The art of the email

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In the sixth grade, I had an issue. Admittedly, I had a lot of issues, starting with the fact no one told me not to comb curly hair. However, this particular problem was not grooming-related. Here, I had an issue with a classmate in a group project, so I did something I had never done before: I sent my teacher an email. 

When I moved to Santa Cruz, California from Massachusetts, I felt mean relative to my other classmates. I credit this to the cultural mismatch of being a Bostonian Jew in a surf town filled with the parents from “Get Out” and the kind of people who do couples’ yoga in public parks. In short, I was well-equipped for some mild classroom drama. 

This was an email of hate, an email that documented my many gripes and my partner’s many failures. It was a humble diagnosis of his failures, failures that impacted both me and the quality of our pre-algebra final. Admittedly, I don’t think it would have been any good regardless of his efforts, but if I was going down, Matt was going down even harder. 

I remember entering class the next day, and my teacher (who justifiably had little faith in my academic ability) told me, “This email was written at a college level.” Perhaps as a result, I got a C on the project, ensuring I passed the class. 

This experience taught me the power of documenting my peers’ failures with ruthless scorn, but most importantly, it taught me the power of a well-written email.

I like to think my email set off a domino effect of failures for Matt, resulting in a life that will never reach its full potential. In general, one of my biggest regrets about primary school is not being more mean to people. 

Email is a medium where it pays to be either concerningly nice or meticulously cruel. I’m good at dramatizing things, a skill that comes from being so neurotic that every inconvenience feels like a biblical punishment handed out by G-d. 

I was once hanging out with a friend from Harlem when I accidentally Venmoed the wrong person $15. My reaction to this small incident elicited a response I’ll never forget: “I’ve never seen someone freak out so much, and I’ve seen people get shot.”

This inability to differentiate between a small inconvenience and an emergency serves well in the arena of the email. Email correspondence should be dramatic. My neuroses lend themselves to this, allowing some trivial manner to feel like an event so important it must be deliberated over with the passion and urgency of TMZ covering Ezra Miller. 

Correspondence was once an artistically driven form, a characteristic that has become less salient as communication has become easier and, by extension, less deliberate. Part of me feels that this shift has been a mistake –– like many, I love receiving and writing letters. Being deliberate with one’s correspondence enables new ideas and connections with others. 

I recently received an email from my property manager about a noise complaint. I suspected the email was about me, as it alluded to moving furniture, a crime I am guilty of. It also contained reference to stomping, a crime I am innocent of. Adding insult to injury, this email was received in the middle of a dispute over my broken radiator, which was creating the coldest winter of my post-Massachusetts life. 

The result was the worst email I have ever sent in my life. 

Hi Gloria, 

I do not stomp, I am not a stomper. Wood floor boards do not creak under my weight. Pigeons do not stir at the approach of my footsteps. I’m like a malnourished Bambi disrupting nothing and no one. I have not made a single noise since 2007. 

My downstairs neighbors, on the other hand, are the personification of Sarah Palin’s “drill, baby, drill” manifesto, shaking my apartment at odd hours of the night. They do this because they are sadists, in the sexual sense. This may not be against any lease agreement, but it is in violation of G-d’s covenant with man.

Thank you,

Ryan

Now, I stand by the structure of this email, which feels succinct yet descriptive. It’s also filled with lies, which I think is how one should communicate with landlords and property management. However, it didn’t receive a response, perhaps because it was unhinged and didn’t make much sense. 

Being a good emailer can come with more rewards than one would expect. They might earn you a favorable result in a small conflict or make your coworkers think you’re nice. Today, many of us have people in our lives we are almost solely communicating with via email. Our correspondence, then, has a significant impact on how others perceive us, and thus comes with both risks and rewards. 

Email can be an art, one that often requires you remain friendly and colloquial to get what you want. I, on the other hand, sometimes choose to forego these norms, especially when speaking with a landlord.

Contact Ryan McCullough at [email protected].