How junk mail stole my heart

A strait-laced copywriter throws inhibition –and sentence structure – to the winds.

Tom has a problem.

He's long worked in the nonprofit world, writing grant proposals, brochures, annual reports, and even the mysterious "collateral." Tom now works at a worthy nonprofit.

It's a good organization doing good work. There's no reason to stray.

But Tom did.

Like most affairs, it began on craigslist. The ad posting for CopywriterDirect Response seemed so ... fresh. Tom thought he'd check it out. He was just looking, after all. Nothing wrong with that. Nothing at all – until he couldn't pull away.

Tom just flirted at first, coyly replying to the marketing agency and sending a résumé. Who reads those things, anyway? But then they asked for additional writing samples. It was flattery to which the straitlaced Tom was unaccustomed.

It was also a slippery slope.

The agency agreed to try Tom out, and that's when he saw her in all her beauty: Direct Mail. He naively agreed to write a renewal letter – asking previous donors to give again. Simplicity itself. Tom promised himself he wasn't going to get emotionally involved. It meant nothing – just a random freelance assignment.

But then, in his innocence, Tom thought he'd put in the time and write a really elegant letter, free of all that urgent textual frippery.

It was a rookie mistake. Direct Mail would have none of it.

Tom revised and revised and quickly fell headlong into a dizzying world of short paragraphs, punchy phrases, emphatic statements set off in dashes —em dashes!— and raw adrenaline. Oh, the things she taught him.

Tom had entered a bold and often italicized world where sentences frequently began with names. Or conjunctions.

Sometimes even random adverbs.

It was a baptism – a baptism by water.

Floods, ethnic conflict, health catastrophes. The procuring marketing agency arranged Tom's rendezvous with Direct Mail in some of the shadiest corners of the world. It sent him real stories of desperate people in genuine need, and Tom provided them a voice. Typically William Shatner's. Reading a two-page telenovela. In broken English.

Tom was a quick study.

It was intoxicating and apparently effective, since an acquisition letter soon followed the renewal letter, followed by another renewal letter. Tom had never felt so alive as a writer.

On assignment, he would bid his office good night – ostensibly to go "home" and "relax" – only to slum around with Direct Mail to the benefit of people around the world.

And now nothing. An all-caps NOTHING. NOTHING.

The assignments have disappeared. Is Direct Mail bored with Tom?

Surely it's that fickle agency, jealous of Tom's relationship with Direct Mail. It's probably, this very moment, talking up the fresh "feel" of a different writer. Or worse: a better one.

If only Tom could find a way to reach Direct Mail, and tell her he still cares.

She wants him to shout out his 16-point bold, italicized, underlined, love? Tom will type it from the rooftops: love, love, love. No questions asked.

Come back to me, Direct Mail. My friends call you junk, but I just can't throw you away.

Thomas Fox is a writer and development director in New Jersey.

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