Sunday, April 16, 2006

Confessions of an electronic communication freak

The other day Forrest commented, “Does anybody else have trouble writing letters - as these blogs seem to be - versus having it easy writing fiction?”

I used to be an avid letter writer but I don’t think of these blog posts as letters. Even email isn’t the same to me. McLuhan said, “The Medium Is The Message.” The method of our communication is critical to what we’re communicating. This could be the subject of a whole other blog post, but bottom line is, we all approach things differently, depending on the form, or medium, of our communication. A novelist must write to the senses and transfer the emotion to the page. A scriptwriter doesn’t have to focus on that as much –that’s what directors are for. They must deal in dialogue and plot above all else. They don’t always have to describe what characters look like either. I’ve even heard some just write “have sex” and the actors take the initiative. We novelists should be so lucky.

The blogger creates the focus of the blog, sets the tone. It isn’t one-sided for blogs where posters allow comments, but there is still a degree of control the blogger has. I could delete comments if I wanted to.

Now, I wouldn’t delete comments cavalierly, but the point is, I CAN if I need to.

In email, it’s different again. For one thing, email has a sense of immediacy. We’re more prone to think of responding quickly because we aren’t encumbered with the need to buy postage and address an envelope. We’re more prone to send a one-liner or ‘touch base quickly’ that way.

When I write a letter by hand, it’s an account of what’s going on in my life.

Most emails are pretty compact. The ‘reply’ key and the speed of typing a quick reply encourages that. The act of getting pen and paper and writing a letter by hand, addressing it and posting it involves too much effort for anything too quick and casual. Who books a suite, gets special attire, drives a few hours and checks in for a quickie? Nobody I know. Too much effort. You’re going to make it worthwhile.

I am a complete oddity in that I am incredibly shy by nature, but in email I can say almost anything to anyone. Electronically, I have no shame, which the regulars here know.

I have a hard time understanding it. Why can I say things to a person in email that I would likely never say to their face? Why do I talk about stuff on my blog that I’d be red-faced to discuss even with close friends?

There’s only one answer I could come up with. When you stand in front of someone, you’re forcing them to acknowledge you. It’s much harder for them to dismiss you. Most people are conditioned to try to be polite.

With email you can be brushed off in a snap and not even know it.

I always figure anyone can delete my messages without reading them. They don’t have to respond*. I don’t expect it. I mean, I put a different standard on myself than others, and I do try to write back to everyone, eventually. Usually right away, because I’ll forget and I’m anal about keeping my plate clear. Waiting on a really important email more than 1 hour is like an accomplishment for me, as so many who hear back within minutes should be able to imagine. But what I send out, I try to have no expectations on.

I suppose it’s my dual nature, being a Gemini. I’m one part social butterfly – and when I’m in party form, look out! But I am also one part scared to death of people.

I remember in gym class, my teacher calling my name as squad leader. He called it a second time when I didn’t move.

I crawled across the floor to the spot, letting my long hair fall over my face to hide my tears, I was that shy. And Mr. Manoulakis was a bit intimidating.

I can psych myself up and prepare mentally and do fine with certain things. I’ve placed in public speaking competitions. I’ve been hired as a professional speaker. I teach classes.

All of which is totally different, because I’m talking a topic. It isn’t about me.

Way too much of me is still rooted in fear over being rejected by people.

I get emails from some people (usually people who intimidate me) and I cry. Not happy cry, but scared cry. I’m truly pathetic.

It’s hard for me to reconcile my contradictions. Even harder for Kevin, patient man that he is. An author friend of mine asked me my opinion on something, and I said, “What difference does it make what I think?” Kevin told me I had to stop believing I wasn’t good enough to be an author. It’s just, I believed for so long what I heard, that I couldn’t do it, that although I was determined to prove people wrong and worked hard to make that happen, I still don’t believe sometimes I’m going to be published, like it’s all a big cruel joke and the sky will come crashing down any day now, and I’ll look the fool because I was stupid enough to believe I could get anywhere in this business to begin with.

Does that make any sense? Or am I just a freak?

I know there are some people that have been startled, maybe even troubled, by my openness in emails. Some people I’ve been writing sporadically for months, I’d still be reluctant to walk up to and chat with.

Okay, so I have some problems.

And I think I’ve been hated on some listserve groups because I didn’t introduce myself when I went on, just eventually started making posts. But I can’t introduce myself – that’s too much making it about me. One thing for me to discuss the merits of married vs unmarried sleuths but to say, “Hello everyone! Here I am!” I do that when I need to do that, but on listserves with designated topics of discussion? Just feels wrong.

Still, I’m pretty sure someone who made a recent comment about hating people who just turned up when they got a book deal meant me. I just didn’t know about that listserve until I got my deal – then someone suggested I sign up for it. Ugh. I feel like I should crawl back under a rock.

Stuff like that chokes me up. Even when I’m really hurt, which I have to be, I can fight the cause and argue with someone when it’s needed. Then I walk away and go hide in a corner and cry.

Should’ve called my blog Sandrablubberer.

I find a surprising number of fellow bloggers confess to being shy. I think, perhaps, like me they find they can control the face they present to the world through this medium, and they feel comfortable with that.

I keep telling myself this is going to make it easier for me when I “meet” people in person that I already “know” online. On the one hand, intellectually, I know it will. It’ll make it easier when anyone talks about stuff they already know about me – I don’t have to try to start a conversation.

But there are still some days when the thought of meeting some of the people I “know” strikes fear in my heart.

One thing I can’t imagine is anyone being excited to meet me. Yet I’m an absolute giddy schoolgirl when it comes to meeting people I respect.

Man, I hope the people I’ll be seeing at Harrogate aren’t disappointed when they meet me.

You know, I met Kevin online.

And we’ve been together more than 7 years, so give it up people. Not all online romances are doomed to fail.

But that’s another story…

And just to make sure everyone’s offended by something…
(Jokes, people. Just jokes.)

For wild news, someone who isn’t communicating through the spoken word...

His first name was Jesus
He was bilingual
He was always being harassed by the authorities

He called everybody "brother"
He liked Gospel
He couldn't get a fair trial

He went into his father's business
He lived at home until he was 33
He was sure his Mother was a virgin,
and his Mother was sure he was God

He talked with his hands
He had wine with every meal
He worked in the building trades

He never cut his hair
He walked around barefoot
He started a new religion

He never got married
He was always telling stories
He loved green pastures

(and now the MOST Compelling EVIDENCE)

He had to feed a crowd, at a moments notice, when there was no food.
He kept trying to get the message across to a bunch of men who just didn't get it.
Even when he was dead, he had to get up because there was more work for him to do.

* Please, don’t everyone rush to write me back if you haven’t. No guilt trip here, seriously!


Lisa Hunter said...

I used to be terribly shy at parties, then a bon vivant told me her secret for making conversation. Every person, she told me, has something fascinating to tell you -- your challenge is to find out what it is.

I tried this at my next party, and it really worked. Now I'm a regular blabbermouth.

JamesO said...

The problem with that, Lisa, is that all too often you end being told the life history of his cats by the slightly odd-smelling fellow with no fashion sense...

Shyness is a strange thing. There are situations where I would expect to be completely hopeless and instead I'm in complete control; and then there are times when I shouldn't be shy at all, and yet I get all hot and sweaty, tongue-tied and generally flustered.

Blogging is good for shy people - we can talk about the one thing other people will never know more about than us - ourselves, and we can keep it on our own terms. My worry is that, when I finally do get to meet some of the people I've communicated with online for the past year and a half, I'll end up talking to them about blogs, bloggers and blogging in general.

Sela Carsen said...

I must be your mirror-Gemini, Sandra. I can talk about myself for ages -- to strangers. Actually, I can be a bit of a bore. Total spotlight hog. But you should have seen me last year at my first RWA. I couldn't seem to get a word out for the first day and a half until I *finally* found people I knew. Even then, I found it easier to blend than stand out -- they were wittier, prettier, more successful than I.

It's a strange split we live in.

Evil Kev said...

In a world where too many people hide behind anonymous facades and personas so they rail against the world, it take enormous courage to put your heart on your sleeve and discuss the kinds of personal topics you do.

BTW Sandra, all of your success is a testament to your hard work and talent and all your future success will be based on this solid foundation.

And if someone don't like you for who you are, then all I can say keep being who are and stand your ground. Then when they turn around, kick them in the ass.

Chances are there are a bunch of people who this jerk was annoying who will be glad you did.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Lisa, I keep looking for my story, but unfortunately my characters are more interesting than I am!

James, I'm sure that our conversations at Harrogate will focus on badger botherers, horsefucking, assless chaps etc.

Or why you and Stuart have a fascination with beards. People were asking on the BTZ if "beard" means the same over there as it does here...

Sela, do you think it's because we have more invested in the opinions of people we know or will have a long-term association with? I wonder. Maybe we're afraid we'll screw things up?

Okay Kevin, could you turn around?

(Just kidding sweetie. What a lovely comment from you on this Sunday morning. XXX)

Erik Ivan James said...

I have more difficulty at being outgoing and confident here on the blogs than I do in face to face situations. I think that is so, because in person, I have a much better perception of who I am speaking with. In addition, I get to see the body language which often tells the truths in a conversation.

I find it much more uncomfortable to speak here on the blogs.

Sandra Ruttan said...

I'm sure you aren't alone Erik!

But thanks for affirming I'm a freak!

Happy Easter.

M. G. Tarquini said...



Mary said...

I know exactly where you are coming from with this. Whenever I walk into a room full of people I feel as though I have giant hands and feet and nobody will want to talk to me (although I am 5' 1" with size 4(37) feet and small hands, which is fairly normal!). I guess I just don't feel good enough about myself. I find it much easier to communicate via the written word, and have actually started my blog this weekend!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Yeah Mindy, Kevin told a funny. He gets an easter egg for that. Ooops. Food validation.

Hi Mary! Welcome, and I'll be rushing right over to check out your blog. I'm hoping the blogging will make it much easier for me to talk comfortably to some people when I do see them in person.

Of course, considering some of the things I blog about, maybe I'll be more uncomfortable...

Tania said...

I've 'met' people online and had a great rapport, only to find that the face to face meetings aren't nearly as engaging as the online conversations. It's mostly temporary, though.

For me, I find that even though I'm writing TO someone, composing an email is a solitary process and I think much more about what I want to say instead of how it will be received. I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing! ;)

Lisa Hunter said...

Well, the thing about writing is you get to take your time and edit yourself. Unlike conversation, where you instantly realize you shouldn't have said something but it's too late. Or when, later on, you realize exactly what you SHOULD have said. The keyboard is still there, just waiting for you to get your thoughts together.

Sandra Ruttan said...

Tania, I think there are good and bad aspects to that. We shouldn't be too hasty to put words in print.

When I read Amusing Ourselves to Death one of the things talked about was how the written word is considered to have more significance than the spoken because spoken words can be retracted, they aren't concrete (unless recorded) but when somebody writes something and signs their name to it, it is considered to have more seriousness, more weight.

Like Lisa says - you can edit yourself. And you should!

Kate said...

When I was at school I was criticised a lot for being shy, which didn't make me any less shy. I've since wondered whether my teachers disliked shy children mainly because we weren't like them. I'm only shy in some situations so it's not the terrible problem my teachers claimed it was. When I've been working with groups of people I've usually found that the quiet shy ones do a lot more work than the talkative ones. The world needs shy people!

Sandra Ruttan said...

You could be right, Kate.

There could also be something to the idea of it being harder to get a handle on shy kids because they're quiet.

Dana Y. T. Lin said...

Sandra, You are one of the nicest person I've ever met online - I would never know you were shy if you didn't blog about it. And I agree with Kevin - it takes lots of guts to blog with your actual name and face instead of hiding behind that anonymity button!

As to Jesus, you forgot that he could be Chinese...
1. He was part of a huge family
2. He was a "doctor" and that made his mom real proud
3. And he was cheap - never brought a gift to a wedding but always ate plenty of food!

Sandra Ruttan said...

LOL Dana! Hilarious!!!

Thank you for your kind words Dana - I think in different venues we all come across differently.

Just think MG Tarquini, a shy Italian...

Although I do get nervous when people say they've been reading my blog sometimes! I think they expect the life of the party to breeze on in...

Bonnie Calhoun said...

ROFLOL...I've always been an opinionated loud mouth, so I don't thing I even know what shy looks like..LOL...and the only thing that I actually appreciate about blogging is people don't get to see the look on my face and know how often they've actually pissed me off...LOL!

Oh...not talking about anyone here!

And Sandra, I would never take you as shy...I'm pretty sure I know your opinion on most everthing...LOL!

Sandra Ruttan said...

Alright Bonnie, my opinions on cheese, chewing gum and sticky tack.

Come on. Tell me tell me.

I'm not shy with my opinions here - nope! But in person, that's another story!

Bonnie Calhoun said...

I said most...LOL...cheese...let's see..LOL...are you lactose intolerant?....chewing gum...hmmm, but I gotta' tell ya', people who chew gum look like a cow chewing cud...LOL...and sticky tack???I don't know what that is! So I have no idea what you think about it...LOL

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