- The machine of love
In this week’s paper, Leor Galil has a sweet and funny story about Downwrite, a custom songwriting service cofounded by Bob Nanna of Braid. For a few hundred bucks, Nanna and his colleagues will write and perform an original song about anything you want, even how your beloved appreciates your cats, as loud and fast (or soft and slow) as you want. If music is indeed the food of love, Downwrite will be making many, many people happy this week.
But just say you happen to be a word person, not a music person. Or all your love for your once-beloved has dissolved into blinding hate. Or everybody on Downwrite is booked up. Or you’re just cheap. That’s where Write Club‘s PixieHammer project comes in. For a mere $9.75 (plus shipping), Ian Belknap and Lindsay Muscato will create a custom typewritten love or hate letter and mail it to its intended recipient. Typewritten, people! Without carbons! That means it’s a one of a kind object.
Why not write your own damned letter? “We have no personal stake,” Belknap explains, “no racing heart, no worrying how to put this. We can see what you’re stumbling over. We have the clarity of distance.”
The project began rather serendipitously, or, as Belknap puts it, “It was thrust upon us.” The Hideout and the Museum of Contemporary Art were collaborating on the museum’s First Friday event—this month’s theme was “Love is Love,” because what else do you talk about in early February?—and asked Write Club, a regular presence at the Hideout, to participate. Write Club is normally a live-lit show, but Belknap and Muscato felt that the atmosphere at the MCA would not lend itself to competitive writing and reading aloud.
“We talked back and forth and came up with love letters,” Belknap says. “But love was deemed insufficient, so we offered love and hate.” They decided the letters should be typed because Muscato has been collecting typewriters for the past eight years and was excited to finally be able to have a use for them.
When they arrived at the MCA on Friday evening, though, they were dubious about the project. The three typewriters Muscato had brought along were heavy—”the least portable form of communication,” she admits—and they’d both already had long days and they didn’t think people would be interested. But they were. “People were going bananas,” Belknap marvels. “They were taking pictures. It was really energizing.”
People also seemed to appreciate that the letters were typewritten. “It was immediate,” Muscato says. “They could hear them being produced. At the end of three hours, my fingers hurt and I was like, ‘Do I have arthritis?’ It was from so much typing.”
Sore fingers aside, they decided the project had been such a success, they should continue it online. Accordingly, they opened their Etsy shop on Monday. Within a day, they already had a few requests for letters and started making appointments for Skype interviews.
Belknap and Muscato don’t have boilerplate love or hate letters. Instead, they sit down with each person and conduct a short interview about the recipient of the letter and what the letter-sender wants to tell him or her. Much to Belknap’s surprise, the demand for love letters vastly overwhelmed that for hate letters. “It was five to one in favor to love,” he says. “That was encouraging. I was anticipating it to be more equally weighted.”
Nonetheless, the letters they’ve written so far have encompassed the full spectrum of love, from its first bloom to its final bitter death. Extreme emotions, though, tend to be expressed more generically, Belknap observes. He and Muscato have found that the most interesting letters—and stories—come from the middle range.
Muscato’s favorite letter was from a man who wanted her to write to his wife. “It was really hard to get him to talk about her,” she says. “At first he said things like, she lets me watch soccer, or she lets me come into the kitchen with her and chop onions. But then I asked, is there anything beautiful about her? And he said that she’s very quiet and reserved, but she opens up to him, and that made him feel like a very special person. He said that no one had ever asked him that before.”