Emily Laidlaw

About My TinyLetter

My TinyLetter is part memoir, part travelogue as I relocate my life to the other side of the world for an indeterminate period of time. Rather than start one of those “I did this/saw this/ate this” travel blogs (which are also totally legit), I wanted to do something a little more essayistic. Future drafts will look at what I’m reading and watching and how it relates to my experiences living in a new city. So far it’s been a terrific way to collect my thoughts and keep in touch with people back home. I’m quickly learning the immediacy of digital communications is a good way to stave off homesickness.

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I am not a good flyer. Belted into my seat, I picture the way the plane will fall from the sky. The wings may snap. The engine could stop. Pilot error: everyone makes mistakes. You can’t suddenly change your mind when you’re an air passenger, and maybe that’s my biggest fear – being stuck.
Shortly after I left Melbourne I watched an episode of Portandia I hadn’t seen before. It’s the one where Fred Armisen is having what is commonly referred to as a midlife crisis. His solution? Leave the ultra hip Portland and move to the newest ultra hip city, Austin. Cue montage of him attending a party. “Hey everyone, he shouts, interrupting conversations, banging on the bathroom door so everyone hears, “I’m moving to Austin!” He arrives in Texas the next day. No one particularly cares; the validation he’s craving doesn’t come. “I’m moving to Nashville,” he proclaims before turning around his car. But the same fate awaits him in Tennessee. So he moves to Ashville, then finally “Shville.” Like any good joke, its punchline offers a piercing truth: wherever you go, there you are.
Melbourne is my home and always will be. I’ve lived there my entire life. If you placed me in the middle of the city I wouldn’t have to check my phone to know how to get around. I know which bars I like, which ones to avoid, the good cheap places to eat, what time the trains stop running.  I can walk down one street and fondly remember the times I spent with a person, then turn a corner and remember, less fondly, the times with another. Nothing is neutral.
The morning I left home it didn’t feel like I was leaving leaving. I sat at Melbourne Airport and packed and repacked my hand luggage, checking for the millionth time I had my phone and passport. I ate a very average $9 pie. My chest tightened when they made the first boarding call but I stood up anyway and joined the queue.
The connecting flight from Auckland to Los Angeles was one of the bumpiest rides of my life. I gripped the armrests as the plane skidded along, 35,000ft above the Pacific Ocean. That’s it, I thought, heart thumping. Eventually the seatbelt sign was switched off, cabin service resumed. I made a joke about making it a strong one as the flight attendant poured me a gin and tonic. “But you look so calm,” she said, smiling. 
When I’m airborne, I try to steady myself with the facts: even though it might feel like it, the strongest air pocket cannot throw an aircraft into a tailspin or fling it from the sky, the internet tells me. Rough air, that’s all it is. 


Why did you start a TinyLetter?

I was really impressed by all the wonderful TinyLetters by Australian writers sliding into my inbox (e.g. Rebecca Varcoe, Laura Stortenbeker, Kylie Maslen, Ellena Savage) so much so I was inspired to start my own. What drew me to the form was the flexibility of the medium – I like the way you can make certain letters publicly available and others private. I also love the fact that readers can directly engage by hitting reply and responding to the letter. Online comment fields and threads are great but there’s something a little more special about private communication between writer and reader, in my experience.

What is your experience of the community?

So far I find it to be a very supportive community and I’m always thrilled when I hear someone has taken the time to read my letter. Even though essentially the same letter is being mailed out to everyone on a list, I do think there’s something really intimate about the form, which lends itself very well to memoir-style letters. I probably feel a little braver knowing my thoughts and feelings are going out in a letter-style format as opposed to a straight up blog.

What advice would you give?

Even though I’m in the early days of mine, I can already tell it’s a really good way to find your voice. I was initially very daunted about “unleashing” my writing without the input of an editor, but I think producing your own TinyLetter teaches you to trust your style and tone – something which is actually very freeing as a writer and good for building confidence in your work. I also think it’s important to keep a schedule, however loose. I’m aiming to send a letter every 3 -4 weeks to begin with, and then I’ll assess how realistic this is going forward.

Emily Laidlaw is a writer and editor from Melbourne, currently based in London. Her arts features and essays have appeared in The Weekend Australian, The Big Issue, Kill Your Darlings and The Lifted Brow, among others.