I really love emails as a communication form. Or should I say loved? I used to write long emails to my friends, and they’d write long emails to me. They were frequent, well-written, and tended to revolve around some kind of theme. Humor writing. Creativity. Losing things. Dreams. Maybe I’m misremembering but we didn’t link to things too often back then, even ten years ago. Now sometimes I’ll get an email that’s just a link, other than the subject line, which is very to the point. Subject lines used to be something I put a lot of thought into as well. They had to represent the email but not be too on the nose or specific. Like a poem title.
Back then, emails usually gave me a sense of what my friends were doing, what kind of tea they were drinking, what their cats were lying on, the funny thing their dad said on the phone the other day, what store they went to last night in their pajama bottoms.
Perhaps that isn’t too interesting to some people, but it is to me. True, it can all be done with social media, and even though I sound nostalgic talking about emails I don’t think one is intrinsically better than the other. I participated in social media enthusiastically, I’m certainly no different than anyone else, save for a few people in my life who had no interest in it and were (sometimes vocally) opposed to invading your own privacy so negligently in the cyber town square. The idea of blending caution and social media seems possible (and wise) to me, but I don’t think being online is the same as putting yourself in view of Big Brother.
Let’s face it, he’s already been watching you for quite some time.
As an organizer I’ve found social media extremely useful, both as a way to keep informed about what is happening at the Capitol and in my community, as well as a tool for increasing awareness about anti-racism and LGBTQIA+ work. Social media helps us work as a collective, because it boosts the signal and gives us tools to communicate our message. In white culture, this is no easy feat, we tend to do things on our own when we stand up for what we believe in, and it doesn’t always work so well, because we’re not actually in a novel by Harper Lee set in the fifties. We need to get together on a few things. We need to strategize. Using social media to get on message beats hanging out for a couple hours in a community college space on a Saturday afternoon to hammer out an elevator speech for why trans kids should have safe access to bathrooms at school. It’s more efficient, and the snacks are top notch.
Besides, social media is fun. I enjoyed putting up one-liners on Twitter, waiting for the favorites and retweets to roll in (they didn’t, usually), seeking out marginalized voices, and occasionally trolling people I disagreed with politically. I still check out author Twitter accounts because how else am I supposed to know when someone’s book is coming out?
So I get the value in it. Yet I’ve always liked the intimacy of emails, the sharing of the inner dialogue, then the shared dialogue that emerges from that particular back and forth. I liked the way we’d respond to what was said in the email before, how we’d ask about their dogs, or their partner’s recovery from the flu, or thanking them for the recipe they sent for jambalaya (complete with their mom’s comments) because they made it for you after you had the baby and it tasted so fucking good. I liked the shared thread between us, and it could go on for years sometimes, the back and forth, even with months in between. I like reading them years later, and there are some that I still do.
If I had to rank emails among other communication forms, it would be like this:
- Getting together one on one in actual real life, preferably in the morning before everyone and their dog is out and preferably while walking
- Phone calls
I’ve enjoyed texting people and there are a few people I text regularly, but texts have an immediacy to them that doesn’t always feel good. It can take you out of moments, even hearing a text ding! can take you away from what you’re doing. Emails, on the other hand, are at your leisure. Taking a week to respond to an email is no big deal. Letters have a surprise factor to them because they sit among credit card offers and bills and furniture ads, and they have a slight edge in terms of effort and intention, but email wins again because it’s easier and just as good. Besides, I’ve never liked waiting for something to arrive.
The art of the email was eclipsed by social media years ago. Outside of a few here and there when something amazing or awful happens, or when you’re banging someone new, they’ll never be as thoughtful and relational as they used to be. But I do try. Even now, some of my friends say, “Your emails are so good, I want to write you one back that’s as good but I can’t and then I give up.” Which is really sweet, I’ve never felt so damn good about people not responding to me.
This brought to mind another form that didn’t require a response: blogs. I loved blogging. And I loved reading blogs. I started blogs with other people. Unlike social media, blogs never made me feel weird or jealous or excluded. They weren’t quite like diaries, either, although that was definitely the criticism, especially for LiveJournal people. Most people I knew at the time used blogs as kind of a weekly log, and I enjoyed reading about my friends’ lives. Rather than taking something away or substituting for a real connection, it felt like it enhanced our connection and we had conversations about it.
Maybe I’m confusing this all with the amount of time I used to have before a career and two kids over the age of five. I did have more time, and thought nothing of watching bad movies or letting some friends take a little too much of me. So maybe the blogging and the reading of blogs had to do with this expansiveness that feels now smaller, not to be given away cheaply. Time is something I want to protect.
I used Blogger during graduate school and my older daughter’s first few years. I also used it for this blog during graduate school to remember the facial muscles from speech anatomy class, I actually forgot it was still up there. Around the time grad school ended it seemed easier to post on Facebook, and then all the blogs disappeared or froze on the last entry, which usually contained an apology for taking so long to update the blog. Now it feels like blogs are more monetized, they have an actual thing about them, like traveling through the South on a bicycle with no money (that’s gotta be the whitest shit ever), or cooking, or going off the grid.
When I was diagnosed with ADHD this year, I started keeping a journal again, just to keep track of the information and my process. Then I thought, what better time to start a blog than right after receiving a diagnosis??
So hey, and welcome. And for at least a few of you, welcome back.