Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Who Are You Again? And I?

[Photo at a Shop called Howl on South Lamar.]

When you reach the ripe old age of (insert mumbling dissembling here) you have met a lot of people. They have crossed your path in classes, at work, at play, at events, in your neighborhood, at clubs and bars. Some are family or close enough. Some are family of friends or people you met on trips or through random connections (e.g. social media). They are friends of friends or people you met a degree or two or more away from the initial friend.

If you are like me, you keep up with this crew in various ways. In your head, of course, in that compartment labeled 'people I know.' This mental database contains a lot of people who might actually know you and also the 'famous' (locally or otherwise) who have little chance of recalling who you might be. This jumbled mess is the reason that when I'm trying to remember a friend whose first name is, say, Robert, that a chef's last name or a movie star's might appear in what is my slow-moving train of thought.

My husband has two large Rolodex wheels crammed full of cards, many with business cards attached, others scribbled on. Many times he retrieves precious info from this gadget. Of course, I'm betting there are names and info for people he has completely forgotten, too.

My major contact list is in the form of a computer data base. Currently in a Microsoft Access file, it's been in at least two other computer data base forms (one was, I believe, managed by a data base program called, strangely, Paradox). This data base has been converted, updated and columns added over a long and tangled life. When I first designed the columns...I didn't include 'email' as a heading but resorted to typing them into 'comments' for a long while and I've never added a cell phone column, just putting the cell phone into comments when people had both and now, of course, just putting cell phone into the phone column now that many don't have a land line. When arranging big events, I added columns for 'adult count' and 'kid count' and 'hotel/air.' I added some columns along the way to aid selection for mail/merge like 'XMAS' and 'TEMP.' The thing is a hot mess but a very important data base to me and because I'm too lazy to convert it again, I've had to buy new versions of Access (or Office Professional) along the way.

Of course I have contact information collected in phones and e-mail programs, too. I had the same cell phone for a decade from Sprint. I once typed all the contacts in it into a word document. I saved this in an Evernote (a program that allows you to have notes to yourself in browsers and on gadgets). The iPhone conveniently offers to call the things that look like phone numbers. Gradually some of these are added to my iPhone contact list which is, however, pretty short because really who phones people any longer? And I'm not really into texting either.

Then there are people (and groups) that I 'follow' or have listed as 'friends' or 'professional contacts' or have placed in 'circles' on social media.

There is overlap in all these databases from the mental to the modern social media. I also confess to having found a few printed phone lists the other day from jobs I had which I've never thrown away because they help me remember who these co-workers actually were. Or their names anyway.

There are people in that mental data base who've never made it to any real contact list and who aren't on social media (or not connected with me there). I might say 'hi' to these folks, I might have even had dinner with them, worked closely with them on something or sat through meetings for some charity. But I couldn't come up with an address or phone number on a bet. (Although phone books and Internet searches might do it. And private clubs we belong to have directories.)

I added three columns to the computer data base the other day. One to try to summarize how I came to know the person at first point of contact and one to rate the likelihood of ever communicating with them again. Then a third to describe what the current relationship is. There were a number of people in there who, honestly, I don't have any idea who they are. I should have put a comment in when I added them. I know that a few were friends of my dad's mostly and that I added them to this database to invite people to his 90th birthday party a few years ago. I should probably just delete the names but couldn't bring myself to do it. Some I knew pretty well myself through him and I've had to weed out the ones who died. Every year during holidays or while selecting names for a party list, I delete the dead people. Sometimes you just wipe out the line. Sometimes you have to remove the name of one half of a couple. Just a few days ago I had word that someone died. I found that I didn't have a snail mail address for a sympathy card. This couple had moved around and even though I'd been to an event at one house they had I had zero points of contact in my head or elsewhere. Only the dead person in the couple was on social media. There has been lots of press about what happens to people's social media feeds when they die. I don't really find it morbid or weird or anything myself. What's the difference between that and a hand-written Christmas card list? We got a Christmas card in my in-laws mail for both of them during the holidays. He died in January and she died in November. Someone didn't get the word. Anyway, we found the address for our sympathy card (where this digression started) by e-mailing a friend who we knew was close to the surviving partner.

That's one reason I like being on people's Christmas card lists: you keep up with their addresses. When I receive holiday cards, thank-you notes or invitations, I always pull up my data base and double check the address, spelling of names, zip codes etc. goes on. People enter and exit. And they don't always exit by dying. Sometimes we just never see them again. Sometimes that's how we'd wish it, sometimes not. You just sort of never know, especially about casual friends and acquaintances.

I began this digression several weeks ago. Since then a friend who lived here in the high rise died. The enormous number of connections he had and we had with him came into sharp relief. And there's his record in my database, his number on my phone. Eliminating them is too fraught today. Another time. And when I attend a memorial for him that's coming up I'll look around and realize how his connections overlap with mine in unexpected ways and also wonder more than once "what's that person's name?" and "are they in my database?"

When I started writing this it wasn't about death. And really, it's still not. But as with everything else, death has a way of sneaking into every conversation and changing all the parameters.

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