#70 Whenever This World is Cruel to Me
The other day my BFF Joanna sent me an amazing gift: a “Best Of” compilation of our email correspondence from 2001-2002.
Washington, DC, 2019.
J: Hello. I have cramps.
In addition to making me howl with laughter, reading our exchanges plunged me back that time. The world was in turmoil: 9/11, weapons of mass destruction, the rise and fall of Napster.
But, while the world burned around us, we were living our lives and doing our best.
OMG. Babies. Late 90s, judging by the bucket hat and mini-barrettes.
Jo was a writer at a scientific magazine called Research/Penn State and spent a disturbing amount of time thinking about tubeworms.
J: I’m sorry I never called you back this weekend. Deadline hell. I have to have my story to the editor this morning. I worked all fucking weekend. Clearly I’m not a very good writer – at least, not an efficient one. Which sucks.
C: Re: your article – did you finish it? Glad to get that behind you I’m sure. (and you are a very good writer, silly. It’s the tubeworms that aren’t very good).
I was in the early years of my advertising career mostly complaining about my soul being murdered by heartless clients and unavailable men.*
C: I’ll be like those poor souls in Hiroshima, my carbon shadows will still be visible on the conference room wall into the next millennium.
J: That’s creepy. Do they really say that about the souls in Hiroshima?*
I lived in a state of constant distress — money, relationships, career, and food. I was an emotional mess, prone to panic attacks and crying on the subway on the way to work.
Road trip to Mount Saint Helen's, 2002.
J: why are you already at work (8:44 a.m.)
C: because it sucks and clients suck and they’re coming to torture me and make me dance the tarantella.
Joanna and I vented our rage and pain to each other in these emails, usually directed at our nemesis romantic and professional. And almost always packaging them in jokes and revenge fantasies.
J: So I’m thinking about an essay on what to do when a boy tells you you aren’t attractive enough for him. It could be really funny, and I could publish it locally. What do you think?
C: It actually might be really really funny. Would you really do it? There are so many good angles to take. I’d totally skewer him, too.
J: Here is my first attempt:
Ode to the man who thinks he has broken my heart**
Our emails were a safe space for us when the pressures of being sad, broke, and lonely felt too overwhelming to manage.
C: thanks for talking. I’m still a mess. I’m just not cut out for all this emotional business. I’m Irish for god’s sake!
J: No need to thank me. I still owe you for the Joyce Carol Oates incident.
C: That’s right! I’ll make a note of that.
We talked a lot about writing and art. Joanna was a working writer and I was always thinking about but never quite managing to write. But my friendship with Joanna made me brave.
C: I’ve secretly started an online diary.*** You are the only one who knows. It’s crazy, but also very freeing because there is the possibility of someone reading it, but probably no one will. I’ve only added a few entries, but after every one I almost feel like I’ve published something. Even though I know no one is going to read it. Does that make any sense?
J: I think this is great stuff. We should talk about it. People publish essays like this.
Almost 20 years later we’re still at it — although usually over text — but we’ve (mostly) evolved from bad bosses and fad diets. We’ve seen each other through career changes, broken hearts, and dying parents. We’ve seen the best and worst of each other.
And we’re still sticking around.