I Hope This Email Finds You
and meets you where you are.
It’s me, I think. It’s gotta be me.
I scan the email for a second time as my mind cycles through the list of possible culprits. Was it something I said? Something I didn’t say? Maybe I’m inherently offensive. My rational mind knows this has nothing to do with me. What we’ve got on our hands is a terse emailer. You know the type. Short, clipped sentences. Hemingway on a smartphone. Nary a nicety in sight.
Perhaps you’ve received such an email in recent days. Perhaps you’ve sent one. Either way, that’s just fine. I am told that brevity is a virtue.
Electronic communication is a curious realm, often devoid of the gestures, expressions, and intonation that color other interactions. In a world where unscheduled phone calls can be regarded as a form of assault, we do a lot of typing. And sometimes, we’re saying more than we think.
For every brusque emailer, there is another whose effusiveness makes up for it in spades. They are sooooo excited to be in touch!!!! In some cases, the punctuation marks may rival the word count.
There are those who sign off with “best” or “regards” or “congenially.” And those who employ “xoxo,” even to their accountant.
Text messages open up a whole new realm of possibilities.
Some communicate in hefty blocks of text—detailed, scrollable paragraphs, like a surprise book.
across multiple texts.
they were e.e. cummings.
There are those who use LOL as punctuation rather than an indication of laughter. As in, “I just quit my job lol.”
Lest you think I’m poking fun at any of these folks, I’m not. I have a soft spot for all of them. (Not to mention that at one time or another, I’ve done most of these things.) They keep it interesting, and in a world populated with overflowing inboxes and constant text streams, that is a welcome and wonderful thing.
I’ve had a lot of jobs over the years, in gleaming office towers, musty old libraries, and everything in between. Going to each one felt like slipping on a different costume, inhabiting a distinct personality. Each came with its own vernacular, its own code of communication.
In fashion, emoting was unofficially encouraged. If you sent an email without exclamation points, the recipient might think you were mad at them.
At a law firm, inserting one’s personality was frowned upon. If you sent an email with exclamation points, the recipient might think you were frivolous or insane.
During one stint as an executive assistant, part of my job was to sit at my boss’ computer and type her emails for her, as she dictated them. They were often of the brusque variety, unless she was negotiating. Then they became peppered with flattery.
There were emails about following up and bumping something to the top of the inbox and circling back by EOD. There were emails with CAPITALIZATION sprinkled throughout, SOMETIMES without any discernible LOGIC. And don’t get me started on the signatures. One could spend precious hours decoding or otherwise overthinking email sign-offs. And plenty of people do.
I just about remember the time before email, before text, before apps. A time when hands did not appear to come attached to little screens.
These days, my own hands can often be found wielding dog videos. I never set out to watch them, but they have a way of finding me. Whenever I see one—after I laugh or cry or sing along to “the cheese tax”—I am reminded of the cave paintings at Lascaux.
A wildly distant cousin of today’s animal memes, the 17,000-year-old images show an exceptionally detailed glimpse of humans and animals. Archaeologists interpret them as part of a spiritual ritual, the evidence of an emerging human consciousness.
What went through the minds of the people who painted them? What were their relationships like—to animals, to the world, to each other? And how were they communicated?
It is the nature of things to change. Even as nature stays the same.
Every night, my partner and I do the NYTimes crossword puzzle. In the thick of the pandemic, we began ending our days this way, curious to see how long we could keep the streak alive. It’s been some 1200 days and counting—in this case, two heads are indeed better than one.
Earlier this week, we came across the clue “‘I can relate,’ in Gen-Z slang.”
“That…is…such…a…mood,” I said aloud, as I typed.
“You know, like, ‘That is such a mood,’” I said, as though repeating it faster would make it clear.
“What does that mean?” he asked. “I have no idea what that means.”
It made sense to me. But even so, I had to acknowledge the gap spanning between us, the doers of the crossword and the non-ironic employers of that phrase. After all, their very births were announced electronically, their young lives captured with smartphones. They inhabit a brave new world, the same one I sometimes struggle to make sense of.
“Their emails contain emojis,” a friend recently said, about her younger colleagues. “Emojis.” I got what she was saying—differences abound! But for what it’s worth, sometimes my emails contain emojis, too.
Though I work with words—and profess to love or at least enjoy them—I find they often fall short. Words feel primitive in nature, limited by language barriers and available vocabulary. Words lack the universality of images, music, expressions, gestures. Words alone can fail us.
But every so often, they gather together in such a way to evoke something beyond language—some universal experience. Words, it turns out, aren’t all that different than people. What matters isn’t how they look or sound; it’s how they make us feel.
And so we press send and hope for the best. Perched on one edge of a chasm, sending signals to the other side. Trying to get our message across the divide.
Card of the Week
Here is this week’s card for the collective, as well as some thoughts to carry into the days ahead. As most modern readers will tell you, the tarot is not about fortunetelling, nor is it about neat, definitive answers. The cards are simply one path to reflection, a way of better knowing ourselves and others through universal themes. If this reading resonates with you, great! And if not, no worries. Take whatever may be helpful and leave the rest.
The Moon is the ultimate publicist.