Sometimes, as I anguish over the number of books, articles, blogs, Op-Ed pieces, reviews, and commentaries that I attempt to read, just sometimes, I recall a simple truth: I love words. That passion, which is not expressed in any knowledge of poetry nor in an ability to rattle off and insert literary quotations into my everday speech, is why I cannot escape the desire to tap on computer keys or dangle a pen from my fingers or carry around a scrap of notebook. This is a constant presence — the belief that I may have something to write.
Of course 90% of the time it comes to nothing. There are scraps piled here and there, sentences underlined on occassion, and every now and then a paragraph in a notebook or a ramble on this blog. I wonder if this is why my email inbox is so full — have the messages become sort of addition to my “body of work.”
Emailing, as many of us know, is a tricky business. At the State Department, emailing is on the first-level controlled by a series of pronouncements drawn from case law, the most crucial being, “Users shall not have any reasonable expectation of privacy on this government system.” Over time, corollaries to these rules have come to life, and honesty and openness which give writing value are silently sacrificed to fears of forwarding and potential misunderstanding. To be fair, it’s hard to read tone or context in an email message, particularly within a bureaucratic structure. The State Dept. also has developed some of its own codes for email. Want a light, non-threatening opening to Joe Bureaucrat You’ve Never Met? Use ‘Dear Joe B, Greetings from [the country you’re in]!’ This line conveys to Joe B two things: 1) you are a harmless, positive emailer seeking information, and 2) the email does not involve hierarchy. Senior bureaucrats don’t use this greeting.
If you use a blackberry, take advantage of the cover it provides. People will believe that if you are sending an email from a blackberry it’s because you have precious little time and are engaged on important government business. You are therefore exempted from common courtesies and given a startling amount of deference/slack. You can be blunt, spell creatively, and dismiss concerns with a few quick thumbstrokes. Trust me, the default signature ‘Sent from my Blackberry Wireless’ is a 5-word get out of jail free card for 1000 email faux pas.
I tend to occasionally over analyze emails from close friends, lawyers, exes of all types, and people I feel a general emotional response to. A poorly thought out email received at 7am can put a damper on a morning that needs a double Nescafe to undo. To be fair, a sentence from someone you want to meet for dinner can have you doing a jig down the stairs. What are you gonna do? I suspect that’s the reason why more and more people I know are simply using email less and less.