“E-mail,” snorted Molly Young, in the New York Times last December. “A medium I associate with cowardly ex-boyfriends and offshore Viagra vendors.”
On the face of it, yes. Social media scorn the e-mail habit: a sad old grandfather, smelling of camphor and oatmeal.
But I’m still waltzing—more like, locked in a tango—with Grandpa. I depend upon e-mail, check it obsessively, prefer it over real-time, physical confrontations for the same reasons I turned to writing in the first place: leisure to think deeply (or stall for time), speak from the heart in shiniest prose, curry favor and influence—all this accomplished either as subterfuge during day jobs, or in pajamas.
I sense, too, that I’m in a big club.
A writer’s love for the form dies hard. It’s our last remnant of old-fashioned letter-writing, a ritual most of us adore. E-mail’s as malleable, swift, and cheap as air. Sometimes it lets us discover what we think. But because e-mail is also how most writing business is now conducted, we’ve no choice but to learn (and re-learn) the etiquette, the rhythms.
Whom to bury, whom to praise.
My husband settles back on the couch with his coffee.
“I’ve been indulging this bizarre, wacko fantasy,” he says.
He’ll want to fly to his hometown’s soccer field for Christmas. (Blackburn, Lancashire: identification with the home team is tribal.) Or start ballroom dancing lessons. Rip out the grass and plant cactus in the yard. Kayak the Nile.
It’s the first day of November’s last week. He takes twenty minutes to “thaw out” in the morning, as my dad used to term it, before hopping on his bicycle to go to work. I am doing yogic stretches on the carpet. Our new poinsettia glows blood-red in the window. Outside, cold fog.
“What if you could turn around Rodolfo and Mimi’s situation, at the the beginning of La Boheme,” he says.
I sit up. “What do you mean?”
Born in Los Angeles in 1918, Don Emblen was one of those tough old believers, a poet, publisher and bibliophile who lived hard. Lifelong friends included Donald Hall, Robert Bly, and the late William Stafford. He worked for what was then the Los Angeles City News Service, chased submarines in the Navy, married three times, sired kids who produced grandkids, taught English Lit thirtysome years at the same Northern California college, and acted as a second father to my husband, whom he hired many years ago to teach there as well.
Don’s passions were myriad. He ran a hand-press; printed chapbooks and broadsides. He drove for Meals on Wheels; grew fruit and vegetables. He hiked and traveled, Nova Scotia to Prague, and wrote about all of it. He held salons: people read from new work; chamber ensembles serenaded. He published a monthly newsletter called The Reader’s Rejoinder, a literary almanac produced on his outsized manual typewriter. In 1999, he was crowned the first Poet Laureate of Sonoma County, where we live. Continue reading