Painting: Karin Mamma Anderson's About A Girl (2005)
"I use the word 'coup' because I think that people should be nervous because women are emailing each other. Women are DMing each other. The women are talking. The women are emailing. You could be pen pals with one person for 10 months, and then that person that no one knew about writes this piece and just drops it, and that piece comes from emailing with women." Durga Chew-Bose*
*Listen to this clip from 25;05 minutes in, because I'll be referencing it throughout.
I'm having a bit of a moment over here. I've spent the last month going on dates with women and I am high on it. I've had cocktails in the novel sunshine of daylight saving time, beers in the shade, stacks of welsh rarebit on my lunch break, and pre-9am breakfast coffees. Call it networking, call it brain-picking, call it cooking up a big cauldron of condensed female energy; I've spent the last four weeks on a hunter-gatherer mission, and these women have been sharpening my spears.
To start: last month, I returned from a week of holidaying in the States, (of binding up my bowels with doughnuts for breakfast and realising I am in love), with a thud back to reality. I was sat down, and told that I'm being made redundant from work. This was obviously a bummer. Particularly when you live alone and have to cover next month's rent. It was also a bummer because it gave that corner of my brain, the one everybody owns, which is so determined to plant a seed of doubt during a lull in confidence, a reason to say "Aha! You did do something wrong!" Thankfully my stronger tangle of pink brain cells has mostly been able to extinguish those thoughts, and quite quickly I was able to think you know what, maybe this is the right thing, a cosmic kick up the arse to get to work on my writing, and the unfulfilled projects that have been stewing. The thoughts that chip away at me in the shower in the mornings, when I'm scared of a moment passing before I've managed to get my head straight, of somebody else having the same idea and doing it better. They're the things I often feel too tired to work on in the evenings, which in turn makes me feel worse. That little voice again: everybody else is working harder than you, so why can't you just do it?
Enough of the voice. I set to work sending emails to women I like, women I admire, women I've had good conversations with over wine, asking for their advice, and most of all not feeling bad about asking for advice. And so tonight, when I was listening to Another Round, and to Durga Chew-Bose talking about the power of quiet email exchanges with women, and how they feed into our creativity, I hit rewind three times, and then sat down to write this.
Wikipedia has a page dedicated to Consciousness Raising, to the women that gathered in their New York apartments in the late 1960s and went around the room, talking about their lives and shared issues, giving a voice to feelings previously felt below the surface. My ears pricked when I heard Durga talking about email because it confirmed my experience; the same thing is happening now, but it's happening quietly over Gmail. And Twitter. For me, these are emails are long, and rich and full of feeling, and when I find one sitting unmarked in my inbox, I'll often honour it with the same rituals as I might a shiny new magazine. Find a quiet moment, put the kettle on, and savour it. It could be an email I've ended up printing out, or an emoji-laden tweet which feels like a knowing high-five across an ocean. Sometimes it's just reaching out and asking somebody for a contact in order to pitch. The point is though, we feel good when we talk. And what does that feeling do? It builds us up, fills in the gaps and affirms in a way to help us to get things done. I honestly think too much is made of the idea of women talking in bathrooms (hey men, we're sitting, you're standing, that's all there is to it) but there's an allure in the notion that we're in there concocting ideas, a coven around the hand dryers.
We are increasingly concerned about online security; in the wake of the Sony email leak, of the scandal surrounding Hillary Clinton's private emails, people have become more nervous about what could be unveiled from their own accounts. I actually relish what we might find. A big old pile of treasure, of back-and-forth emails between women over months and years, just yearning to be typed into Letters From... anthologies, to be bought and left beside toilets to continue the cycle. A revolution in a loo read!
Some of these platonic dates I've been on during the past month has been everything Tinder never was. I haven't had to watch a bored face gaze over my shoulder, and often after we've parted ways, comes the Holy Grail of Network Dating (don't be scared to call it that): The Follow Up Email. Don't be mistaken, these aren't bland niceties. They are the minutes taken by your invisible secretary, of the cool stuff you discussed. A reading list containing gems from the Rookie archives, a technique for avoiding procrastination, a link to the eye pencil she was wearing, and which you asked her about. One of my favourite gems, which Marisa kindly shared with me, was her '5 at 5' habit. Each day at 5pm, she and her friend would email each other (of course) a list of five things, relating to personal development and their careers, that they wanted to achieve. Then they'd check in the following day for an update. So, this could be booking onto a course, applying for a job, or asking a potential new mentor out for a coffee. I don't know if they still do this, but I like the idea of holding yourself accountable to a trusted friend who can say come on, just do it.
I'm not trying to say that every coffee I have must now require An Interesting Woman and A Takeaway Gem. (Nobody has time for that much sustained depth.) I'm just giving email, and Twitter their dues. They can feel like time vacuums sometimes, or a strange vortex in which Great Stuff Is Constantly Happening To Other People, but as a medium they can make really good things happen too, if you can help yourself to click that little X at the right moment, and take the good words off to a quiet corner, for as long as you need. Maybe even 10 months or so.