Your email, my ADD

If you’ve sent me a message in the last month or two — or, let’s be honest, seven — it may have slipped through the cracks.

I have every intention of going back through all of my correspondence and responding, but, to give you a sense of how I let things get away from me: there are, at this moment, exactly 4382 unread messages in my inbox. Most of those are spam and Google Alerts, so that number doesn’t include all the messages from you that I’ve opened and appreciated and set aside to answer at a later time.
 

If I were a different kind of person, I’d just shoot off a form email reply to most queries. Some of my friends have crafted modern-day equivalents to “Edmund Wilson Regrets.” If you haven’t had the pleasure, Wilson’s famous canned response read:

Edmund Wilson regrets that it is impossible for him to: Read manuscripts, write articles or books to order, write forewords or introductions, make statements for publicity purposes, do any kind of editorial work, judge literary contests, give interviews, take part in writers’ conferences, answer questionnaires, contribute to or take part in symposiums or ‘panels’ of any kind, contribute manuscripts for sales, donate copies of his books to libraries, autograph works for strangers, allow his name to be used on letterheads, supply personal information about himself, or supply opinions on literary or other subjects.

But despite my ADD tendencies, and the fact that I will never, ever get around to doing even one tenth of the things I plan to do on any given day, I was trained to be a polite Southern girl and am stricken with self-loathing if I don’t give everyone a personalized response.

I’ve still got half-finished notes lying around for birthday presents I received three years ago. And I can’t bring myself to throw them away, because that, of course, would be sanctioning my own rudeness.
 

Not only do I fall behind on email correspondence, but I lose and forget everything that’s important in my life. Friends’ birthdates. Pieces of my novel. Cell phones. The form I got from my doctor ordering the tests I was supposed to have last month. My insurance card. Novels I’m reading.

Occasionally I have to call friends from pay phones (because I never get around to replacing a cell phone until at least nine months after I’ve lost it) and ask them to check my email to find out where exactly I’m supposed to be meeting someone for an appointment that was supposed to start ten minutes before.

(Inexplicably, though, I can remember what the hallway smelled like on my first day of public school, and what my best friend in seventh grade liked to eat for lunch on Saturdays [fried bologna sandwiches], and how my friend Rocky escaped from the cops when they were looking for him after an armed robbery.)

 

My loss patterns come in waves. A couple of years ago I went through a phase of misplacing keys. One afternoon, having lost the third set in two weeks, I ventured into the city without locking my apartment.

Mr. Maud, a man who normally possesses the patience of Job, got all bossy and patriarchal on my ass (which normally would compel me to do the exact opposite thing of the thing he’s demanding, but I reined in my perverse impulses in this case, since I knew his correctness was inarguable) when I returned home.

“I don’t care what you have to do,” he said, “what plans you have to cancel, whether you have to sit in the apartment all day. We live in New York City, Maud, not Mississippi.” (We’d just been to visit my grandparents on the Gulf Coast some months before.)

The next day I got another set of keys. Two weeks later, like clockwork, I’d lost them.
 

I’d taken the morning off from work and was heading into the city for a doctor’s appointment, and the goddamned keyring was nowhere to be found.

I thought about cancelling the appointment, but then I’d have to pay the whole fee out-of-pocket. I thought about disregarding Mr. Maud’s instructions, but I knew if I did I might never get laid again. Either way I might never get laid again. I envisioned myself telling Mr. Maud that I had to fork over $350 for a doctor’s appointment I hadn’t managed to get to.

As the time for my appointment drew nearer and nearer (we have already established that I’m late for everything, yes?), I paced back and forth through the apartment.

I sat on the sofa. I peered out at the street. I went and looked out our back window. And then — eureka! — a solution suggested itself: I would exit through the back yard.

Our back door has a dead bolt, but there’s also a handle that can be made to lock behind you, like a hotel room door.

So it’d be a piece of cake — assuming I didn’t fall and break every bone in my body while trying to climb three fences.

I shut the door, scaled our fence and the neighbors’ and the one in the next yard without cutting my leg on the wire or tearing my skirt. And I was only ten minutes late for my appointment.
 

I guess these tendencies may shed some light on my love for Elizabeth Bishop’s lovely villanelle, “One Art,” and for Lucinda Williams’ “I Lost It” (the Happy Woman Blues version), both of which explore loss of the more metaphorical kind.

But I mention all of this so that you’ll understand, if I haven’t written you back, that it is totally not personal. I love hearing from readers. Try writing again sometime, and you might catch me while I’m procrastinating. If you do, I’ll respond in three seconds.


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