The Problem with Important, not Urgent Emails

At this point, at least 90% of the email I receive is purely automated or transactional. Purchase confirmations; newsletters for both research and consumption; 2FA links, you name it.

The other 10% is incredibly important.

Of that 10%, only 2% is urgent. Email is not where I go for urgency. It’s a chore. I have to block time out for it. The thought of writing responses is brutal.

In my starred folder—which means “pretty important, but not urgent”—around 50 or 60 emails have piled up that I haven’t had time to give myself to.

I’d love for there to be a way to automate responses that go something like this:

I promise to get back to you because this is important, but it’s not urgent, and I think we can both agree that whether or not I respond now or in 3 months won’t change much.

That’s impossible to do now, and I’m probably not going to manually can those responses.

I don’t think email’s broken. This part of it is, though.

Simple

I’m nearly two years into my departure from Hanoi, and it’s odd how regular Son La feels, especially given the extraordinary bareness of the city.

There is no supermarket here. It’s all mom-and-pop shops, markets, and a central grocery store that tries its best, but by all measures looks like a mix between a convenience store and a garage sale.

To stay sane, I order weekly shipments of ingredients from the foreigner-friendly delis in Hanoi. I don’t need to do this as often as I do. It’s a distraction from our savings, and we’re more than capable of growing most of what we consume or buying it from a neighbor.

City cinemas don’t exist, so my wife and I watch Netflix religiously. I let her pick the shows and only demand that no horror series enter our room.

Events and culture, in the shallowest sense of the concept, are few and far between. The occasional concert comes to town, but I’m past my mid-thirties now and comfortably set in my musical ways. Spotify helps. So do the Vietnamese festivals that invade our neighborhood at whatever times they please, because they can.

I have no friends in this city. None.

Outside of my wife, my mother-in-law, and the children we teach English to, social interactions that fulfill me are had through iMessage, FaceTime, Slack, Basecamp, Facebook, Twitter, Zoom, WhatsApp, Zalo, LINE, Viber, LinkedIn, GitHub, and email. I suspect that if I didn’t have this technology available to me, I’d still find ways to laugh, but the technology helps so much.

Exercise is a word I don’t use enough anymore. When I do, I walk. The street slopes here are quite steep, and mountains are forever in view. I know Trang wants us to walk more, both for my health and for our relationship. When we do get out together, we’re either wearing couple shirts or couple shoes because we’re like that. I pretend to hate it, but I’m into it; it reminds me of a mall-walking old couple I used to admire during my teen years in Longview.

I love her. I got lucky. Unfairly lucky.

We bicker over small, rarely big. When we fight over big, it’s usually diffused within a week, and life progresses. Nothing ever feels severe enough to go longer. The same issues pop up over and over again—she’s a hoarder, I’m a control freak, she’s unreasonably emotional, I’m irrationally cold—and in the big picture, they resemble blemishes that make us into us. Perfect is fake. I don’t need complete. I need genuine. I have that with her.

Our home is both a house and a karaoke cafe. We open at 8 AM and close at midnight, so there’s continuous noise. It’s hard to put into words how noisy it is around here. Imagine a low, deep rumble throughout the day that never ends; the sound of rickety vehicles passing by every few minutes; farm animals whose languages are noisy by default; and inebriated customers who can’t hear themselves yell. It’s like that until midnight.

My favorite days are when Mommy’s made enough money and closes shop early. During my first visit to Son La, she was deeply skeptical of me. She thought I would steal her daughter. She didn’t understand why I let my beard grow out or why I wore short exercise bottoms outside. She didn’t get me, and I didn’t care to appease her.

Slowly, very slowly, she’s turned into a different person. She laughs more. She dances. She jokes, sometimes better than I do. She loves me and cares for me when I’m tired. She’s given her daughter to me, and I’ve given myself as a son to her. When we have friction it’s because of the karaoke shop being too loud or me being annoyed because I hate boiled chicken—small things all obscured by our larger respect for each other.

Star, our cat, is the boss who runs the show. She’s a diva. We spoil her. We can’t help it. Star has a particular way of breaking you down with her whimpers.

This vast chasm of unremarkable living is precisely what I need right now.

I’ve had the lowest anxiety of my life here, and panic attacks are almost non-existent. Money problems aren’t problems like they used to be. We have a home, land, and plan on building our own, separate house next door soon. Cost of living in Son La is low enough that when business is slow, we’re still able to breathe.

A baby will come but the pressure to make it happen sooner than the stars will it into happening is gone; we’re past worrying about it, and our relationship without a child for this many years has only strengthened us. Babysitting and English teaching have been good practice for looking after children, but boy does it feel good to have a little alone time with my wife before our child comes into play.

I don’t miss Texas the way I used to because I’m already home.

I do miss family.

Things are as they should be right now. I want for nothing but the health and happiness of my family and an occasional moment of quiet. Outside of that I dare not ask for more.

I Don’t Write in WordPress

I use Bear and iA Writer now. Sometimes, when online research and deep focus are needed, I’ll use Airstory. And other times I’ll use Notes or Pages.

But it’s never WordPress.*

WP-CLI is where I go to change settings, install themes and plugins, bulk delete comments, update my core installation, and convert normal sites into Network installations.

There are only two reasons why I habitually go into the Dashboard: 1. to see how much more has been crammed into the Customizer or 2. to browse new plugins and themes.

I can’t remember the last time I intentionally logged into my site with the express intention of writing.

Why?

Because the writing experience is so much better elsewhere and I shouldn’t ever need an internet connection to create incredible content.

Gutenberg is not if, but when, and I imagine I’ll use it to design, not write. It may very well end up being the most important design tool that WordPress has ever created.

It’s beautiful.

But as far as actual writing goes my Do Not Disturb mode and single focus writing apps aren’t going anywhere. They make me feel in complete control of my voice, which is the liberation factor WordPress doesn’t offer.


*The WordPress mobile app crashed on me when attempting to publish this post the first time.

I’ve been podcasting.

One of them is on SoundCloud and one of them is on Anchor.

They’re both on iTunes. (We Cobble HQ / PAM)

We Cobble HQ is almost exclusively about running my new business. I love making it on Anchor and it takes me around five minutes a day to make and publish.

PAM is around 10 minutes a week and it covers a wide range of topics. It’s my personal outlet to decompress from a tough seven days.

Give either a listen or one. They’re fun.