friend Emma who lives two streets down – and then, when I take my daily allowance of exercise, I make sure I pass the postbox, or my local friend’s front door.
And oh, the joy I get from these small drops! Even better, I have started to receive letters back – letters that add happiness to otherwise quiet days. When I see one on the doormat, my heart sings, and ripping open an envelope fills me with the same pleasure that ripping open a birthday present did as a child. I remember why it felt so exciting, as a kid, to have a pen pal. And I vow to carry on this exercise long after the lockdown is lifted.
These letters, too, will go the distance. I will put them in a shoebox, and whenever I am feeling low, I will look to them to remind me of the time we weren’t allowed to see each other, but still went out of our way to stay in touch.