In the 1970s and ’80s, there was a series of TV commercials by AT&T that appeared every year around the holidays. In one, an old woman teared up as she told her husband that their son had called from thousands of miles away—just to say he loved them. In another, a young woman called to wish her power-suited mother well as she reentered the job market. At the end of each ad was the jingle: “Reach out and touch someone.” It was catchy.
A few months ago, I heard the phrase “reach out” again. I had rung up an executive at a local company, hoping she might provide me with a few facts and figures for a story I was working on. The woman was cordial, but circumspect. She had nothing to offer, she said. When I inquired whether someone else might provide some insights, she replied, without enthusiasm: “I’ll reach out to some colleagues.” The implication was clear: “Reaching out” was not the same thing as “making contact.”
Nowadays, technology affords us the chance to reach out—via cell phone, the Internet, Facebook—more easily than ever. But the other day, as I returned a volley of voicemails and text messages, it occurred to me that actual “connection” was increasingly rare. When had I last seen my friend Sarah? Why did my brother and I trade more texts than calls? Why was it that I let even the calls of close friends roll to voicemail? All of us were reaching out multiple times a day. But actual connections—interactions that allowed us to gauge another’s mood and situation— were scarce.
So this month, in the spirit of the season, I’m making a vow to slow down and connect with friends, coworkers, family, and fellow Minnesotans. I’m not just reaching out, leaving the rest to fate. I’m picking up the phone when it rings, lingering a bit by the water cooler, and looking my fellow Minnesotans in the eye on the street and in the skyway. There’s no guarantee of connection, of course, and I certainly won’t make it through my entire list of Facebook friends. But I’m confident from past experience that the effort will yield not only good conversations, but a happy surprise or two. Call it connection. Call it the magic touch.
Frank Bures wrote about the search for Bigfoot in northern Minnesota in the September issue of Minnesota Monthly. He has written numerous articles for Bicycling, Scientific American Mind, The Africa Report, Poets & Writers, and other magazines, and his stories have been featured in the Best American Travel Writing 2009 and the Best American Travel Writing 2004. He lives in Minneapolis.
Brazilian illustrator Kako has been published in numerous magazines and illustration annuals, including Communication Arts and Lurzer’s Archive 200 Best Illustrators Worldwide. This month, drawing on his affinity for comic books, he illustrated our piece on Minnesota’s unsolved mysteries. The piece (which appears on page 84) was written by Minnesota Monthly senior editor Tim Gihring.
Minnesota Monthly style editor Katie Dohman has the kind of job some people dream of: She spends a good chunk of each week perusing shops and checking out sales, in an effort to showcase her finds for readers. But this month, Dohman outdid herself, pulling more than 100 items from dozens of stores in order to create this month’s holiday gift guide (page 67). What does she want for Christmas? Extra sleep.