Thanks to Rob, itinerant linker and all-around thinking man’s vagabond, I’ve been reading Patrick Rhone’s Enough site.
I have another point in favour of keeping your email archives. Archives that go back years and years. It’s not a super cuddly “up” sort of point, but here it is…
(It keeps coming back to death. Oh mortality, you attention-hogging cad.)
I’ve written before about the strange glitchy comfort that technology provided on the night of my dad’s death. When he had “logged off”, but his GChat had not. His status simply lapsed to “Away”, which was at once poetic, accurate, and unnerving. Though first, it stayed as “Busy”, which, if consultants did sailor-style tattoos, was a status my dad should really have had inked in a heart on his bicep.
But beyond a lingering presence on a chat list, what I have are emails. Hundreds of them. Thousands? A sloppy filter I set up says I have 1,659 emails from my dad. In one account.
What a strange artifact of the mundane minutia of a relationship. What it’s really like to be friends with someone. Not a perfectly composed photo, but hundreds and hundreds of tiny exchanges. Give and take and send and receive, over and over and over.
That may be the strange niche of email archives. Because we dash off emails all day every day, they seem less precious to us than letters. But the snapshots they retain of a relationship are so much more deliciously everyday. In a letter, we tend to be our best selves. A little more scripted, a little more careful, a little better framed. They’re composed. Gmail may still use a big “Compose” button to start a new email, but that’s not often what we’re doing. We’re jotting and answering and pinging. “How’re you?” “Good, you?” “Good.” Emails are sometimes elegant and articulate, but often not. They’re many thin threads of caring and checking and supporting that tie you together.
I have not yet gone back through my emails from my dad. I’m not even sure how I would do that. It is the same daunting challenge of going though any archive, but at computer, not human, scale storage. I think I have kept them though not because I plan to go and meticulously reread them. Certainly not all, but perhaps not even any. I think they are there to thumb a finger across. It’s not an Ansel Adams compendium. It’s a flipbook of dad. It’s a million little gestures of kindness and humour and questions and answers and plans and dates. It’s friendship in funny little sketches. Archived.
It’s not a pretty whole but, as a whole, it’s awfully pretty.