Kathleen Kelly was really onto something when she linked up with Joe Fox online in You’ve Got Mail.
Amidst the shrill whirs of dial-up internet and the quiet, careful creaks of the laptops from which their personas lived, there was a quiet intimacy, a shared amity between two people who knew that they were somehow meant to find each other. It was a novelty that stood the test of time, when communicators finally found the solution to make the snail inch a little bit faster. Sure, stamps were replaced by email addresses and responses sometimes came as quick as they were received, but these little ‘pings’ mattered. Each one of them did.
Now, I’ve never been in a penpal correspondence, but I did have a blog. It was a collection of unsent letters, a respite and a sanctuary for my unrestrained feelings. I called it carnivaltowns on wordpress–the username from a Norah Jones ditty that likened loneliness to the peak of a ferris wheel ride. It’s still searchable but it hasn’t been lived in for a while. That blog was from an era where the world was less dependent on the internet, where feelings were spelled out in longform, and where I was on the edge of my seat all the time, always in flight.
After an encounter that broke my heart, I shut down my blog. It was a hasty decision, and I yearned to return as quickly as I left. But staging a comeback resulted in a fate a la Sunset Boulevard rather than La La Land. My attempts were short-lived as the world veered away from the stodgy, lengthy essays, and instead into rapid-fire witticisms that were more outward-looking than inward. Suddenly, I felt like I was being drowned out, the notification pings were louder and yet buzzed for something else. There was nothing wrong with the world moving on because I liked that it did. We cared more now, but still, I didn’t want to feel like a common notification.
Smack-dab in the middle of my momentary journalistic path, a realization hit me: Why was I looking for sanctuary in the noise? It was mere begging for time from a population who wouldn’t listen. Lo and behold, I somehow landed on tinyletter.com, a subsidiary of MailChimp, where ‘letters’ are sent to people through their email boxes. It’s like You’ve Got Mail with a subscription, and my NY152s were a mix of friends and readers who happened to pop in. It was difficult to start over and difficult to commit, mainly because it would be harder to send emails to God-knows-where. What if my words ended up in a black hole? I started with an empty stage and a few audience members, and it was unnerving. Still, I rounded up a few subscribers and I took off, promising to write more as we went along.
It’s been five years since then and I’ve sent out over 250 letters. It’s not to say that my subscribers are as high a number as the messages I’ve sent, but it’s humble enough. I think what really stuck out for me was the fact that I sought intimacy in the right place. Sure, I don’t have any NY152 rapping on my inbox, but as Kathleen Kelly said, “There is the dream of someone else.” Tinyletter, to me, is more than just a Lara Jean-esque space where I could feel fuller and be less cryptic than I was used to. It was a trove of intimacy and I was lucky to have landed there.
On Tinyletter, I felt like Fleabag and her camera, Lara Jean and her letters, Kathleen Kelly and her NY152, and I with my feelings. I wasn’t sure if my subscribers listened to me ramble constantly, or if they saw me more as one of those newsletters they forget to unsubscribe from. But even then, I felt like Eleanor Shellstrop at the reception of The Good Place, except everything was not just fine, it was motherforking great.
Kathleen Kelly bids her inbox for the day with “goodnight, dear void.” It’s funny how she is both aware of the emptiness and the fullness of the email paradox, and the possibility of no response despite refresh after refresh. In so many ways, I feel like I’ve grown well aways into Kathleen Kelly’s shoes all these years, especially after settling in with Tinyletter. It drowned the noise out somehow and resulted in a sort of unbridled joy, sourced from the chosen audience and the unfiltered in-betweens.
TL;DR, in the words of Kathleen Kelly, “I go online, and my breath catches in my chest until I hear three little words: You’ve got mail. I hear nothing. Not even a sound on the streets of New York, just the beating of my own heart. I have mail. From you.” I hope I somehow made my audience feel the way she felt, and may we revel in this more.
Header art by Kitty Jardenil
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