On Submitting Bitchy E-Mails to Scalzi’s Attention

A quick note to anyone who has got it in their mind to send me bitchy e-mail: My tolerance for said e-mail appears to be very short these days, so do me the favor of front-loading whatever relevant thing you have to say, because if you don’t, it’s likely that I won’t get to it because I’ve stopped reading before you’ve made your point.

This comes in the wake of having received a ten or twelve paragraph e-mail by one of those nutbag childfree folks. As most of you know, I enjoy getting hateful mail from psychotic people, because usually nothing perks up the day like invective hurled at you by someone you don’t know. But this time around, I just wasn’t into it. The first paragraph just wasn’t there, you know? It was clear that this woman was yet another of those people incensed that the world would not give her love and chocolates just because she’s decided to make her inchoate loathing of children a cornerstone of her life. And really, I’ve been down this aisle and I’ve checked out all the specials. The prospect of wading through yet another of these formless rants just to be polite filled my brain with a lassitude the consistency of heavy molasses prior to a February thaw.

So I didn’t bother. Instead, I wrote to my correspondent:

I’m sorry, I lost interest in your message after the first paragraph and couldn’t be bothered to finish it. No doubt it was very clever and devastating and if it makes you feel good, please consider me abashed or chagrined or whatever it was that you intended me to feel after reading your brilliant, scintillating words. In the meantime, allow me to congratulate you in your decision not to breed, as clearly a person of your qualities represents a full stop on the genetic paragraph; the evolution of your line need go no further.

Please feel free to respond, whereupon I’ll be happy to ignore you again in greater detail.

Bye, now.

Now, to be fair to this person, it’s entirely possible that she made some excellent points in paragraphs two through twelve, inclusive. But her first graph just didn’t make the argument that I needed to continue reading, so why should I have? This may be rude, but we’re all friends here, and I feel I can share this with you all: I don’t feel obliged to read all of my e-mails all the way through. I’m a busy man and even after you cull away all the e-mails for erectile dysfunction drugs, lesbian MILF pee orgies and Dale Earnhardt commemorative Beanie Babies, I get a lot of e-mail.

I read e-mail from friends, and e-mail from clients, and everyone else I get to when I get to it. So if I don’t know you, you’re not automatically a high priority. And if I don’t know you and you’re planning to bitch at me, you damn well better do it in an effective and engaging manner, because otherwise you’re just wasting my time. As I’ve mentioned before, I view hate mail as entertainment. So if you’re not entertaining me, you’re going to get plonked.

This is clearly where this woman miscalculated: Like many people who are aggrieved and insensible, she labors under the opinion that I am somehow obliged to provide her mental outgassings a fair hearing. Surprise! I’m not. Does this make me a bad man? If you define bad as “not really giving a crap what you think unless you amuse me first,” then, yes, I am indeed a very bad man, a real enemy of humanity, right up there with Stalin and any three members of Duran Duran. But unlike these others, I have neither starved millions of my countrymen in a rigged famine just to teach them a political lesson nor tried to foist off Seven and the Ragged Tiger as a document of art worth $7.99 in 1984 dollars. In terms of crimes against humanity, I can live with mine.

This is not to say I’m opposed to getting mail from people whose opinions differ from my own. Many people with whom I’ve corresponded will tell you that I am more than happy to consider points, information and opinions that are dramatically different from my own. Hell, I’ve had cordial e-mail with Confederate sympathizers and creationists, and you all know where I stand on those topics. However, these people might also note that when they sent e-mail to me, they tried to be at least somewhat civil. I do try to answer civility with civility; to do otherwise is rude. However, I don’t see why I should bother being nice to people whose e-mails are transparently a proxy for a good, healthy head-shrinking. You want me to be polite when you rant, then have your health insurance pay me $150 an hour like it does your therapist. Otherwise, you get what I decide to give you, which ain’t going to be much.

Perhaps the best metaphor to go with here is a literary one. When you compose a bitchy e-mail to me, consider it a submission to a magazine called Scalzi’s Attention. This magazine, I’m proud to say, has high standards — not all who apply are accepted. There are regular columnists and contributors (friends, clients, the occasional reasonable correspondent with an opposing viewpoint), but everything else is in the slushpile. Anyone who’s been in a slushpile knows you have to be really good to stand out. Anyone who’s been in a slushpile also knows that while those who read through slush are hoping to find something good, they are also usually simultaneously looking for any excuse not to have to keep reading something, so if you give a slushpile reader an excuse not to read you all the way through, they’ll take it. Let me finally suggest that of all the material in my personal slushpile, I consider bitchy e-mails the slushiest. You want me to read all the way through, you’ve really got to work it. Impress me. Don’t bore me. Otherwise your submission is likely to be rejected by Scalzi’s Attention. On the plus side, as you can see above, we have nifty rejection letters.

Quite obviously I realize that most of the people who wish to send me bitchy e-mails won’t see why they should bother keeping me amused long enough to read their e-mails all the way through. But allow me to note this is not exactly a problem from my point of view. Rather the opposite, in fact.

Move to the Country

This Washington Monthly article discusses whether the real estate bubble is about to pop, exploded by the fact that with interest rates as low as they are probably going to go, everyone who is going to refinance has probably already done so, and sooner or later everyone’s going to have to use real money instead of home equity to pay for their toys, and when that happens: Bang.

This is of interest to me because of our house in northern Virginia, currently occupied by renters, the value of which has gone up an amount that is nearly double what we paid for it six years ago. On one hand I’ve been very pleased that the value has gone up as much as it has, because for the last three years, while the stock market has been in the crapper, we’ve come to look at the additional value of the house as retirement money. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be entirely surprised if a reality check hits the price of the house and the rise in its value slows tremendously, or even backtracks slightly. On this score I don’t mind — we plan to keep it a while, so long term we can absorb any setbacks (also, you know. Rental income helps a bit). But I also haven’t refinanced based on the new value of the house and spent that money; I’m healthily paranoid against holding more debt than is absolutely necessary. Other people aren’t in that position.

Interestingly, though, the article notes that most of the housing bubble is confined to specific areas, namely places like New York, San Francisco, and a few other largely overheated markets (The Washington DC area, where that house I just mentioned is, is another example). Over at MetaFilter, some commentors are despairing of ever being able to own a house. I do wonder how many of these folks have considered moving out of New York or San Francisco or other expensive places and trying their luck in another area entirely. Clearly this isn’t a decision that one can just lightly make: You have to make sure there are job opportunities and enough of a local culture that you’re not bored stiff (although, now that I think about it, I do know at least one couple who picked a place to live pretty much by opening a map and saying “hmmmm… this place looks nice”). But if you’ve got those two, wide expanses of the US are open to you.

While I absolutely love going to New York, and I’m very happy we kept our house in Virginia rather than selling it (I loved living in that area), I think it’s a fair question to ask many people whether the simple attraction of being in New York, or Los Angeles, or San Francisco, really justifies having to jam yourself into a far less than optimal living situation. A few weeks ago the New York Times did a spotlight article on a family with a teenage kid who lives in a one bedroom apartment: The teen gets the bedroom and the parents sleep in a Murphy bed in the living room, and when one of the people in the apartment wants to be alone they leave their home. And this family has been doing this for years. People, that’s just flat-out nuts (The Times followed this up a few weeks later with another story about people with babies doing the same sort of thing — with studios).

I mean, I love my wife and kid almost insensibly, but I would have to kill myself if the only way to get some personal time in my own residence was to go out of it. It’s one thing to jam yourself into a broom closet when you’re living alone, or are a couple tolerant of lack of personal space. But when you get a family, well, it’s time to consider one’s options. The near-certain fact that this family’s one-bedroom, no-elbow-room apartment has a market value greater than my four-bedroom house on five acres is just bad craziness.

I’d offer myself and my family up as an example of people who made the transition successfully, but I don’t know if we fit the mold exactly: I work from home, and we moved rather drastically rural — indeed, rather more rural than I had expected at first. In the end, I’ve been happy with the move, but at the same time I don’t necessarily recommend the same sort of whipsaw transition for others. But maybe something like moving from the San Francisco area to a snazzy midwestern college town, perhaps, where the university brings in lots of cultural attractions and someone ambitious could start a new small business for themselves. Would that sort of life be so bad? All the while you’d be able to go home to a place that it would take you more than 30 seconds to walk the perimeter of, and that won’t suck away all your income paying the mortgage (and won’t leaving you mulling bankruptcy after the housing bubble pops).

Obviously this isn’t going to work for everyone — my friends in New York who are in the publishing or financial businesses, or my LA friends writing screenplays and acting are exactly where they need to be. But for the rest of you, it’s something to think about.