Have we really arrived at a place where the protocol for offering praise or compliments requires apology, self-deprecation, and paperwork to prove you're not a stalker? It seems every compliment I get comes with some kind of disclaimer.
A little over a year ago I received this email from a reader:
Before I get to the point of my email, let me just say that I am not a crazy-psycho-stalker-fan. I don’t usually send emails to up-and-coming-famous-bloggers. A friend sent a link to your blog last year and I have been checking it off and on since then. Lately, though, I have been checking every day. About 3 weeks ago my husband announced that he is leaving me and our three kids (<ages removed to protect privacy>). As you can imagine, this is a horrible, devastating time for me. What this has to do with you is this: every day I check out your blog and get a little laugh (well, except for the days when you don’t write something). It is not the only source of entertainment for me, so no pressure to be the sole smile-bringer to my face, but it is nice for a few moments to step out of worrying about money and negotiating child support payments, and refinancing the house in my name, and fishing around for more freelance work (<identifying details removed to protect privacy>), and getting the kids off to school, and…you get the picture. Really this email is just to thank you for blogging and continuing to be funny and to let you know that you and Tina Fey’s impersonation of Sarah Palin are helping to get me through this ordeal. So, thanks.
It's one of the nicest emails I've ever gotten. I printed it out and pinned it to my bulletin board and have it saved it in my emails in a little folder titled "SAVE THESE!" (my creativity =without bounds). When I wonder if this blog is something, or if my writing is too trivial and pointless and silly, I read that email. That email reminds me of why I write. TO MAKE DIVORCEES GIGGLE.
I am not a teacher or a nurse or a therapist or a social worker. I am hideously unorganized when it comes to charitable giving. And I rarely volunteer. (For anything. Especially stuff involving cupcakes. I'll bring the juice!) I work for an ad agency, peddling jewelry of all the (Tremendously Vital) things. And while it's what I need to do to help provide for my family, beyond that it does not afford me the feeling of Doing Something that Makes Any Difference in the World Whatsoever.
And for two reasons. One, because people like the nice person above tell me it does. And two, because I know what reading the posts of my favorite funny bloggers does for me. It's a hearty laugh and connection at least. And divine inspiration at best. A little levity goes a long, long way.
What prompted these thoughts was a package that arrived in my mail yesterday. It was a gift from a fellow writer, Amy Lyles Wilson, who, among myriad other things, pens the Her Spirit column in Her Nashville. I've met Amy on three occasions, once just in passing, to have our photos taken for the magazine's first anniversary issue. So technically we don't know each other that well. That's why when she stumbled upon this little something, which she thought would be perfect for me, she hesitated to buy it. She thought the gesture might freak me out.
She thought it might FREAK ME OUT.
Because it's so freakin' AWESOME??
If ever you feel the need to send me presents, GO WITH THAT FEELING. Do not censor yourselves.
And if ever you feel the need to tell someone that what she does is meaningful or inspiring to you, do it. And do it without apology.
Even if that person reacts to you the way that Shawn Colvin reacted to Larry when we ran into her in the concession area of Starwood Amphitheater after she opened for Lyle Lovett. "You were so awesome," Larry said enthusiastically. "We really, really enjoyed it." By the look on Shawn Colvin's face, you would have thought he'd unzipped his fly and spelled I LOVE SHAWN COLVIN in his own urine. She recoiled like he was a deranged criminal!
It's not as if he just jumped out of the bread drawer in your kitchen,Shawn. You were walking around after your concert ... where the beeris sold. FORGIVE MY HUSBAND FOR TELLING YOU HOW MUCH YOU ROCK.
Larry, of course, blew it off. But I was devastated. I loved Shawn Colvin. I'd spent money I didn't have to buy all her albums so I could learn her songs inside and out. And then she had to go and be ... notnice?
Maybe she was just having a psychiatric moment. It happens to the best of us. But I've never been able to hear her voice the same way again.
I know that celebrities (including big-time bloggers) encounter their fair share of weirdos and whacknuts. I understand that those few crazy voices can be so loud as to sound like an evil majority. I just hate this cloud of suspicion and mistrust that hovers over everything because of it. I feel like we default to assuming the worst of each other, just in case we're right.
In my experience, a compliment has at least a 95% chance of coming from a good place. Elf coasters have even better odds than that. It's true that E-mails and blog comments don't come with body language or prior history attached. So you just have to choose.
Do I assume the best? Or do I assume the worst?
To me, a sincere compliment is a gift. (Or in the case of the coasters, the gift was a sincere compliment.) Am I wrong to think it's just good old-fashioned manners to say thank you?