Sometimes I struggle with a bit of a dilemma. I’m not good at interpreting the subtleties of social interactions, so I’m never quite sure whether people are genuinely glad to see me or just being polite. It doesn’t help that I live in Canada, where we’re polite to even idiots and assholes. I never know which of those I am.
That makes reconnecting with long-lost acquaintances an iffy proposition. Any time I send out a friend request or a ‘let’s keep in touch’ note, I’m reminded of the old saying: “The ones you hope you’ll never hear from again are the ones who never lose your number.”
I was thinking of that the other day while I was writing the letter to go in our Christmas cards. Normal people probably don’t worry about stuff like this, but ever since I became a writer I’ve been cautious about mentioning my career. I never know how people will react.
When I was an interior designer (*shudders*) or a draftsperson or a computer geek, people outside my profession usually responded one of two ways when I told them what I did for a living: They either nodded and changed the subject to something that actually interested them, or they pounced on me and tried to get free services.
But when I say I’m a fiction writer, the reactions are alarmingly varied. I still get “Ho-hum; well, how about that weather we’re having?” That’s okay.
The ‘pounce’ reaction translates to “Hey, I have a great idea for a novel! I’ll give you a ten-second snapshot of my idea, and you can spend the next six solid months sweating blood while you plan it, write it, edit it, proof it, and publish it; and then we can share the profits 50/50!”
It’s the third type of reaction that makes me reticent about dropping the ‘writer’ bombshell: Their eyes dilate and they break out in a fine dew of perspiration while they back away in squeamish embarrassment as though they’d just caught me smiling and humming with my hand down my pants.
Or worse, their eyes dilate and they start sweating, but they’re coming at me as if they’re hoping I’ll start smiling and humming with my hand down my pants. Then they whisper, “Do you write porn?”
It’s a fair question; it’s just that sweaty wide-eyed people with no sense of personal space really creep me out…
Anyhow, back to the Christmas cards. This year I decided to reconnect with my Grade 12 English teacher. He was a very cool guy back in 1982, and I’ve always wondered how things turned out for him. I also owe him a debt of gratitude for convincing me that English class wasn’t a dead loss, and for having the courage to share his love for poetry with a bunch of hormone-ridden country-bumpkin teenagers.
So I sent him a card, and when he graciously responded I wrote him an email thanking him for laying the groundwork for my writing career. It should’ve been a pleasant, stress-free interaction, right?
But all the while, I was visualizing this:
(That wasn’t how he reacted… Or maybe he was just too polite to show it… You see my dilemma?)
P.S. Thanks, Mr. C. You’re still a very cool guy!