1. I was going through my old Hotmail account last night. It’s an abandoned email address that was overrun by spam and pornbots because I switched to Gmail and whenever I signed up for anything like spam or porn sites I used my Hotmail address.
2. The old emails still live there, dating back to 2000 or so, tucked into folders called “Personal,” “Home Office,” and “Jobsearch.” I get lost poking around reading these old messages, like the way people go through old photo albums.
3. Here’s an email in the “Freelance” folder for a six-month Medical Writer job in Morris Plains, NJ, which I received on October 25, 2003:
The Medical Writer is responsible for generating and preparing Pharmacovigilance safety reports to support the CHC global initiatives. He/She will generate Summary of Safety Documents for Regulatory Authorities, including post-marketing data, Literature reports, and review of previous safety reports. Knowledge of FDA/ICH regulations, strong computer skills i.e., word, excel, adverse event data bases, demonstrated oral and written communication skills. Experience in Pharmacovigilance, Safety Assessments, Data Analysis or Safety Risk Management are relevant for this position.
4. Just scanning through that one gave me the heebie-geebies.
5. There’s another folder called, pretentiously, “Writing Correspondence.” The emails go back 12, 14 years ago, when I was still living in New York and was just starting to get my footing and making my way as a writer.
6. Inside the Writing Correspondence folder: rejection emails upon rejection emails from agents, editors, reading series people; the rare acceptance email from a literary journal editor; attachments of virtual galleys or PDFs.
6a. Two whole pages are taken up by forwarded messages from three terribly serious, chronically avant garde poets offended by my interview with cultural critic Camille Paglia. Specifically, they’re demanding I empanel some poets—i.e., them—and contact Camille Paglia again so the panel can ask her questions about her omission of avant garde poets from her book of poetry explications.
6b. I told them no.
6c. They said I didn’t want to harm my “cozy relationship” with Camille Paglia.
6d. I told them I didn’t even know her email, that I was connected to her through a publicist who put me on a conference call, that was a stupid idea and to, essentially, go pound sand.
7. I bring this story up because, it’s around this same time, when my first and second books came out, that I started to get solicited from editors.
7a. Getting solicited means you’ve made it, in a way. Solicitation is when an editor asks you to send new work. At the first literary journal I edited, we never really solicited. We “soft-solicited,” as we called it, which meant you were allowed to ask someone to send work, but don’t ever guarantee that it would be published.
7b. But these emails I started getting were real solicitations. “We’re about to go live with our first issue soon,” one reads, “and would love to publish your work.
7c. These weren’t, like, big time editors hitting me up. Usually these were people in grad school or just out of grad school and starting a new publication. Their enthusiasm was of the “we’ve got the barn, we’ve got the talent, let’s put on a SHOW” variety.
7d. They’re lovely to re-read. You might think that a writer would be charmed by the interest, and approval-seeking me was no exception.
8. As I scan through the pages of 40 emails at a time, a pattern of names emerges. There’s the designer of my books, my editor Richard Nash, Thom Didato of Failbetter and Joanna Yas of Open City and Michael Miller of Time Out New York.
8a. I started to think how long I’ve been doing this, this whole writing thing, and how it had taken until my mid-thirties before I could really conduct myself in public where I could hold two opposing ideas in my mind at the same time: 1. that I was a writer and 2. I was me.
9. Then there’s a solicitation for Dead Horse Review. A couple of college freshmen had recognized me—recognized me!—at a reading in Spoonbill and Sugartown in Williamsburg, introduced themselves, and struck up a conversation. I’m starting a literary journal, one said, and would you like to send work? I think her dad was there.
9a. I said yes, of course. What else would I say?
9b. I didn’t hear from her for a while and then I got an email. Do you remember me from the reading?
9c. “Of course I do,” I write back. “I never get recognized in public. You made me feel famous!”
9d. “I’m so glad you remember having met at that reading!” the editor writes back. “Dorky as this sounds, that reading was sort of pivital for me because it was the first time I met “grownup” poets who weren’t wearing linen robes and talking about yoga/the desert in New Mexico/etc.”
10. I remember these emails because she was funny and the person was interning at Soft Skull Press, which published my first books. She told me what she was doing, and of course this dates the correspondence to the mid-aughts.
10a. “I’ve been given the job of handling all our myspace correspondance– I get to be up on all the latest teen cyber trends and do lots of Soft Skull product placement. Anyway, it’s by far the coolest office I’ve spent time in.”
11. Anyways, I sent some poems to her—a Word document of, like, 20 poems, in fact, way more than you usually send, but when you’re solicited you want to make sure they like something.
12. She took four poems. Here’s her email:
I really really enjoyed reading the poems you sent to me. It felt like you had a number of cool series underway, and I honestly loved them all. I am excited by the idea of publishing 2 of your found poems (sister email and Gene Simmons) as well as Molly Pitcher and Never Touchin’ Myself Again. What do you think? This feels like it’ll give readers a good sense of your range and will allow for some immersion into Daniel Nester universe. Let me know if this works for you, and what you’d like published in the way of a bio.
13. Dead Horse Review #2 eventually went live, and I got an email announcing the publication. I was particularly proud of the found poems finding a home, since I was really into the idea of “uncreative writing,” a term used by Kenneth Goldsmith to describe using the language that’s already around us for material.
13a. I’m pretty sure that was the final issue of Dead Horse Review. As much as people like to say things live forever in the digital age, I don’t see any evidence of it being archived anywhere. At some point the editor went back to college, and I’m sure other things took over.
14. I am sure, in fact. It was only last night that I noticed the name of the editor: Lena Dunham.
14a. Lena Fucking Dunham published my poems!
15. I just wrote my old friend Lena back.
16. “On the off chance this email address is still working,” I write, “and you read this and remember the dude you came up to at a reading in Williamsburg, and who gave you 4 poems for your old online journal, I hope you’re well, big-time congrats, and you rock. You made me feel special just being an Oberlin student hitting me up for poems, and now I feel even special-er.”
17. Maybe she’ll write back. Who knows?
17a. Anyway, I love email.