The art of email


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

When I moved from Massachusetts to Santa Cruz, California, I felt mean compared to my other classmates. I attribute this to the cultural mismatch of being a Boston Jew in a surf town filled with “get out” parents and the kind of people who do couples yoga in public parks. In short, I was well equipped for some light drama in class.

It was a hate email, an email that documented my many blames 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. Granted, I don’t think it would have been good no matter how hard he tried, but if I fell, Matt fell even harder.

I remember walking into class the next day and my professor (who understandably had little confidence in my academic abilities) said, “That email was written at university level.” Perhaps as a result, I got a C on the project, ensuring that I passed the class.

This experience taught me the power of documenting the failures of my peers with callous disregard, but more importantly, it taught me the power of a well-written email.

I like to think that 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 elementary school is not being meaner to people.

Email is one medium where it pays to be either relatively nice or meticulously cruel. I’m good at dramatizing things, a skill that comes from being so neurotic that every inconvenience feels like biblical punishment from Gd.

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

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

Correspondence was once an art-driven form, a feature that has become less salient as communication has become easier and, by extension, less deliberate. Part of me thinks this change was a mistake – like many, I enjoy receiving and writing letters. Being deliberate with your correspondence allows for new ideas and connections with others.

I recently received an email from my property manager regarding a noise complaint. I suspected the email was about me, as it referred to moving furniture, a crime of which I am guilty. It also contained a reference to trampling, a crime of which I am innocent. Adding insult to injury, this email was received in the midst 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.

Hello Gloria,

I don’t trample, I’m not a tramp. The floorboards do not creak under my weight. The pigeons do not move at the approach of my steps. I’m like a malnourished Bambi who bothers nothing and no one. I haven’t made a sound since 2007.

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



Now, I maintain the structure of this email, which seems succinct but descriptive. It’s also filled with lies, which I think is the way one should communicate with landlords and property management. However, he didn’t receive a response, possibly because he was unbalanced and didn’t make much sense.

Being a good emailer can bring more rewards than you might expect. They could bring you a favorable outcome in a small conflict or make your co-workers think you’re nice. Today, many of us have people in our lives that we communicate with almost exclusively through email. Our correspondence therefore has a significant impact on how others perceive us, and therefore carries both risks and benefits.

Email can be an art, often requiring you to stay friendly and familiar to get what you want. I, on the other hand, sometimes choose to waive those standards, especially when speaking with a landlord.

Contact Ryan McCullough at [email protected].


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