Is the writing world really as scary as the articles I’ve been reading, or am I just innocent and ignorant? Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve read at least a dozen stories about authors behaving badly or their fans becoming “creepers,” and as a newbie to the writing world, it’s got me thinking.
Now don’t get me wrong, I know there are some seriously terrifying folks out there. When I was young, I was quite the nerd. I lived in a very small town with an even smaller high school. I LOVED to read and I was incredibly shy. I had a tendency to hang out with others like myself. One day, the close friend of one of my friends, came up missing. Her body was found weeks later. She’d been kidnapped, tortured, and raped. This would rock anyone’s view of the world, but especially because of my young age, her death left a permanent impression on my own life. (Incidentally, four teenagers in total were raped and murdered before the psycho was caught. His fifth victim didn’t go quietly. She fought him, leaving the killer’s face black and blue. She made so much commotion, someone called the police. His fifth victim survived.) Twenty years later, I still think about the death of the girl I hardly knew, about her friends, about her family.
When something this terrible has an effect on your life, you can handle the situation in one of two ways. You can become afraid of the world, become a recluse, and try to live inside of your very own self-made bubble, hoping that nothing bad will ever happen to you, or you can do what I did. I focused my thoughts on the killer’s last victim. Yes, he still wrestled this woman into the trunk of his car, but I remember reading that the woman wanted to make sure that she left a damaging enough mark on the killer’s face, so that he’d get caught. She wanted the people who knew him to question what happened. She wanted to make it easier to pick him out of a police lineup. She scratched his face and gave him a black eye. She beat the crap out of him!
I’ve thought about the woman who survived a LOT over the years. She inspired me to take courses in women’s self-defense. She motivated me to stop being a mouse, and to stand up for myself. Her actions affected my decision to purposely work in environments where I had to speak to other people. It wasn’t comfortable or easy for me to change my very nature, to stop worrying about what other people thought. Living your life is never easy. It’s much easier to go with the flow, to surrender to a naturally nervous nature. But looking back, if it hadn’t been for these two ladies, I might have given in completely to this part of myself. I’d probably still be hiding away, wishing my life would begin.
In the past twenty years, I’ve forced myself to be a “people person.” I have chosen to work with the public. At work, I speak to hundreds, and sometimes thousands of strangers, every week. I’ve trained countless people at my job. As the years have passed, the easier it’s become to suppress the “shy little girl” that lurks inside of me. I have no other choice. I refuse to be the person I once was. Most people describe me as “outgoing.” I hide my old persona that well. They think I’m joking when I say that I’m naturally a shy person.
Ironically, in my teeny, tiny, little pond of a world, I’m a popular little guppy! Who knew, right? I’m not exactly sure how this happened. Slowly I suppose, when I wasn’t paying attention. From the moment I walk into the door at work, people are calling out my name, pulling me in multiple directions. I like my job; it’s fast paced. I’m good at what I do. I’ve worked for the same company for many years, and I’m excellent at remembering people and obscure information. I’m the person EVERYONE goes to or calls when they have a work related dilemma. People I’ve never met, call me up, and ask for me by name. They shake my hand or give me a hug, when they “finally” get to meet me. It’s odd when I stop long enough to think about it. I’m nobody! I’m just another cog in the machine. I should be sitting in a corner somewhere, reading a book, and chewing on my own hair. Instead, the person who was once terrified to talk to ANYONE new, has become the person who’s SUPPOSED to have all the answers. I don’t understand how this happened. I’m NOT special. I make mistakes everyday, just like everybody else, but I do try to treat people the way I would want to be treated.
Over the years, I have had my share of “creepers.” When you work with the public, it can’t be helped. I have people who search for my car in the parking lot, to see if I’m working. I’ve had people try to kiss me. I’ve had people become so upset with me, they’ve called me every foul name you can think of. I’ve been called the “C” word, the “B” word, and lots of combinations using the F-bomb. I don’t have virgin ears. They’re only words and I have a vibrant vocabulary myself. There was a time in my life when hateful words, spoken to my face, would have hurt the scared part inside of me, but not any longer. As long as there aren’t any weapons involved, I can handle words.
I think exocentric MUST be the new normal. I used to talk to a man at work who enjoyed doing bizarre things, just to see if he could shock me. (It takes a LOT to shock me these days.) He tried serenading me with dirty limericks. He once got down on his hands and knees, barked like a dog, and threatened to bite my ankle. (I threatened to bite him back, and he never did it again!) I had a man ask me to drape myself across the hood of his car so he could take my picture, his car was held together with duct tape and binder twine, needless to say, I declined invitation. I had a man “bless” me a few weeks ago. He wished for me to have five children. English was not his first language, so perhaps something got missed in the translation. He seemed very sincere.
So what does ANY of this have to do with writing? Well, for those of you who’ve never met me, I’ve only rediscovered my love of writing three or four years ago. It started out as nothing, a long forgotten dream, and has grown into a time hogging obsession. A good friend of mine is a journalism major, and I happily blame her for reuniting me with the wonderful world of words. She is my inspiration, my mentor. I owe her a great deal. She encouraged me to take small steps, to try and write a little everyday. From there, I sought out information on the Internet, there’s so much available out there. I don’t have the funds to go back to school, so the Internet has been invaluable. I started reading books on being a better writer. I’ve tried to educate myself on self-publishing.
I’ve run across all sorts of people in my quest to pursue my dreams. Some have been amazingly helpful, some not so much. There are MILLIONS of people in this wide world of ours. If I run into a few jerks, I can live with that. I’m a realist. I don’t expect good things to naturally want to come my way. Like EVERYTHING else in my life, if I want something, I know I have to work hard to achieve it. I approach my writing like any other job. You have to do a LOT of grunt work, before you can earn even a smidgen of respect. Even then, expect more grunt work!
I’ve forced myself to face my fears of new technology. I’m still learning how to use the various social networking sites that are at my disposal. In my limited experience, creative people are often introverts. I know a few exceptions to this, as it’s certainly NOT a rule, but many of the exceptions to this are like me, working against their inner nature.
Learning the rules of etiquette and social networking with creative introverts has become a challenge unto itself. On the one hand, I’m the newbie trying to weasel my way into “their world.” Writers and authors have their own language. They talk about “plot bunnies,” and their latest WIP. They’re busy, busy people! I have a full time job, a family, and many friends. Writing is a hobby for me. I don’t have delusions of becoming rich or famous. For me, writing is a creative outlet. If someone else enjoys my dribbles, that’s fine too!
What makes one person a “creeper” and another a friend with stunted social skills? I don’t have the answers to this. The guy who wanted to bite my ankle eventually became a good friend. He’s a nice guy; he’s just really strange. I’d trust him with my life. There was another guy I knew who was quite handsome. He dressed in beautifully tailored suits. He seemed like he would be a good guy…on the outside. When he’d try to speak to me, I knew he was a dangerous psycho! I wouldn’t be surprised to see him on the news. He scared me that much.
All in all, after twenty years of working with the public, I’ve learned an important life lesson. The vast majority of people I’ve met are good. There are some strange people in the world, but when somebody drops their wallet or leaves their purse in the parking lot, most of the time, NOTHING is stolen. I’m not saying that Michigan doesn’t have thieves and criminals, but based on my experiences, dealing with the public face-to face, the majority of people I talk to seem to be honest and good.
Am I wrong when I don’t understand authors who work long and hard for recognition, then rant because they’re terrified that one of their fans will recognize them, and wind up on their front porch? Do they really do that? Perhaps I am TRULY ignorant. If you become famous enough, I suppose the chances go up significantly, but I honestly think that there isn’t a person on the planet who shouldn’t be aware. The girl that I went to school with is gone. She wasn’t rich or famous. She was in the wrong place at the wrong time. Bad stuff happens to wonderful people every day. When you work with the public, the chances go up even higher. I’ve had plenty of people “stalk” me over the years. Most of them were just lonely and needed someone to talk to. It’s hard to make new friends. I get that. Even still, I’m more concerned about the person who’s standing two feet away from me, than the person who writes a snotty comment two thousand miles away!
Everyone NEEDS to rant once in a while. This time, I’m the one ranting. I think reading about authors and fans behaving badly has affected my own behavior in a negative way. I’ve thought about these stories too much. I should know better than to treat every article that’s ever been written about writing as gospel. My experiences are my own. They are true for me. Their experiences are true for them. I’ve chatted back and forth to a number of people online over the years. Even though I will probably never meet these people, I consider them to be my friends. I’ve shared things regarding my life. They’ve shared things with me. I work a LOT of hours. I don’t have much free time. ALL of my friendships are precious to me.
I’ve allowed other people, people that I’ve never met, cause me to second-guess the amount of time I spend online. Am I commenting too much? Do I hit the “like” button too much on Facebook? Am I being a good friend, or am I behaving like a “creeper?” I am friends with the same people on more than one social networking site, should I wear the dunce hat of shame? Some people have mistakenly assumed that I was upset with them because lately, I’ve been holding back. I’m not upset with anyone but myself. Yes, I am a “newbie, want-to-be writer.” So what? Writers aren’t hatched from eggs! I’m a writer because I spend time writing. Yippy Skippy! I’ve had an article published in an online magazine. So what? Did that tiny speck of recognition make me a better person? Did that make me a “real writer?” How many books do you need to have under your belt to be a “real writer?” I didn’t start writing again to allow the mouse in me to get a foothold. I’m too old to play junior high games. I write because I love to write! If people ask for my opinion, I will give it to them. I will be honest with them. I have NEVER sought out another person in order to verbally abuse them. That’s not me!
So for the record, can we all just TRY to get along? If you’re a fan of somebody, be considerate. If you’re the hero, don’t act like a jerk. Everyone has feelings. Everyone is a REAL person. It doesn’t matter who they are or what they’re doing. The guy who’s bagging your groceries, he’s a REAL person with a family. He’s working three jobs and he’s still not sure if he’s going to make enough for his rent payment. He’s NOT an extension of the cash register. The waitress at the restaurant, she’s a REAL person. Her kid’s at home, sick with a temperature. That’s why she didn’t smile at you. She’s NOT an extension of the kitchen. The person mopping up the floors, the person handing you a ticket at the movies, the guy who cuts your lawn, they’re ALL REAL PEOPLE folks!!! Be nice to them! Nobody knows how many days they’ve been given. We can’t control other people or their behavior. The only actions we can control are our own.