I’ve been blogging on and off for about eight years. I have a habit starting a blog, and then, say, a year later, tearing it down. The first blog I ever had, for which I became “known,” was called The Reverse Cowgirl. I called it that because: a) I grew up riding horses, b) it was a sex position, and the blog was mostly about sex, and c) it conjured up an image of a woman moving backwards through life, which I suppose you could say was fitting. But, eventually, I took it down. For a while, I had a micro-blog called The Invisible Cowgirl. Some years after that, I started up The Reverse Cowgirl again, but after a while, I got embarrassed to be constantly associated with a sex position, so now that one redirects visitors to my current eponymous blog.
Because I have been on the internet for a long time — years ago, a girlfriend of mine and I co-created an online magazine that had to do with what we referred to as “post-feminism,” although I don’t know that I was ever altogether that clear on what we meant by that — so I get a fair amount of email. From people I don’t know. People who, I assume, think they know me, because they know me on the internet, which is to say they don’t know me at all. They know me as a simulacrum. The pixel, not the flesh.
Some of the emails are boring, but some of them are interesting. Occasionally, I post them to my blog, usually without comment, but sometimes with, because I find them amusing, or idiotic, or baffling. When a new one washes up on the digital shores, you marvel at how this missive-in-an-email-bottle arrived upon your sands. You gaze at it in wonder. You contemplate their motivation. Sometimes, you throw it back into the sea from whence it came.
Over the last few years, I’ve gotten a series of emails from someone I came to refer to as the Merchant Seaman. Most of them were on the last blog, but he continues to write. I call him that because he was a merchant seaman. His emails are usually about how he sees something of himself in me. Mostly, they are sad. Or melancholy. Or lonely. Sometimes, I would wonder who the Merchant Seaman is, but I don’t know. His grammar isn’t very good, so the things he writes have a sort of mystical, inscrutable quality to them.
Your brain has changed. You say you feel it changing again. That is phenomenal, but probably a bit scary. It happened to me before. I felt my mind expand. I felt the world change.
His emails are sort of romantic. In the sense that the Merchant Seaman is a romantic. We are both caught up in the past like a net. Looking for a way out. A hand. A foot. A lucky island.
I also get emails from young journalists or young writers. Usually, they want help.
I am a student TV reporter from [redacted] College doing a story about online dating. My friend [redacted] told me you would be a great source. While I am failing at finding a good angle, my teacher demands that it be sensationalist. I need some sort of dark experience story or something quirky. I was thinking about dating sights for amputees/injured soldiers coming back from war looking for love.
I don’t help. Or, if I do, I am not nice about it. For example, one time I wrote a post responding to a kid who wanted help becoming a journalist.
Most of the time, when I receive emails like yours, I delete them, leaving them ignored and unanswered. Now 12 years into a little-rewarding writing career, I have grown bitter, jaded, and tend to see bright-eyed, bushy-tailed upstarts such as yourself as little more than potential competition. Why would I help you? I was about to delete your email, which I found to be particularly bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and therefore especially worthy of deletion–when I stopped myself. What was it? Your odd name? Your supplicating ways? Your seeming understanding that I am ‘very busy,’ when, in fact, I am not? Anyway, I decided to respond. Consider yourself … lucky? Or, maybe, unfortunate.
After I wrote that post, which, if you read it, actually is helpful, unless you are dim, he wrote me another email in which he said I was stupid, and a jerk, and I couldn’t write anyway, and he didn’t really want my help, because I am a bad writer. Then I blocked his emails.
This is one of my all-time favorite emails.
Am Mr Percy smith and i would like to buy some meat ginders from your store. And what are the prices for the ones you have in stock? When would they be ready for pick up? And what type of payment do you gladly accept? Please Advise
If I had meat grinders, I would sell them to Percy.
I once created a project called Letters from Johns. I asked guys to send me emails about their experiences with prostitutes. It was just this random idea I had one day. It actually became this thing of its own. I used to love getting the emails. The project lasted a year, and then I had enough of hearing about guys having sex with prostitutes. (They were like homicide confessions, only no one died.) I closed submissions, but every once in a while,I get an email from some john.
I recently had sex with a prostitute for the first time and felt so upset about it that two days after the act I called and apologized to her. Coincidentally, I cheated on my wife by doing so but I felt more concerned for the prostitute. I didn’t beat her or anything weird like that. I paid $50 for 15 minutes; the sex was awful and awkward and I felt like the whole experience was so demeaning to her that I felt extremely guilty about it. I tried to tell myself to just forget about it, that she had probably been subjected to a lot worse in her time, but she seemed like a sweet girl and I felt like she deserved better and so I called her two days later and apologized for the whole thing. She didn’t remember me at all and probably thought I was crazy. I still felt somewhat better about myself for at least trying to apologize.
Because I’m nosy, I Googled the guy’s email address, and figured out the whole thing was a sort of charade, and he was actually having sex with transsexual prostitutes, and that was his thing. Which is fine. But he was being dishonest about that. If you’re going to write me weird emails, at least be honest in them.
This guy had a crush on me.
If you got this far reading, I feel lucky, and yet I ask you to please allow me to try to express what I think crossed my mind and excited my whole self. You could either be ‘THE kind of woman’ I’ve always dreamed of, at the same time you represent all I’ve ever wanted to be and accomplish myself. Ha, I feel silly, I’m saying I have a crush on you and that I envy you all at the same time!
This one is awesome.
I am writing to you to let you know that currently I am also addicted to soup.
This is an email from a guy I know online telling me to go to war.
I like this War Project, but if you want to pull a Michael Yon I really think you ought to go there yourself.
The Hindu Kush, from what I hear, is very nice this time of year.
BTW, I am not being facetious — I really would like to see you report from Afghanistan. Seems to me that actually being there would add a great deal to your reporting.
This is what I want to do with my life. That’s why I posted it. I reposted it to remind myself of the things I really want. There are times when others can see you more clearly than you can see yourself.
I think this email is from the Merchant Seaman, too, although I don’t know why I didn’t label it that way. It’s really beautiful. It makes me sort of sad to read it again. For a long time, I wrote about porn. Then, I started writing about war. Pretty quick, I realized they are not so different. Or the methodology is not so different. Or everything is the same, at its core, when you get to its quivering heart.
For myself, I agree that the eyes are the windows of the soul- but you can only understand that after you pass through the pane. Once you pass through, the brutal clarity of another viewpoint seeps into your soul. We have written to each other about this issue before.
This guy wrote an email concerning my butt.
You have a big butt huh? You are blessed. Most white women don’t have a booty. Would you happen to have a pic of it you could send me?
No, Bobby Mundy, I will not send you photos of my butt.
This email enraged me. It was from a journalist for a men’s glossy magazine, and his email was copyrighted, saying I couldn’t reproduce it on my blog. What a douche, I thought. So I posted it anyway, but with some stuff redacted.
Anyway, I met with [redacted] in [redacted] a couple of weeks ago and got his opinion on the matter (you can guess what it was — he, incidentally, was the one who pointed me to you and your [redacted] — you can guess what his opinion was about that, as well), and I’m going to be talking to some of his [redacted], so to speak, in the next few weeks as well. But I read your [redacted] on [redacted], and would love to get your opinion on it all as someone who has followed [redacted] for some time.
He’s talking how he went to visit this guy in prison, and the guy in prison ended up talking about me, something that I’d written, something that made the guy in prison mad, mad enough to be talking about it in prison, two years after I wrote it. The whole thing made me angry because I agreed to get on the phone with the guy (the journalist), and he was very disingenuous. He was writing this story about this guy in prison, ostensibly, but really he was writing the story about himself. Which is the sign of a bad journalist. You can’t get out of the way of your own story.
Sometimes, in life, you have to shut up and let other people tell the story for you. More often than not, whatever story they tell will be far more interesting and far more honest — about themselves, about the world, about you — than anything you could ever hope to write.