I love email. I am attracted to texting, too, but I find it an enormous challenge to be articulate, witty, communicative, and beautiful in such a small window. Ah, but email! With email, I can compose! I can refine, sprawl, pun, add footnotes and links, assume multiple voices in the same paragraph. Yes, paragraphs! I can organize my ideas, structure them just so with such and such flow and well considered nuance.
And yet this email remains, usually, a private communication. This is not a novel I'm writing — or even a blog post (another medium I love for different reasons). No, an email is a carefully composed missive meant for an audience of very few. What an incredible thing: to take the time to compose communication to another person. I think we used to call such a thing a "letter."
I am still utterly amazed by letters — that I can write on a piece of paper in my apartment, stuff this paper in another piece of paper, stick a small sticker on it that cost me 42¢, drop it all in a blue box on the street corner and some random dude will deliver it to the person of my choosing — anywhere in the world! This blows me away. In fact, I find the idea so overwhelming, I rarely do it. (I do remain shocked that it costs so little and that people complain about said cost. If it were $15, I'd still think it was a deal — they deliver the actual paper I wrote on! My god, it's almost erotic.)
When face to face with a person, there is such a powerful bevy of forces at work. There's how I'm feeling that day — how I slept, what's happened to me, what I've eaten, whether I've pooped well or not. Then there's the other person who has all these same issues. Bring the two together and it's not simple addition of 1 + 1. No, two people together yield an exponent. William Burroughs and Brion Gysin call this the Third Mind which is itself a swarming, teeming, unpredictable multiplicity.
With so many forces at work, it is easy for ideas, words, intentions to go astray. You go to hook up with someone and next thing you know you're fighting; or you go to break up and next thing you know, you're making out. And every variation thereof.
Please don't misunderstand me — which is an asinine thing to write as readers will always do what they will. Indeed, Harold Bloom says all writing is misprision, misunderstanding, and this is the source of creativity. Nevertheless, please note that I am not saying we should avoid human contact. That would be stupid, bizarre, and insane. Communication that flows face to face can be the most exquisite, the most resonant, as the Third Mind spurs new ideas, thoughts, actions. The frenzy of in the flesh communication is a beautiful, if at times sublime, event. Few things are as exquisite as being carried way with another.
But, sometimes, being face to face shuts down communication as I stutter, stammer, get shy, get cocky, misspeak, slur, get grumpy and tired as a frenzy as forces, both internal and external, bear down upon me. With email, I can literally compose myself. This doesn't necessarily mean communication will be any clearer; readers misunderstand as much as listeners. But email creates a different timbre of communication in which it's easier to stay cool — and be eloquent, to boot.
At the risk of revealing too much personal information, my ex and I negotiated our divorce through email. In person, the feelings were so strong and confusing, we couldn't even talk to each other. And the mediator was both expensive and a douche bag. But through email we were able calmly, respectfully, and alas productively to discuss and negotiate such personal, profound issues as custody. It was, frankly, astounding.
And, like most people these days, I've founded romance via email. Which, as we all know, can be misleading as it is much easier to put one's best foot forward in email — it's a whole other thing when flesh and eyes and smells are permeating your words. Which is also why some relationships are best left to the virtual.
And so, yes, I love email. I love the easy way it lets me compose messages that aren't easy and the simplicity with which it lets me compose complexity. Personal computing might have killed the letter but it let personal communication blossom. I love that I can wrangle the teem of my emotions into refined, funny, allusive prose aimed at an audience of one.
Email affords such fantastic opportunities to present our best selves to the world — to those we love, to those we have loved, and to those we might love.
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