Blood and Guts in Emails
by Emma Healey and Haley Mlotek
A few weeks ago, Emma got in touch with me to say that she wanted to write about the new Semiotext(e) book I’m Very Into You but she wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted to say. At the time, I had just finished reading the book for the second time and had four different Word documents open, each with their own failed attempt to write even just a small thing about I’m Very Into You, about the way Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark had almost accidentally written the entire story of their relationship through email, saying almost nothing about what transpired between them but almost everything else: television, books, magazines, travel, motorcycles, distance, space, work, sex.
We decided that instead of staying locked inside our own heads we would try to write to each other about why this very small book was something we couldn’t stop thinking about. Weirdly, in the process we found ourselves somewhat unconsciously mimicking the trajectory of Acker and Wark’s correspondence, something that probably says more about email as a medium than it does about either relationship. Emma and I accidentally bumped into each other halfway through this process and while we were standing in our mutual friend’s kitchen, surrounded by other people having their own conversations, she called it the “Universal Grammar of the Romantic Email.” I think that sums it up perfectly. Below are our emails.
March 18, 2015
from: Haley Mlotek
to: Emma Healey
Emma: hi!! I was so happy to get your email last night, because first I was away and you’ve been away and we keep missing each other, and I’ve really wanted to talk to you for awhile about a lot of different things. And when we realized we were reading the same book and we were both trying to write about it and were both struggling with what we wanted to say I thought that this was the perfect time for us to talk about, I guess, all of the above.
For context: the book I’m referring to is I’m Very Into You, a collection of email correspondence between Kathy Acker and McKenzie Wark from 1995 to 1996. They met and hooked up when Kathy was in Australia and then emailed each other frequently, eventually spending another weekend together in New York, before the communications faded.
I read this book in, like, a minute; and then I went back and I read it again, and I’m kind of on my third re-read now, although I’m really just going back to Matias Venieger’s intro and certain select passages, thinking a lot about how much I enjoy the book and how hypocritical I am for said enjoyment.
How do you feel about reading the emails and journals of deceased writers? I’m fairly evenly split when I consider the concept objectively — I’d say 49% guilty, 51% put it in my eyes immediately I need to know all the secrets — but I know I’m a hypocrite because I already have a standing deal with multiple people to burn my laptop and all my notebooks should I ever die, heavy emphasis on “should.” I have sought out all my most trustworthy friends and husbands and had them swear to me that they would never, ever publish my emails, journals, or heaven forbid, my tweets; future generations have done nothing to deserve that garbage.
I am, probably for the exact same reasons, so drawn to books and collections that do what I’m most afraid of: share writing that was never supposed to be shared.
A few years ago I saw Chris Kraus speak at NYU (I know, I know, I am like a walking caricature of myself, but let me finish), and someone asked her about how she made the transition from a video and performance artist to a writer. And she said something that I’ve thought of so often since then: she said that the book in question, I Love Dick, really wrote itself because it was all composed of letters. She had to communicate with the dick in question, and letter writing was the best medium available to her, and then the whole book evolved from having a subject — or object, depending on your point of view — to focus on. And I think about that all the time because I know that is the only way I can really write something, when I think of it not as an article or essay but when it is a letter to someone. My last two pieces for The Awl were letters, actually, and not to the people I expected; this essay about my marriage was not really addressed to my husband, for example, but to someone in my life who I wanted to explain something to.
So on the one hand I’m inclined to say what Matias basically says in the introduction: that perhaps Kathy wouldn’t have wanted these emails read, but that she is, as he puts it so bluntly, “dead. What is it exactly that an executor does, other than answer queries and sign contracts?”
But on the other hand, part of my guilt comes from the fact that I’ve been emailing more than ever before, personally and professionally, and I’ve typed many things in the last few months that would not kill me if they were read, but they are things that are directed to a very specific intended party, and the idea of them being read for anyone other than that person changes the way I feel about writing. I was trying to explain this recently to someone: like, once you’ve written something down, you’ve let it go, get over it, move on, right? But have you ever heard the cliché about how the act of observing something changes that which is being observed, like in studies or experiments, even with plants and other inanimate objects? That’s what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid the act of observing changes something fundamentally important to these words and that you can’t get back what it was before you read it.
For someone who didn’t know what she wanted to say about this book I’ve already said a lot. Whoops. Can’t wait to read what you want to send me.
March 20, 2015
from: Emma Healey
to: Haley Mlotek
Okay! Hi! So!
First of all, check out this auspicious & well-thought-out draft reply I began and then instantly abandoned by falling asleep last night:
…So the thing is that lately I have been all over the place in every sense, which is why I’ve been so bad at making plans with you or, like, anyone else I want to see, and also at sitting down and writing things out. The past few weeks it’s been like, when I’m not at work fucking up, I am out on the town fucking up in a different direction, so while I am feeling a lot and thinking a lot I don’t really have time to sit down and arrange those thoughts properly. After all, my life isn’t going to become incredibly messy on its own, right? Someone’s gotta be the custodian and curator of all these fuckups! Somebody needs to be out on the front lines, tending to the mess, helping it grow.
And so anyway I’ve been very busy drinking and not sleeping and I realized that I have so many things to say about this book and your email that I’ve been trying for the past more-than-24-hours to find time to sit down and really be coherent and linear and well-spoken and structured, and then I remembered that this is email, so fuck it. Fragments! In the book we’re talking about, things cross over each other, and watching the correspondence kind of stumble over itself is a fun part of the way the thing’s structure develops. So I’m going to stop trying to be perfect.
So last night I was out with a friend and we got to talking about ghosts. We were talking about how we both believe in them in a serious true way but also deeply wish we didn’t, because, c’mon, who actually believes in ghosts? As anything other than a useful symbol? It seems ridiculous because it is; sometimes you believe a ridiculous thing and there’s no way around it.
So the conversation became okay so but what do you actually think ghosts are like?, which, I only recently realized that my ideas about this are maybe different from most people’s. My ex, for example, believed in horror-story ghosts, evil demons that lurk around the periphery waiting to ruin your life, and I think this is the way most people (including the friend I was talking to) see the whole situation — like, duh, what have we learned from every horror movie ever? Common sense says that if there is a realm of the undead you probably don’t want to go messing around in it; you wanna stay in your lane, otherwise bad things happen.
But I don’t know. I’ve always found the idea of ghosts really… comforting? Reassuring, safe. Like, it seems to me that if they do exist, they’re probably just people — maybe a little bored or a little lonely, but no worse than anyone else. Like, why should getting dead turn you evil? I’ve got no other real spiritual or religious beliefs of any kind, but there is something that feels deeply comforting to me, about the idea of history and mortality and material presence all leaning into each other a little, about the borders being a little bit porous, lifting.
Something that feels funny to me is that I had so many incredibly strong and intense feelings about this book, but all the concerns you’re talking about — about wanting your journals and emails gone when you are, about the complex tangle of guilt and exhilaration that comes with reading correspondence that’s so raw-nerve personal, written by someone who’s not around to monitor or mediate our interpretation of it — none of that was really what got to me about it. In fact, a lot of it wasn’t stuff I thought about at all (past the parts of the introduction you already mentioned) because it’s never really been my concern. I’ve never really thought too much about what happens to my journals or my emails after I die — or I guess I have thought about it, but it’s always just been like, whatever! Free-for-all. If anyone does care enough to sift through all my junk, I won’t be around to be embarrassed by all my dumb drafts or my emails or my awkward sexts or whatever, so anyone who cares enough to get into it can read whatever they want and use it however they like.
I’m as boringly neurotic about technology as any other dumb privileged millennial, but anxiety about monitoring and screens and whatever aside, I think I love the idea that right now, more than ever before in human history, we’re all in the constant process of compiling these incredibly complex and intricate and banal and lovely archives of ourselves — texts, emails, chats, etc. — just by virtue of moving through the world. And yesterday at the bar, as I was explaining all that junk about how I think ghosts are probably just nice, normal people to my (v. patient) friend, I realized that those ideas, those comforts, are twinned. You leave behind an archive; people read your banal everyday stuff, people put your emails in a book and then other people you’ve never met re-read that book again and again, mapping your insecurities and neuroses onto their own, testing out the places where they overlap. Your day-to-day still exists out there in the world, suspended. It keeps living even though you don’t. Your presence gets to be diffuse; nobody quite stays in their lane. Death is not the end. Or whatever.
Anyway, the embarrassing tl;dr of all of this is that I get what you’re saying and I think it’s all v reasonable and makes total sense to me, but in my own reading of the book, that stuff didn’t strike me so hard because it’s not something I worry about in my own life, which is I guess a pretty narrow-minded and immature way to meet a text. But on the other hand, I think this is a really easy book to project a lot of your own internal biz onto, and in that regard I have a l o t of jumbled-up ideas about audience and intent and this book but this is already very very long and I have to get back to being at work, so: more later, soon. Or maybe not more later because I just had the thought “oh no, did I spell ‘millennial’ right?” so now I’m gonna just take a quick walk to the bottom of the sea.
March 20, 2015
from: Haley Mlotek
to: Emma Healey
Hahaha. Ok, first, your spelling is great, and you are not the worst. Now that that’s out of the way. Where do you want to meet on Sunday? How about 3pm at [redacted] on [redacted]?
I read your email earlier this morning and then had a bunch of stressful meetings and phone calls and Gchats and texts; I also thought I’d be unable to process my thoughts into anything even remotely coherent. I cannot possibly be a human being right now!!! were my thoughts, as my thoughts are anytime I want to excuse myself from the basic practices of life because of some self-pitying impulse. The idea of really reading what you were saying and really responding, like honestly and completely “listening” to your words, seemed like it would take all the energy I had, and it was easier to just avoid it for a few hours. Such a stupid decision. If I had read this earlier I would have found all the energy I needed.
When I read the book the first time I kind of breezed by everything that mattered, like, say, who was writing to who, and I would get confused until I realized that they hadn’t been emailing each other back and forth, but one of them would send an email, and I guess think about it, and then send ANOTHER one almost immediately afterwards, and they’re just both bursting with things they want to say to each other, and now on this third re-read I’m so taken with how much of an effort they put into really responding to what the other person said, no matter how jumbled the line of correspondence gets. Fragments! Please don’t think about perfection, if you can help it, and I’ll try my best not to either. There’s really no right time or place for any of this.
Awhile ago someone whose opinion I care about very, very much emailed me, kind of out of the blue, to talk about something kind of serious. And it was kind and sweet and clearly done out of respect for me, but it was such a shock to my system: my email inbox is like a bomb in one of those 1980s action movies and every email is like the blue wire or the red wire and I never know which one is going to BLOW UP my weekday morning with some sort of EMOTIONAL DEVASTATION. So what I’m saying is that by checking my email I’m basically an action hero. Look out Bruce Willis?! Idk.
But would it be too clichéd of me to say those are ghosts I believe in? Largely benevolent, just trying to do what’s right for them, just human beings, like you said, floating around and trying to amuse or entertain or take care of themselves, and maybe every so often they bump up against you, but they don’t mean to terrify you. Like, they can’t help being ghosts. If they exist — and to be honest, that’s a big if for me, I don’t know if I really believe in ghosts — they’re kind of trapped into being something instinctively feared. And that’s a lot of power to give to another thing. Like: the person who emailed me, for example, is very much alive and not a ghost, but there’s no way they could know or really understand what kind of emotional impact their words would have on me. They didn’t send me that email so that my morning would be ruined. They sent it because they had something to say. Ghosts, too, might just have something to say, and if they leave their lane for ours you’re right to not assume it’s to torture or horrify us. We’re all just floating around doing our best to keep ourselves among the living.
What were YOUR intense feelings about the book, if it wasn’t about the email/technology aspect of the whole thing?! I want to hear all of them!! Or as many of them as you can write down.
But I have to ask — I don’t really believe in life after death, lol, getting REAL in this email exchange — but it sounds like you might, or at least believe that ghosts could live after death. And so I recognize that it’s silly for me to be embarrassed about someone reading my sexts if I truly believe I won’t be around to even see them do it, can’t possibly monitor the reactions of people once I’m dead, but if you believe in ghosts, do you think you’ll be a ghost? And if so, would you come back and watch people read your journals and just think, “well, too late now”? Or is being a ghost not really a state of being at all? Like — I know I’m haunted by my friends who have died in ways that have nothing to do with believing in their ghosts. I was once offered the diary of my friend who died when we were 17; her mother didn’t want her stuff in the house anymore. And I didn’t take the diary because I felt like I couldn’t have it near me, like her handwriting was going to lift off the page or something, but I did take some of her clothes. And I wore one of her sweaters once and was just immediately consumed with the idea that I was wearing someone else’s skin. I hated it. Maybe I hate all artifacts. But the book with her words seemed more ghostly, or ghastly maybe, then her clothing; strange priorities.
So do you imagine people reading your stuff as a way to stay present, suspended, like you said? Do I need to get over this idea that death means a complete and total break from life? Now I’m wondering what I’ve lost by getting rid of those things just because they scared me.
Wow. Did not mean to get so real on a Friday afternoon. Early in the book I was so charmed by the mid-90s nostalgia factor, like when McKenzie asks if Kathy has heard of this new show called The Simpsons, and she’s like, “I’ll check it out.” And then later McKenzie says: “The episode of The Simpsons I watched was 28 minutes total critique of work, family, breeding, with 2 minutes tacked on at the end defending same. I love TV when it’s like old Hollywood movies — in a state of complete narrative hypocrisy.”
So, I’m trying to leave this email on a state of complete narrative hypocrisy, so that we’re not weighted down by ghosts and death. Lol Friday!! Weekends!! Being a human being with the ability to type and send emails that you mean and receive emails that make everything else seem better!!
Send me more soon, please. I promise to open and read it right away.
March 21, 2015
from: Emma Healey
to: Haley Mlotek
Hi! Hi. I was garbage all stupid day and I’m going to write more soon provided I don’t pass out but in the meantime I can do tomorrow at 3 at [redacted] if that still works?
Oh god Haleyyyyyyyyyyyyyy I’m still so hungover, it’s 11pm! I am a swamp in a human suit. It’s tough to know what I hate more, my dumb body or my terrible brain.
….and so obviously I can’t stop thinking about what kind of a ghost I’d be. What an amazing, terrifying question! I already kind of feel like one. I am a depressed person, like everybody is, and the form my depression takes is often a kind of detachment from my physical body — especially when I am in a trough, or if I’m just generally not taking care of myself the way that I should, I’ll start to feel my consciousness starting to kinda detach from my body, drifting further and further out of reach. It’s, uhhhh, pretty nuts! When I was younger it was a lot more intense and persistent, both because the depression itself was worse and also because I didn’t really know how to manage it — I have a lot of memories of watching my hands do whatever, dialing phone numbers or picking up a pen, and knowing I was looking at my body but feeling absolutely nothing.
So that’s one way to be a living ghost. And then there’s another that involves, say, spending your whole day typing out your thoughts and feelings from your bed while never moving or getting up or focusing your eyeballs. I’m not one of those people who’s like ‘INTERNET ALWAYS BAD ALWAYS” because I think there are a lot of different things that can facilitate our splitting off from ourselves, but being online, or being involved in a life online that involves a lot of thinking and writing, can really split you up from yourself in a way that seems uniquely acute. Like, your Internet Self floats along out there in its world, throwing off hot takes and being definite about everything, and in the meantime your body just kinda slumps around on this plane waiting for its turn.
I think what got me the most about this book is the way it feels like a master class in a very particular genre of correspondence — the email back-and-forth with someone you have an early but serious set of feelings for. In the introduction, Viegener says something about how email is the ideal form for building or carrying out a crush. I don’t know if this is as much a part of everyone’s romantic lives or if it’s just been a thing with me, but I’ve had a few correspondences like this — they bloom out of an initial physical encounter, and then they spin themselves out over email because of distance or some other real-world obstacle, and then the whole thing gets very romantic and very complicated very very quickly.
Reading this book and thinking about my own dumb experiences I realized that there’s a particular kind of grammar and structure for these types of correspondences that I’ve always kind of twigged to without necessarily knowing what I was doing, and it’s built out of that split between your physical body-self and your internet brain-self. Over email, you get to build a narrative; you get to reveal yourself and your interests and your source texts at a pace that is entirely up to you, you get to curate and arrange yourself and your life in a way that feels at once very sincere and very false. On the one hand, it feels like you’re giving this person the purest form of you, just your thoughts and the things you want to show/tell them unencumbered by the awkwardness of physical presence or circumstance or context. But false because you’re probably not that cool or linear IRL, because nobody is.
Either way, email (this is the thing that comes through clearest in I’m Very Into You, in all kinds of ways) lets you talk wide circles around the things you mean without ever having to be bad-vulnerable, the dangerous or uncomfortable kind that pokes holes in soaring romance. But the thing that gets real evident as the book progresses and also as anyone who’s ever been engaged in a prolonged correspondence like this can attest to is that the split starts to complicate things — eventually the details you’re leaving out start to overpower the things that you’re leaving in. High-flown romance needs to be anchored by at least a few kinds of certainty; it needs detail and physical presence and uncomfortable, un-romantic shit to weigh it down. So the lack of physical presence, the lack of having to deal with detail you don’t want, is what kind of ends up being the fatal flaw both in this book and also in a lot of relationships that get built up this way, I think. The split between your internet and IRL-selves always catches up with you somehow.
March 22, 2015
from: Emma Healey
to: Haley Mlotek
So okay so this morning I’m thinking about audience.
I want to reply directly and specifically to a lot of the things you’re saying: getting that email from someone that blows up your day, the friend’s diary you didn’t take, “maybe I hate all artifacts” which is a perfect phrase and an idea I am going to be thinking about for a long time. (For the record, hating artifacts seems much healthier and saner to me than what I do, which is making them magic in my mind and holding on to them forever.) But yesterday I didn’t want to address those things directly because I felt like my brain was in the wrong place, like I was going to put a foot wrong, say something stupid, be inattentive.
And so then I started thinking about how we know other people are going to end up reading these emails, and what I was thinking was, obviously that makes them different, tone and tenor and structure-wise, from what they’d be if we were just back-and-forthing on our own. But then I was thinking about the last time I had a sustained correspondence with someone I was Very Into (but couldn’t really see or talk to IRL — distance, circumstance) and about how that correspondence swelled and consumed my life and my thoughts in a really outsized and significant way, same as it seems to have with Acker and Wark. How I’d just walk around thinking about what they said, what I was going to say back, how my life and my thoughts started to pivot around those points even as I was piloting my body through the world, doing my dumb job or being a person or whatever.
I think that thing you said about each of them really paying attention and responding immediately to what the other person said is really true, in one way. Like, they’re having all these involved theoretical conversations and really digging into each other’s source texts and letting each other expound on the topics that matter most to them — but until Kathy finally breaks it at the end, neither of them ever talks specifically or frankly about what’s happening between them. It’s funny, and kind of cute, and also very very frustrating to watch — they both just dig these holes deeper and deeper. (Back to binaries again: You can’t talk about gender or affection or intimacy or desire without talking about performance — and even though they talk about all of these topics, all through the book, there’s also the question of their actual desire, their actual feelings, which stays pretty much untouched.)
I think there’s a thing that can happen with these types of correspondences where even if you’re not writing them for a blog, for a book, for everyone else to see — you end up writing for an audience that’s much greater than just you and this one other person. Not because you assume they’re going to end up being read by anyone beyond the two of you, but because it’s impossible to not be grandiose when the scope of the correspondence has widened so far that it just consumes everything around it. Like, it’s one thing to sit down at your computer and dash off an email and then forget about it five minutes later; it’s quite another to walk around reading this other person, their words, this very particular curated version of them into everything you do and see and think and feel.
All of this might also have to do with the Universal Grammar of the Romantic Email that I was talking about a little bit last night; maybe that structure, that tone, that pacing, comes from that weird split in terms of audience, you’re writing for one person and the whole world all at once, you’re writing about one feeling and also every single one of your feelings. Or whatever! Just a thought. I have to go help my roommates move a table now. I’m so excited to hang out today. !!!!! xoxoxoxox
March 23, 2015
from: Haley Mlotek
to: Emma Healey
Ooooh seeing you yesterday was so, so nice. I’m so glad we got to see each other twice this weekend! After so much time of bumping away from each other now it’s like we can’t stop bumping into each other. Real life imitating email, maybe.
I was trying all day to hold on to what we talked about yesterday so that I could respond to that AS WELL AS everything you wrote me on Saturday and Sunday but today was an especially hard day to try; because I work in Toronto and my entire company is based in New York, I spend all day typing with my coworkers, and today I had two “meetings” that were entirely held in Slack, and that plus all my normal Gchatting and emailing and sexting just makes me feel like I can’t possibly hold another word in my head.
But today, at least, for once I felt like I had a real handle on what I wanted to say. Sometimes I struggle to type out exactly what I mean in the way I want to mean it. It’s easier to speak in person or on the phone for me, particularly about work; I feel like I get more room to pause or think or show that I’m thinking. The idea of the person on the other side of the meeting, watching the “Haley Mlotek is typing…” words appear and disappear, makes me feel like my thought process is too exposed. Not responding, or taking the time to think, is a kind of betrayal in the email/Gchat/textual modes of communication. Silence feels extra painful even in a medium that makes literally no sound.
THAT’S something I remember us talking about yesterday. About the period of the book where McKenzie doesn’t stop responding, exactly, but he stops listening, perhaps, or stops responding as thoughtfully as he should be. It takes almost the entire book before we get to the email where Kathy lays everything out, everything they’ve been avoiding saying: I’m very into you, four words that are so incredibly normal and yet seem so intimate because its the closest she’s come to saying what she really means. Or maybe it’s not fair to say that these words aren’t intimate; like, it’s obviously not “I love you,” or something we traditionally classify as an admission of vulnerability, but she is saying exactly what she means in the simplest, clearest way possible. I’m very into you. I’m trying to remember the last time I said something that obvious without cloaking it in something clever or coy. Today I gave a friend a list of everything I liked about him and it was all cute, funny, superficial things. It didn’t occur to me to say anything as honest as I’m very into you.
I’m still thinking about your point that this book is like a Master Class in email correspondence, the idea that there is a Universal Grammar of the Romantic Email. Even Acker, who has such a distinct style of writing, we discussed, starts to read and sound the way we’ve written and sounded over previous email exchanges, right? It’s not that her feelings get molded into a template, but perhaps there is a universal tone that comes from trying to process your thoughts across a great distance. Because that’s what email is the medium for, right? Distance? Is that true? I mean, you live right down the street from me, and I’m emailing you. But the cadence of this email doesn’t have quite the tone of someone I’d want to seduce. Sorry. In some ways I do want to seduce you, I promise!! Seduce you intellectually. Seduce you as a friend. Talk to you directly but also talk around each other’s points, an intimate medium that could also sound like a lecture read to thousands of people.
Maybe that letter-writing thing I was talking about before is a kind of crutch. Maybe I just want to pretend that I’m writing something intimate so that I don’t have to think about the weird honesty that comes from writing for a lot of people, the underlying current of pay attention to me!!!! that I find so…embarrassing. Hm. I think I need to think about this more. Or maybe I just need to take a break from trying to figure out what I mean and put it into words. I’m sorry this email is so late. How was YOUR day. Tell me what YOU’RE thinking.
March 25, 2015
from: Haley Mlotek
to: Emma Healey
Saw this, thought of you. Looking forward to your next note.
March 25, 2015
from: Emma Healey
to: Haley Mlotek
Yes! Yes. I love this. Work has been nuts and I have a draft half-finished, as always. I always say “more soon,” but like, more, soon.
March 29, 2015
from: Haley Mlotek
to: Emma Healey
It’s funny how after we met up for the second time the emails kind of dropped off, just like in the book, right? Email is a very emotional medium that takes a lot of energy, I’ve found, and the timeline for these back-and-forths always seem to get shorter and shorter every time I try it.
March 29, 2015
from: Emma Healey
to: Haley Mlotek
It’s true. It’s funny, too, because the last big one you sent me was about the part of the exchange where one party drops off, where the thing starts to splinter.
I remember last week when we were hanging out we talked about attention — how the greatest compliment a person can give you is one that shows they’ve actually been paying it in a real, sustained way, but that those types of compliments don’t always sparkle on the surface the way e.g. “I think you’re pretty” or whatever might. Real attention is quiet; you don’t always notice it right away, and it doesn’t look or feel the same as what we’re trained to think of as a compliment. It can be boring or mundane or even kind of frustrating. But then when you feel its focus, its full force — someone else knowing you, working hard to know you — it’s overwhelming. No compliment like it. I think the thing that started and stopped us in this particular exchange was the desire to always be paying the kind of attention to the other person that we felt their words deserved — so then, as the margins start to narrow, the day closes in, other work needs to get done, we’d just put it off further and further.
That’s the last key part of the universal poetics of the romantic email, I think, even though it’s not as fun or as exciting to acknowledge. These things almost always split apart under their own weight — no closure, no clean break. Either you see each other in person and it’s like someone’s turned on the lights (for better or for worse) — the tone and pitch and pace of your conversations are necessarily changed forever once that happens — or you don’t see each other, and things get so expansive that after a while they can’t hold anymore. If the thing that makes a correspondence like this one right here or like Acker and Wark’s so wonderful is the way you start seeing the world in light of it, that’s the thing that always ends up wrecking it too. Most of our lives aren’t really strong enough to sustain that kind of attention; it’s exhausting, working through the world at that pitch, walking around holding two perspectives, coming home to your computer and trying to translate all the stuff you can’t say into an email; thinking about everything, thinking about someone else, thinking about yourself. The thing swallows itself, eventually, and then it dissolves, and then eventually what you’re left with is just your own perspective — singular, period, again, like always. There’s some talk in I’m Very Into You’s afterword about public and private selves, spaces. I think one of the things I learned from reading your emails in the past week or so is that sometimes your inbox can end up feeling like an outer district of your own consciousness, like an actual part of your brain — that’s how much all of this stuff gets mixed up with the way we think and live. When you have an online correspondence that’s super involved and intense, one that’s all classical performance and reveal, the border between those public and private sides of your consciousness can get real murky.
So it’s hard to shut down an exchange like this, for the same reason that it’s hard to sustain it; it seems so possible, so expansive, like it could just keep going on forever. Which is why you almost always have to let it drift out.
I’m glad we did this.
Emma Healey is the author of Begin With the End in Mind.