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Newsletters and Reunions

A newsletter used to come from my graduate school department twice a year.  The front of the newsletter was information about the program — visiting writers, major accomplishments of faculty — but anyone could add an update about their life to the back page of the letter.  Most of them were announcements about novels or poetry books, but sometimes people mentioned random life stuff like getting married or having kids or moving or a particularly memorable evening of getting drunk.  There seemed to be few guidelines for what was back page worthy.

I loved reading this newsletter, and it even moved me to travel eight hours to go back to campus for a Grace Paley reading.  And then it stopped.  I guess the department decided it wasn’t the best use of anyone’s time since it only came out twice a year and Facebook held those sorts of announcements in real time, every single day.

I miss the newsletter.

I didn’t go to my last high school reunion for the same reason.  Everyone I wanted to know about was reachable via Facebook or Twitter or their blog.  But those first two reunions at the five-year and ten-year mark?  I loved hearing what everyone was doing, where everyone had ended up.  There was something about getting a clump of information, a deluge of news in one evening, that felt different to the here-and-now; the drips and drabs of updates and pictures and announcements in a scrolling feed.


Atlas Obscura had an article a while back about Chap Records and the switch from courting (in which the families of the two people arranged their meeting and hopeful marriage) to dating (in which random people met and decided whether they liked each other enough to spend eternity together).  Chap Records, in this case, were small books where women could write about their male suitors.  (Presumably, everyone in ye olden days only liked the opposite sex.)

But towards the bottom of the article, the writer talks about the contents of the remaining Chap Records:

Perhaps most telling about the Chap Records that survive on the dusty shelves of the small museums throughout the country are just how unexciting they are. The entries are always brief, seemingly rushed, the work of people who feel obligated to write something but can’t quite muster up the enthusiasm. As such, they reveal only unimportant slivers of the writers.

The Facebook memories feature bubbles up my old updates from random years, and while some of them are funny things that the twins said as babies, most of them are boring reminders of old blog post links or notes about something I ate.  Why did I post these things in the first place?  Because I feel obligated to write something when there is really no obligation at all?

Whereas here, in my own space, I think I provide something a little deeper than the online equivalent of the high school reunion/dinner with current friends.  At least, while I don’t go back and re-read many posts, my perception (perhaps just due to the number of words?) is that it goes a little deeper than whatever ends up on Facebook.

I think, even if it’s a short post — only one sentence long — it still feels a little deeper over here.  I don’t know if it’s just that I’m more comfortable in my own space, or if blogs feel less like a Facebook, a space where I write something because I have the account and I should probably fill it out.


1 em { 02.08.17 at 12:31 pm }

I dislike Facebook for many reasons, starting with a distrust of it when it was first created. But I agree, it doesn’t allow for much depth, which is the problem with most social media. Blogs do, which I’ve always liked about them. So does YouTube. And Instagram can. Twitter, no.

This all feeds in to my own recent thinking about where & how to spend my online time. Great food for thought here.

2 SuzannaCatherine { 02.08.17 at 7:10 pm }

Your blog posts are often the highlight of my day. It’s always interesting and I often learn important life lessons. My life would be missing a lot if you were not “in it”.

Thanks for taking us all along on your journey.

3 Jess { 02.08.17 at 10:03 pm }

I agree with you so much on the reunion front, especially. I didn’t go to my 20th, in part because it was cancelled due to some poor planning, and also because of facebook, I’m sure. I went to my 10th and had a great time, but the 20th felt different because I have a peek into so many people’s lives that I would have talked to at a reunion. It is way more shallow though, and so much of what goes up there doesn’t have that depth. I have watched my undergraduate newsletter magazine thing dwindle with news until it’s just babies and marriages and the occasional big promotion. I love that your graduate newsletter used to include memorable drunken nights. So much more entertaining. I have very mixed feelings on facebook — there are people I might not catch up with any other way, but is how we catch up truly meaningful? Is it real? And I really think on how easily communication goes horribly wrong on that platform. I do enjoy the depth of blogs, the more complete thoughts, the personal-ness that is often lacking in those quick posts on facebook. Good thinkings here!

4 Beth { 02.09.17 at 8:25 am }

I agree. I love the updates from my small college. I no longer use Facebook but one of the things that bothered me was the inherent pressure to only post the “good stuff.” I think blogs are more honest, which I appreciate.

5 katherinea12 { 02.09.17 at 2:25 pm }

I have huge mixed feelings about f.b. right now. On the one hand, I do like seeing what you described in the column on your grad school magazine or vignettes of life or pictures. On the other, so much of what gets posted is essentially soundbites or memes that reduce complex issues (either personal or political) to seemingly simple things with quick fixes. I’d also add that someone writing in to a grad school magazine has to take some time and care to craft the submission and someone at a reunion has to contend with real, live people. Both, I think, cause people to consider a bit more before they speak/write. With f.b., it’s so easy to post, such a wide group of people, and so removed from the audience that selectivity (and, frankly, sometimes consideration for others) seems to evaporate. With my blog, I know I write to a fairly specific audience, and I try to both craft meaningful, complete content and also be sensitive to those reading.

6 TasIVFer { 02.13.17 at 9:54 pm }

So many conflicting things to say that I almost didn’t comment, but I think you’re used to my scatterbrained comments enough that I can be me. 😉 My university programme used to send out a similar newsletter (although there were never drunken mishaps!), and to be honest although it wasn’t masses of memes retweeted or political posts shared, it was fairly superficial. Who had gotten married, who published something new, a child born. I did like seeing names of people I had lost contact with, but it didn’t give that full a picture of anyone.

Although FB is descending into nothing but shares and memes, I still appreciate that it has put me in touch with people I haven’t seen for decades. I’m a migrant, and it is easy to feel like I have no roots. No one I see on a daily basis knew me as a child, teenage, or even younger adult. So although flawed, I have found FB to be a wonderful tool.

Of course I wish all those people had their own blogs. On our blogs we create content. No retweeting something we agree with or are appalled by. Although there may be a link to an article, etc bloggers give their comment on the other content.

A friend’s sister had cancer last year. I used to live with them decades ago, so I knew her fairly well but haven’t heard anything from her other than news passed on by the friend for many years. When the friend’s sister had cancer, she started a blog so she could share things directly rather than emailing everyone and as she found a community of cancer bloggers she felt at home with. She’s in remission now, and although I wouldn’t change that for the world I miss hearing from her so much. In her writing she was still the young woman I remembered – I could hear her voice in my head and imagine her expressions.

(c) 2006 Melissa S. Ford
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