I write this note just before lunch as an aside from an essay I'm working on about email. I'm excited mostly because it's both about email (it's only been with us since 1993 or so) and will be in the form of email: this is one of those times where form's the spur to get me thinking about what "episodic" means or could be made to mean in essay form.
Though I've been told a half dozen times over the last decade that email's on the way out, that the young prefer other communication platforms like social networking and SMS, email's still the form I use the most. Some days it's a curse. But salivate I will when I hear the thunking bell of Thunderbird announcing the arrival of a new message. Conditioned as I am, it's impossible to ignore if I am with machine, as I often am. If not I might let a message slip below the fold and not get around to it for a month or sometimes more. (I apologize for that if you're someone I still owe. Believe me I do feel guilt.) Perhaps email's suitable to the easily distracted nature of the essay form, in which we might at a moment diverge into almost anything, going anywhere, while still hoping to be contained in the line of thought that keeps us loosely on the rail. So, to the rail: I have two essays for you.
Heather Price-Wright's "Hungry" does what good essays do: it narrates some; it puts us on the rail; it reveals; it establishes a self; it's about; then it's about again. In so doing, it folds and layers, omelet-like or maybe omelettic, and in so doing makes us hungry both for form—eggs transformed into a container that contains, compresses, conveys, and elevates a filling—and for what's inside the form, which is where the essay really wants to go. Plus it really makes me want an omelet.
Lindsey Drager's "On Diagnosis" starts more overtly with form—visually, with the human form: archival photographs of young women's spinal abnormalities. Drager addresses the page overtly as a subject, and perhaps it's amusing to present an essay about the printed page and the physicality of language in an electronic space like this. No matter. These things we read online we call pages too, though they are pages of a different sort. If you look at code, you'll note HTML divides itself into head and body, the omelet fold, necessary for transmission, and then the tasty filling text contained inside. Never mind that we inherit the dichotomy of head and body from antiquity, and I'm not so sure this thinking is productive. Drager asks that we consider both head and body and the ways in which they each infiltrate and shape the other.
So in a moment I'll seal up and send this note in an email to the editors of West Branch. It'll show it's from "Ander Monson," though that's easy enough to fake, if one put their head to it. We assume when we receive an electronic message (also packaged in ways most of us don't think about), it's from the person who's named in the "From" field. At least once a week I get a message from a friend who's had their account compromised or hacked. It's usually someone I haven't heard from in a couple of years. "Oh, an email from X," I think, "how grand," only to see it's just some hacked up spam, usually followed within a day by a disclaimer: "don't open this! I've been hacked. My 'I' before was not really an 'I.'"
Whereas an essay "I" is hard to fake. (Try it: you'll see.) I'll let you get to it and stop my interrupting. I'm just thinking here about how we communicate and how we are constrained by the media we choose, and also what an omelet can enclose and how to make one well, and what it says about its maker or its author when you cook it well. Weird how an omelet ends up as a metaphor. But then everything is, if you treat it right.
Ander Monson is the author of, most recently, the forthcoming book in a box, Letter to a Future Lover, short essays on 6"x9" cards, written in and on libraries and things found in libraries, and published back into the spaces where they originated, and collected afterward, unordered, into a box which he supposes is a book, since it is after all bound and collected there. Find him at otherelectricities.com.
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