Wednesday, October 6, 2010

The Post In The Machine

Recently, I opened up my email inbox to find a little surprise: a missive from a particularly toxic ex-boyfriend. "Hello," it said cheerily, and I said "Really?" out loud into my empty apartment. Of course, it turned out to be spam; in the age of multiple email accounts, sad old Hotmail has been abandoned in favour of its sleeker competitors like Gmail. It leaves these accounts to rot like fruit on the digital vine, and sometimes, a bug gets in.

It gave me a shock, though, to see that pop up. The years I've spent living in Toronto, I've always had at least ten housemates, and a lot of them just up and disappear at the end of the school year - they fly to Reykjavik or London or move back to Oakville - and their mail (90% of which is cell-phone bills that will never, ever get paid) piles up at the door. For years. And this little spamlet sort of reminded me of that. These abandoned nodes of human communication, filtered through technologies that don't pay attention to whether or not anyone is listening on the other end.

I've written before about reclaiming your music after a breakup - the need to weed out all "our" songs from your playlists, lest they cause a crying jag in line at Loblaws. And there are myriad blocking options on all our various websites: Facebook lets you shield yourself from folks, rendering yourself invisible to them, and most email servers will shunt unwanted messages right into your spam folder. If you so desire, you never have to see your former lovers, at least. I'm making no promises about running into them in Loblaws, you crying your eyes out as your iPod plays Prince.

I tried very hard, after my first big-deal breakup, to shield myself from my ex's presence. I avoided parties he attended, I took alternates routes that didn't take me past his house (which was tough, since we lived three blocks apart), and I sure as hell deleted him from my online accounts. MySpace, Facebook, and two or three email accounts all felt the wrath of my post-breakup purging. Toronto isn't a huge city, and we've since found each other in the same room a few times, assiduously avoiding eye contact. But on the internet, I didn't see him at all.

But it's sort like that pile of mail that keeps coming. Even though the intended recipient is long gone, the feelings are still floating around. They're not particularly useful, in the way that an unpaid Fido bill isn't useful, but they're still there. They clog up the systems (postal, internet-al [That's not a thing --Ed.] and emotional), and they make things just a little bit shittier.

And there are still feelings. Don't get me wrong: they're not capital-F Feelings, which implies romance and love and standing outside his window with a boombox hoisted over my head. They're more like small-f feelings: opinions + feelings, both formulated from experiences both good and bad, mashed together and leaving me with the preference for not seeing that ex-boyfriend over being friends. My thoughts about him now aren't lovely, like getting a postcard from a globe-trotting gal-pal who thought of you while she was in Ireland; they're more like Fido bills addressed to someone you once knew. Or like spam in your inbox. It's annoying, sure, but it's also a fact of life. Mail's still going to come, the feelings are still there. And blocking it out doesn't mean it's not still waiting in your spam folder, an unsettling reminder of love that has been returned to sender.

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