LJ Idol Entry: “The Hard Truths That I Have Learned, During My Time On Livejournal, About Myself and How I Interact With People”
YET ANOTHER POST ABOUT MY COMMUNICATION STYLE
Ah, yes. The Writer navel-gazing about how her words come across to others. Aren’t you tired of that schtick here on this journal yet? (“Aren’t you dead yet?”–Bette Midler’s character in “Outrageous Fortune” to Shelley Long’s character)
But this is the assigned topic, and it’s interesting, so you’re stuck (or press PAGE DOWN to read the next journal.)
What Have We Learned after nearly four years of standing on this soapbox preaching, musing, lecturing, or just shouting out loud in every direction?
We already know that some topics are best avoided for the most part, such as politics, which religion is the One True Way, and whether “chili” that has beans in it can still be called chili. (Not in Texas, it can’t. But I digress.) However, the larger picture shows us that far smaller details can get us into hot water with our readers. And we do NOT want to be boiled by the readership. They look like they’d enjoy a tough, fatty, stringy old broad boiled up for dessert, and so we want to keep them happy.
I have found that I must be careful with humor and with my tendency to generalize from the specific. People read too much into whatever you say and take it too literally *if* you happen to hit upon one of their pet topics, hot buttons, or favorite subjects (especially if it’s something they’re sort of an expert on–sometimes they will miss the sardonic tone completely and post a long response to set the record straight as to whether Chaucer wore knickers or bloomers.)
It tends to piss people off–generalizing. But it is a valuable and useful tool. We used to generalize all the time in school, and it’s part of the scientific method. There’s deduction and induction . . . both leading to generalizations that often are useful for classifying and categorizing, but which drive some people crazy because they’re often stated as Rules of Thumb (and the bad ones stick out like a sore thumb.)
The occasional generalization is useful. Some aren’t. Some are just plain wrong. Most of them apply “some of the time” or illuminate some other aspect of whatever-it-is. For example, if I say, “Shakespeare’s plays always have something in every few scenes for the groundlings,” I get it from every direction. “Groundlings are people too!” “In scene such-and-such, there’s nothing for the groundlings.” “Shakespeare didn’t write Shakespeare!” And so forth. I mean, you can’t win, any more than when you ask, “Do I look fat in this?”* so why not laugh?
* [You don’t want them to LIE to you and then have you parade all over town in that outfit looking like you are wearing grandma’s muumuu, but on the other hand you don’t really want to hear that when you walk in those jeans your butt looks like two pit bulls rasslin’ in a pillowcase, do you? So the person who is asked the question, “Do I look fat in Grandma’s muumuu?” is always screwed, no matter what answer (s)he gives. The best route is to begin choking, turn purple, and pass out on the floor. By the time the paramedics arrive and carry you to safety, you will have distracted the questioner sufficiently that you won’t have to answer, even if she’s so fat that she has to iron her jeans on the driveway.]
People have their own issues and bring them to the table, so when they read your writing, they sometimes read stuff into it. It seems that a small number of people always want to play “NIGYSOB.” That’s an old Transactional Analysis game out of _Games People Play_ by Eric Berne. The initials stand for, “Now I’ve Got You, You SOB.” It’s all about some detail that you made an error on, and now you’re going to get it with both barrels, you ignorant slob who is trying to spread misinformation! Or some people just love “Let’s You and Him Fight.” They’ll write to person A to tell him or her all about your latest entry that simply SMEARS him or his work, and person A comes blazing over and fires the torpedoes and explains how he/she is Hopelessly Offended, because Helpful Type poisoned the well, and when A reads what you wrote, it’ll be SO APPARENT that you were absolutely libeling him or out to get him. (And it could be that you only mentioned him in passing.) Others prefer the game of “Uproar,” which in general gets fulfilled any time they start any kind of uproar. Thus LJ Drama in full flower.
You also have to be careful about little insider jokes or things that might sound insulting or bigoted if the humor doesn’t come across. Some people hate indicators such as *grin* and smileys; they say these are fourth-wall-breakers and shouldn’t be needed. They believe you should be Erma Bombeck or Dave Barry and just be able to signal that it’s humor through your tone, but you can’t always please ’em all. After all, a huge contingent of middle school stoners still believe that Jonathan Swift seriously advocated eating Irish babies in “A Modest Proposal.”
You just never know what’s going to light somebody’s fire.
When people assumed that I was a bad person because of some generalization that I mused about or tossed off, it used to cause Major Drama and copious weeping and wailing on this side of the screen. But eventually I figured out . . . I’m not perfect. As much as I strive for clarity, I’m going to be misunderstood or misinterpreted sometimes. I’m not always going to be able to get across the proper tone or signal that I’m trying to pull a Dave Barry. Now and then, I’ll end up clarifying or apologizing. It’s just the cost of doing business by text (or any other way, for that matter, except that when we’re not face-to-face, there’s no worry about belching or farting out of turn, now, is there?)
People are going to bring their own baggage. They have their own “hot buttons” or sensitive words/topics, and if you happen to step on that sore toe, you will get the blast. It doesn’t mean you offended all the world, but just that you picked the magic word and Groucho’s duck zipped down from the ceiling.
Some people are going to read into what you say whatever they want to hear . . . or if they’re playing NIGYSOB, they’ll say, “Gotcha!” So you have to proofread with an eye towards that. The occasional troll who deliberately pretends to misunderstand so they can go on the attack with their agenda will come along–or somebody will just hit a word that is their hot button and go crazy.
This isn’t just happening to ME; it’s endemic. Look what happened to Garrison Keillor–ol’ Dan Savage savaged him because he didn’t “get” the gentle winking tongue-in-cheek type of humor being used in the passages that he chose to go crazy over. Again, I think this was a case of pushing the fellow’s hot buttons. It wasn’t Keillor really saying any of those insults.
This kind of knee-jerk reaction may be fun to watch, but isn’t fun for the recipient; after posting one of these, you usually realize that you’ve overreacted, but then you think that the venting was good and that you DID make many good points, so you don’t go back and delete it. However, it just shows you don’t share the same sense of humor as the person who understood the piece to be satirical or funny. The comment threads are usually pretty evenly divided for and against you.
(I don’t want to be a Keillor apologist . . . I think sometimes his show is positively lame, and he featured a woman who COULD NOT SING on St. Paddy’s Day, doing a medley of three “songs usually reserved for Irish tenors.” She then made the reason for this obvious, and PLEASE LADY TURN DOWN THE VIBRATO/TREMOLO. However, I didn’t think that piece said what the offended fellow thought it did.)
“What we have here is a failure to communicate.”–_Cool Hand Luke_, Strother Martin’s character
You’d think that we’d all stay away from LiveJournal and other forums because of these minor glitches.
But on the other tentacle, I get so many points of view. My friends list points to MANY fiction writers, memoirists, et alia, but also to people of diverse religions–in diverse locations where there are different holidays and vacation areas. I belong to a few communities that specialize in particular topics: recipes for crock pot cooking, long hair care and nurturing, fat girls who love fashion, cranky editors, copy editors, and belly dancing. There are people who’ll teach you about horses, some who are scientists, and many who review interesting books and films. It’s a lot of fun to read bits and jots from here and there. . . and illuminating.
Besides, where else would I find a soapbox to stand up on? It’s fun. I always learn something from reading various journals. We’re learning every day how to improve our communication skills. It’s win-win.
And I always do learn something about myself. They say that’s one of the benefits of journaling–self-awareness and realization. So we must be doing *something* right.