A poet, a friend of a friend on Facebook, is unemployed and living in his grandmother’s basement and writing The Unemployment Sonnets. For five dollars, you can commission a poem. My poem is entitled “Gin and Root Beer.” It is about striving and taste and ceiling fans. I lost the envelope already. All I have is a piece of binder paper covered in square cursive. The black pen looks almost like calligraphic marker. Calligraphy. Can you imagine?
I believe that Daniel Bailey didn’t even scroll through my Facebook profile, that the words postdoc and cocktails and “taste is not experience it is spoiling a surprise party” and “blanket our heads with lions” came to him from thinking about my name and looking at a broken electric blanket. While pop-up ads know to offer me green coffee and disco pants because of big data, the isolated poet goes on blind intuition.
I can’t remember the last time I opened an envelope addressed by hand to find careful, handwritten words, intended specifically for me. The mail is for Important Frequent Flier Information and automatic Amazon re-ups of toilet paper. A handwritten poem is a little bit breathtaking.
All broke ass writers should advertise commissioned sonnets. This is the real dream of modern technology. A PayPal-based artistic ggeh – the Korean word for the money pools that immigrant communities formed as they arrived in America. We all order up writing and pay for it while we have the means, and then one day, when we are in a particularly deep basement, our turn rolls around. The ggeh opens its trapdoors and showers us in funds and deadlines. We are kept in Gin and Root Beer. We are kept working.
When I was in college, one of the boys I fell in love with briefly spent the summer in San Francisco, near my home. I forgot to be cool and took him to the Japanese Tea Gardens, the places I loved when I was a child. We ate rice crackers and almond cookies in the tea pavilion. He left to travel in Europe and sent me a handwritten letter on a piece of binder paper. I remember he compared Gaudí’s Sagrada Familia to a castle made of dripping sand. I sat at the bottom of the stairs in my parents’ house, the front door still open to the Bay’s icy summer fog, while I read and re-read his letter and looked for clues.
The boy later told me bluntly that he felt nothing for me, mocked me for not knowing better than to take him to tourist attractions, and then later, he came out of the closet, and then later still, he became a successful writer. But the humiliation of it all was worth it to me for that letter. Somewhere in Barcelona he took the time to find the paper, the pen, the words, the envelope, the address, the stamp. I held in my hand his composition of me.
It’s almost a Luddite cliché: the technology promises to keep us endlessly connected distracted frenzied liked, and at its most miraculous, we use it to send money and messages across the ether, and for what? To drum up a plain old sheet of paper with a hundred and fifty cursive words from a stranger. And this is what makes us feel connected, and still, and seen.