Dear Umbra,

I love all your research and cool little notes on Grist. Lots of learning! You must really love your job. I know this sounds weird, but I wish I could see a picture of you. I am intuitive by nature, and I respect what you are doing. I wish you all the best. Keep it up!


P.S. Are you single?

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Dearest Christopher and the many, many others who have written similar notes,

Thank you very, very much. From the bottom of my heart. I love compliments on my writing, and I’m incredibly relieved that you find me useful. However, as my editor recently opined, “Oh my God, these e-crushes have got to stop. These people are insane.” Nothing personal, Christopher; you are one of many lovely individuals who have written in with flattery, compliments, and inquiries as to my appearance and availability. Though the e-crush is diverting, I’m afraid I can’t play along.

Real Umbra not pictured.

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You can’t see a photo of me. For those of you who’ve been with Grist long enough to recall the old website, you will remember that there was a photo of a woman’s face, mostly obscured by books, accompanying my column. That woman is unknown to me, but her forehead and eyebrows are adored by untold quantities of strangers. I don’t care to receive inquiries related to my physical appearance, nor do I believe that you all truly wish to see a photo of your occasionally helpful columnist with a smoking jacket, pipe, and Irish setter. It’s all better left up to your imagination. Being left up to your imagination makes it possible to be worthy of your imagination. Think about that for a while.

Meanwhile, as I am never at a loss for words, I’ll supply some imaginative possibilities for why I must remain photo-free:

  • I’m in prison, unjustly sentenced at the hands of a biased jury filled with oil executives. And I’ll be in danger if my cell mates learn about my writing career. I’ve convinced everyone that the warmth of the prison library is necessary for my rheumatoid arthritis.
  • I’m a man, but Grist thought a female advice columnist would be more credible.
  • We tried loading a photo of me onto the site, but it caused the server to repeatedly crash.
  • As one reader speculated, I am a cabal of Grist humor writers. A humor hydra, as it were, and hence too hideous for representation.

Keep up the fan mail — but I can’t fan the e-crush flames.


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