Thursday, December 19, 2013

Failure To Communicate by Jenny Gardiner

A while back I made the deliberate choice to take some alone time, which is how I ended up traveling on my own hiking in Switzerland and Italy a few months back. Those days during which I walked exclusively for hours on end reaffirmed something I already knew quite well: I'm sort of a people person, and get sick of being by myself pretty quickly. Which certainly begs the question: well, then, why did you go off alone? Don't ask. But being on my own made me very much appreciate the gift of being with others, something I'm afraid so many of us take for granted nowadays. I realized this yet again the other day when my husband and I were having breakfast. Nearby sat a couple with two elementary school-aged kids. As I spied on them (sorry, the writer in me compels me to snoop sometimes) I felt sad, because no one in that family appeared to make much of an effort to communicate. The parents sat in silence, faces aimed downward, typing away on their smart phones. The kids were glued to theirs as well, barely coming up for air, let alone conversation. The family couldn't have been less together had they been in separate corners of the restaurant. This was something I noticed so often while in Italy. I was fairly starved for communication with someone familiar, having been walking for sometimes up to eight hours during the day without seeing another person. As it is, my family occasionally cringes at my tendency to strike up conversation with complete strangers (yes, even in elevators), and that's when I'm not craving human contact. They couldn't imagine the lengths to which I about went to speak with people — in another language, no less — when deprived of normal discourse for even a few days. I got to the point that I'd chat up anyone who would listen to me (and put up with my rusty Italian at that). When I ended up in larger cities and found English speakers? Jackpot for me. Poor English-speaking tourists who sat next to me during a meal! Who knew just hearing someone else speak my language would be such music to my ears? That concept of quiet self-reflection and alone-time upon which my trip was intended must've jumped right out the window. Yet wherever I went, I noticed that so many other people gathered together never seemed very together anyhow. I would see a table full of people, with everyone transfixed by their mobile phones, the cool glow of the lit screen reflecting off their faces, completely ignoring each other. I felt such a pang of jealousy for them being able to be with friends and family — yes, even though I'd made the deliberate choice to not be with mine. Here they had people right there, yet they chose instead to hone in on the digital brain in their hands, that whole other world hidden in their smart phones. Now don't get me wrong. I spend far more time than I ought to online. Between the unlimited accessibility to information that the Evil Genius Google provides, and the non-stop chat-a-thons available via Facebook, Twitter, or far too many other social media to even list, I often allow the Great Time Suck to get the better of me despite my good intentions to the contrary. I can be like a heroin junkie, seeking just one more fix. I follow a link to a compelling story which leads me to a link to another compelling story and so on, and the next thing I know I've frittered away hours on nothing other than added fuel for my brain full of useless Jeopardy factoids which I'll never use anyhow. It was a huge gift for me to be a stranger in a strange land on my own and appreciate how wonderful it is to be able to be with those you love. And to give me some time to break away from that electronic addiction to which most of us are enslaved these days. I befriended an Australian woman who just completed walking the entire length (about 1300 miles) of the pilgrimage route on which I hiked. She's been walking since late August from Canterbury England, and arrived in Rome a few days ago. She claims to be an introvert, yet reading her blog daily, I can see that she has been, nevertheless, desperately lonely. It's hard to walk alone for hours on end, often seeing no one, then arrive in a town, have to find a place to sleep, while hoping to find a restaurant or bar in which to find some food, and with any luck, maybe some human contact. You find yourself going out of your way to talk to anyone when you have no one there. If given enough time I'd likely have been known as the strange babbling woman, frankly. One of those mad-professor types with a crazed glint in her eyes, rambling ceaselessly. I don't think I'd have it in me to have walked alone for three straight months for the sheer lack of engagement with loved ones with which I'd be missing out. Clearly I'm not one for the lone pursuit experience for very long. I know I took for granted the ability to be with those I love and care for. As I reflect during the holidays time, I'm all the more grateful for those who have made my life more interesting, engaging, and exciting. For those who have shared their love, their hearts, and themselves with me. And for my not having to follow link upon link to find them; rather to know that they've been right here all along.

Slim to None

Anywhere But Here

Winging It: A Memoir of Caring for a Vengeful Parrot Who's Determined to Kill Me

Accidentally on Purpose (written as Erin Delany)

Compromising Positions (written as Erin Delany)

I'm Not the Biggest Bitch in this Relationship (I'm a contributor)

And these shorts:
Idol Worship: A Lost Week with the Weirdos and Wannabes at American Idol Auditions

The Gall of It All: And None of the Three F's Rhymes with Duck

Naked Man On Main Street
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