Day 91: love letters.

Sometimes I wonder if the very richness of the relationships that women have with other women means that their relationships with men will inevitably always feel thin and insubstantial by comparison. You know, like a thin gruel as compared to cassoulet.

I’ve been pondering this as I’ve been struggling with the communication protocols of twenty-first-century dating. I’ve been struck by a palpable difference in tone and texture between the messages I write and the messages I receive from men; maybe that difference is not solely attributable to gender, but I suspect that it is a factor.

So far as I can glean from the messages I receive, when exchanging texts with a possible suitor, one is meant to affect a languid carelessness, a kind of apathy about the whole endeavor.

But the duck-rabbit is an enthusiast if ever there was one. It finds it very hard to dampen its enthusiasm.

Moreover, the duck-rabbit positively despises the sleight of hand that goes along with affecting a kind of nonchalant-oh-I-just-stumbled-upon-your-profile-casualnesss when both parties have profiles on a dating website. You have an account on this sorry website because you’re lonely. You didn’t just fall over and accidentally send me a message. So don’t be such an insouciant dick about it.

The stylistic differences between the messages I send to suitors and the messages I receive from them are comically stark. The messages (and here I’m referring mostly to text messages) I receive manage to be both circumlocutory and reticent.

That’s actually quite an impressive rhetorical feat, to be both periphrastic and taciturn at the same time.

The messages I send suitors are the opposite. They are blunt and copious.

I’ll give you some examples.

I send a lot of messages that say something like “so do you wanna go out again or what?” That’s actually a direct quotation from a text I sent last week. Blunt. Straight to the point. No beating around the bush.

But then I also frequently compose texts that are just, I’m gonna say, arabesques. That is, they are long and extended flights of silliness.

Here’s an example. I texted another suitor a fairly long, elaborate idea for a screenplay. This is one of those texts that was so baroque and silly that I still can’t believe he didn’t reply to it. (Don’t worry, readers, I won’t leave you in suspense; since I don’t believe he’ll be capitalizing on the amazing idea I gave him free of charge, it will be my parting gift to you today …) I live to receive copious, baroque messages. Is it possible that this is not in fact a universal human quality?

It’s certainly true that my tastes were formed by my earliest correspondents: Mahin, who sent from India and many other exotic locales long letters on thin gold embossed paper adorned with hearts and kisses; Tamsin, whose letters from Australia, a sunflower always adorning the envelope, were works of art in themselves because of the curving loveliness of her handwriting. And then there were Liz’s! I still remember the thrill of seeing the envelope bearing a stamp from that region yet more exotic than India: the Isle of Man; I remember seeing my name written in blue fountain pen on the envelope (first it was “Miss Duck-rabbit” and then, once she knew me a bit better, it was “Ms Duck-rabbit”); most of all, I remember giddily and gleefully registering the weight of the pages folded within as I snatched up the envelope from the doormat.

Of course, electronic messages have mostly replaced the paper letters; but there is still a thickness, a copiousness, to the way these women write. Sometimes it’s in the warp and woof of the writing itself. Do you doubt me? Consider a couple of snippets from some of Liz’s messages:

“… TT [an annual motor-cycle race on the Isle of Man] really is an extraordinary thing – for two weeks, this island is a place of pilgrimage for 40,000 Swedes, Germans, Americans, Brazilians, Australians, Dutch, French… all here for what’s known as ‘the greatest road race on earth’. And then, when it’s over, it’s back to fielding rapier-sharp barbs from Shakey Phil, who cleans the toilets on the prom, and Norma on her mobility scooter…

“ … The only mantra in the English Language – after three years’ exposure to the best and brightest literary minds dead and living – which means anything to me is ‘oh, fuck it’, which is attributable to anon/me. Perhaps ‘nunc est bibendum’ – ‘now is the time to drink’ (or something like that) – from Horace’ Odes. But not because I care for the Classics; it’s just the tagline from the very first Michelin poster …”

Do you not envy me, as the recipient of such brilliant and funny letters? What I relish in Liz’s messages is what Schlegel calls “the perennial alternation of enthusiasm and irony.” [1] There’s feeling – real feeling! But there’s also that spritz of acid.

Other times the copia inheres not in the texture of the sentences, but rather in the sheer consistency of the correspondence. I literally emailed Em while I was sitting on the toilet, my laptop on my knee, while my waters were breaking before giving birth to the younger. Why did I email her? Because I had been reading a draft of an essay she’d written and needed to explain why I couldn’t finish reading it that evening, of course!

Other times, the correspondence may be more sporadic or minimal (and I know that I’m awfully inconsistent myself) but when it occurs there’ll be a phrase that’s just so characteristic of the person that I’m startled by how vividly I feel her presence; like when KJ Rabbitt, in response to a particularly cringe-inducing story I had emailed her, responded, “face palm to the power of hiding under the covers!!!”

Compare, now, with the response my suitor wrote in reply to my “so do you wanna go out again or what” message. [2]

“I’d lean towards the going out again option but just in more of a casual when it’s convenient for both of us time frame.”

I really feel like I could write an essay about this sentence. It’s truly virtuosic in its equivocalness. I mean, where to start? Oh, how about the first three words, each a qualifier? “I’d”; “lean”; “towards.” Note, moreover, that it’s not simply that he would lean towards going out again. No, no, he would, if he were going to lean—and he’s not necessarily going to, mind you, but if he were to—he would lean towards the-going-out-again-option. But, just in case you are thinking, “dude, let’s not get carried away with reckless abandon here, maybe let’s put on the brakes a bit,” he goes on to further specify that the said going-out-again-option is not one that should be undertaken intentionally, or in some premeditated fashion, or, perish the thought, at any specific time but rather, “just-in-more-of-a-casual-when-its-convenient-for-both-of-us-time-frame.” I did appreciate his specification that “convenient” here means “convenient for both parties” – not just convenient for you, Ms Bossypants!

Oh, la!

Periphrastic AND taciturn, am I right?

Before my combined copiousness-and-bluntness undoes me, let me move swiftly along, as promised, to my screenplay outline, which is really just a long silly riff on a tagline Joshua proposed for a Breaking Bad-style TV show that someone should write inspired by the recent finding that “narcotic drugs can be coaxed from yeast.”

His tagline: “Breaking Bad 2: this time it’s a biology teacher!”

My TV show, provisionally titled, Breaking Bread, was an adaptation of this idea. This is how I described it in my text to the screenwriter I went out with a couple of times (and yes of course I prefaced it by declaring “I have an AWESOME crime show idea for you,” and sending him the link to the article, you know, so that he understood that this was all based in fact and not some kind of whimsical flight of fancy):

“It’s like Breaking Bad but the protagonist is a disaffected baker at Tartine in San Franciso. He gets diagnosed with, oh, I don’t know, chronic fatigue syndrome, and isn’t able to get up at 3 in the morning to bake brioche any more. And SO he turns to a life of crime, coaxing narcotics from the finest organic yeast.”

No reply.

My next text to him said:

“Genius right?”

No reply.

My next text to him said, “If you use it you can take the credit but I’ll need a cut of the profits.”


And there, in fact, our correspondence ended. I’m looking at the screen of my iPhone right now. It says “Delivered” under the blue speech bubble and then there’s just blank space below.

I feel reasonably confident that if I had texted this idea to Liz, she would have texted back approximately seven seconds later saying, “oh yes, and his name should be TARQUIN. Or, possibly, GIDEON.”

letter from Mahin.

letter from Mahin, undated but probably from the mid-80s.


[1] Yeah, yeah, sure it’s wanky to quote Schlegel. But I’ve already used the words “circumlocutory” and “periphrastic” so I figured why not go all out? See Friedrich Schelgel, from the “Talk on Mythology,” Trans. Behler, Ernst, and Roman Struc. Dialogue on Poetry and Literary Aphorisms. University Park and London: Penn State University Press, 1968. 81–93. 86.

[2] Before I go any further, let me say: I have no interest in being cruel or snide here. I like this person a lot! I asked him out and I’d ask him out again! Hey Scott! You wanna go out again? See? No, I’m merely singling out his response because it distills, quite masterfully in fact, a form of equivocation that I have encountered very frequently in the last several weeks. My point is not that he’s being mean or foolish; my point is that he’s being as non-committal as possible, and I think that if he read my take on it he’d smirk charmingly and say, “yeah, that’s about right!”


6 thoughts on “Day 91: love letters.

    • Definitely. Let’s be real: we’ve done most of the prep for Modern Thought already … we can devote the remainder of our “planning” meetings to the more important work of fleshing out “Breaking Bread” …

  1. EHA says:

    I remember that on-the-toilet email! And I am just sorry we didn’t start communicating before email was the primary mode. I loved writing long letters–the paper kind–to my friends. The one you photograph is beautiful.

    • Wait, are you saying that you DON’T have all of my old letters??? 🙂

      I have two overflowing boxes of letters from all of my various correspondents. I can show yours to you when you come to visit. That letter I photographed is mainly a list of all the exams at school in which you came top of the class. It is a LONG list. 🙂

Leave a Reply