Don’t Call it a Bombeck (Spring Cleaning in the Digital Age)


During this, the most drawn-out, chilly, gloomy spring in memory (possibly because my past three springs took place in February and March down in Louisiana surrounded by many flowers), I’ve logged some hours of sorely needed spring cleaning. My efforts underscored that no amount of cleaning can fix or hide cracked ceramic bathroom tiles, cheap and poorly installed vinyl kitchen tiles, peeling paint or crumbling plaster. The real solution is moving to a better apartment, one that doesn’t have a feckless handyman who has earned the nickname Pudgy.

But until then, the old man and I endure the indignities of cramming too many possessions in too little space, where the pair of high-celing closets hold winter and summer wardrobes while also serving as linen closet, suitcase storage, craft cabinet, and attic.

And something else has been demanding a cleanup. In the ether, there’s a sizable virtual closet stuffed with my past.

I staked out my Hotmail address during the first term of the Clinton administration, so long ago that my password is only four digits long. In fact, allow me to introduce myself as the original “” You heard me—plain old “cokane” with no underscores or strings of numbers tacked onto the end. If your name is a C. O’Kane, or if you don’t mind identifying yourself as a cokehead with bad spelling, you’ll appreciate just what a coup this is.

But the time to bask in that glory has passed. Despite being a shortened version of my name, the handle “cokane” doesn’t fly for an adult email address. The second part of that email address fares no better. A Hotmail address is not a vintage treasure like an Eames chair; it just kind of looks bad like the half-shirts paraded by the cast of the original Beverly Hills, 90210. The 2011 Hotmail user looks like she stalled out the Information Superhighway before reaching the post-Y2K future.

I now use a respectable Gmail address (“G” for “grown-up”!), but I’m stuck with Hotmail because of what I haven’t thrown away: an archive of about 3500 messages that lingers within, an only slightly organized body of evidence from one-third of my lifetime. So it seems that I am an email hoarder, and you know how that goes—I might need my hoard someday. As a writer, I traffic in experiences, and this account can act as my notes—except that I never refer to them. Still, some legitimately sentimental email messages are preserved, like the first email exchanges with the man who is now my husband, and first messages from other strangers who later became friends. The folder called “family” in the account contains rounds of loosely punctuated group emailings among my aunts and uncles, as they reminisced about growing up in Scranton, PA, in the 1940s, ’50s and ‘60s.

Most of the account’s communiques deserve to be vaporized, but I dread what I’ll find in the process of going through them all. How much online dating detritus is lurking in those 200-plus pages of messages, amid forgotten petitions? There’s certainly a Missed Connection I’d rather not get into here. Several email arguments are archived—digital taxidermies of ill sentiment and hurtful words. I have a folder of seven-year-old exchanges with a deadbeat employer who skipped town, regarding payments I’ll never see, saved for a lawsuit that will never happen. (Just one of various terrible freelance writing “jobs” I took when new to New York. This is about what you should expect when conducting business with a shady-sounding email address.) Somewhere in this rubble, a landmine lurks: a message from a then-boyfriend pronouncing us broken up. Sprinkled throughout the messages from 2002-2008, minor remaining communications from a friend who died.

I freeze up at the thought of a mass-deleting spree, but the very active spam folder provides even more motivation to ditch Hotmail. It’s been haunted for years, populated with messages for three entities who aren’t me: Conor O’Kane, Tywanna Bell, and JASON TURD, the last whose name usually appears in all caps. Conor and Tywanna must have accidentally typed in my email address when signing up for something online, but I assume the arrival of that third name in my spam folder was a prank, and one done with such devilish glee that the perpetrator had to capitalize all the letters. If so, bravo! It’s one of the most enduring practical jokes I’ve ever encountered. My Hotmail account gets more emails for my spam alter egos on most days than personal emails addressed exclusively to me.

So that settles it: I’m phasing out my Hotmail account. As soon as I gather my courage, I’ll clear it out, save the most sentimental notes into a Word document I’ll never read, then push the button.

I’m getting closer to respectability every day! And now if you will kindly excuse me, I have to text a fart reference to a friend in rebus format using emoji icons.

Colleen Kane is a writer and the host of the reading series, Show and Tell, which happens one special night each month at Union Hall. The next show, “Career Day,” is May 31. Follow her @colleenkane.

One Response

  1. Deepo -

    Love this. As someone also in a spring-cleaning-OMG-I-really-have-to-move phase, I, too have suddenly realized my hotmail account (used only for mail orders, FB and general crap) is now too embarassing to keep. The address is one of those “how long can I make it to prevent spam” and I cringe and feel I have to explain to store clerks when I give it out. I’m phasing it out and getting a grown up spare email for e-commerce and other subscription that I don’t want clogging my professional email account. Oh yes, and I’m apartment hunting.


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