Lately, my dad has been texting me videos of capybaras, waiting to cross a road in Brazil or for some reason seated in front of a computer at a desk.
If you’re not familiar with the capybara, you should look it up. You’re in for a treat. This rodent of unusual size can be found in South America and bears a strong resemblance to the common childhood pet guinea pig. Capybaras aren’t just rodents of unusual size. They are the largest living rodent.
Capybaras are an extremely meme-able animal. They can often be found relaxing in photos and videos with each other or other animals. Photos of capybaras in pools looking like well-rested vacationers have made the rounds online often enough to be subject to jpg rot. Images of capybaras nuzzling up against a common house cat or lounging with a crocodile can be found in abundance.
One of my favorite poems is also about, broadly speaking, the capybara. “Unit of Measure” by Sandra Beasley uses the capybara as, well, a unit of measure.
“Everyone is lesser than or greater than the capybara.
Everything is taller or shorter than the capybara.
Everything is mistaken for a Brazilian dance craze
more or less frequently than the capybara.”
The full poem is worth a read (or two or three or six).
My dad of course knows all this, that I love this poem, that I enjoy videos of capybaras relaxing in water. I’ve also been bad at calling and visiting, and even texting, the past couple of weeks. So, he sends me capybara videos. We live in a weird age where staying close sometimes necessitates a capybara video.
Connection is such a tricky thing. How to stay in touch when life is oh so busy and full of miscellaneous obligations? Phone call, letter, capybara video?
My brother and I text each other Wordle scores at least once a week, which is not the most talkative way to stay up to date on someone’s life but is this lovely moment of brief connection. A way to say, yes, I am still here, listening for you. Yes, I do still love you and think about your day.
When my grandma passed, we found boxes of old letters. Hers of course, but also letters from family members who had passed long before her. Some of the letters were written in cursive one direction, and then another layer of cursive ran across the page perpendicular to the first. They had so much to say to each other! So many words. Updates on how the weather was at the farm and who was born and who had moved and who was ill and injured.
There’s something romantic (or romanticized?) about a physical piece of paper that someone touched and left a message for you on. That paper had to physically get all the way from the person who sent it to you. It’s not an electronic recreation of an electronic message that turned into a bundle of data, zipped through the air and bounced off some satellites to make it from their phone to yours.
Of course, as a person who spent my teenage years with a cell phone in my pocket at most times, there’s nothing quite as intimate as a late-night text message, so devoid of pretense or regular nerves. It’s easy to be vulnerable via text message. There’s very little getting in the way of that vulnerability. There is no facial expression encouraging or discouraging a thought-provoking question. There is no intimidation or nerves. It’s just a quick message and the response can come back to you instantaneously or (if you’re texting your crush) you can crushingly be left on read.
In my humble opinion, phone calls, much maligned and out of vogue, are the best way to get up to date with someone you know well. Again, the lack of actual faces can facilitate more intimacy, because it takes away nerves and distractions. It requires you to listen and listen well. All you have is that conversation. There are no looks or glances or fidgets. Just words.
Don’t get me started on zoom. I’m not the biggest fan (although it is good for long distance Thanksgiving).
We live in such a connected time. You can stay in touch via racoon meme, twitter thread, Facebook message. You can cash app someone an overdue payment out of the blue or invite them to a virtual watch party.
I love all the digital, visual, textual communications available, but sometimes I think there’s something weightier about that physical message. The time it takes to sit down and physically write something to someone.
It might be time to buy a fresh roll of stamps.