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How to interact with me


In a comment the other day, Jennifer P. wrote:

Are you going to be at WisCon this year? And if so, should we avoid sending sympathy your way for everything that's happened to you so far this year? Because I can be Oblivious Girl for you if that's what you'd like.

I thought that was an extremely good question, so I thought I'd try to address it in a full entry rather than in a comments thread.

Unfortunately, I don't have a good answer.

Oh, the first part is easy: yes, I'll be at WisCon. (It'll be the beginning of two weeks of travel for me: WisCon, then a few days in Chicago, then my 15th-year college reunion, then a week in the Outer Banks with college friends.) Also, I'll be at WorldCon. And probably NASFiC. And possibly even World Fantasy.

So the question of how to interact with me for best results is a good one; I'll be seeing a fair number of you at various times this year, and I haven't seen most of you in person for quite a while, and I haven't interacted with large groups for quite a while.

Unfortunately, the question is also a hard one, because the answer changes frequently, from person to person and from day to day. I suppose the ideal answer is "you should guess, correctly, what I want from you at any given moment"—that is, read my mind. But since that's unlikely to happen, I figured I would put together some kind of attempt at a more useful answer.

I think what tends, in general, to work best for me is for people to acknowledge what's been going on, express sympathy, but not dwell on it for too long.

I get uncomfortable when people act like there's nothing wrong; partly 'cause it makes me wonder whether they know what happened (and then I have to figure out a way to work it into conversation, which is no fun at all), partly just 'cause I want some acknowledgment that I'm in pain.

But at the same time, I get a little uncomfortable in general whenever I'm the center of attention for an extended period. I get worried that I'm monopolizing conversation, and I start to want to know how the people I'm talking with are doing, and so forth. And for that matter, I want to acknowledge that there are good things in my life too.

(Indirectly related aside: The other evening, I saw a friend I hadn't seen in a while. He gave me a hug, and said something like "Wow, you've had the worst year possible." I certainly knew he didn't mean that literally, but it indirectly reminded me that there are plenty of people who've had worse years than I have. A lot of such people live in Sri Lanka, plenty in Iraq, and I'm sure there are a bunch of them right here in the US of A. But I don't generally play misery poker—my pain isn't invalidated by someone else's worse pain, and by the same token if you're having a lousy day because your car won't start, my problems don't mean you need to feel guilty about being upset about your problems.)

Oh, and here's something to try to avoid: telling me vehemently how you (generic you, not anyone in particular) feel about my situation in terms that suggest that of course everyone would feel that way, without acknowledging that I may feel differently. (Something at the level of "That really sucks" is fine; I think everyone would agree on that point. Also, nuanced discussions with an awareness of multiplicity of belief systems are fine. And "Here's something awful that happened to me and here's how I felt about it" is totally fine. I'd just rather not hear an extended exegesis of someone's anger on my behalf, their strong beliefs about what should be done to various people and how the criminal justice system should work, their vociferous ideas about the effect of the general political situation in the US on my situation, and their passionately-held religious beliefs as applied to my situation.) My feelings are complicated and tangled and unclear and as-yet ill-examined (but they generally have more to do with sadness/grief than with anger); when someone projects how they're feeling onto me, it makes me want to run away. Fortunately, this hasn't happened very often, and when it does I can usually deal with it; most of me does recognize that it's well-meant, and can recognize the caring behind the words. But it still makes me want to go hide under the covers for a while.

Anyway. As Sarah P pointed out a while back, every year I say I'm likely to be antisocial and solitary at WisCon, and every year I end up going to parties and hanging out with people and having a good social time. So that may well happen again this year. On the other hand, this year I'm likely to need quiet alone time (and/or low-key time with a few friends at a time) even more than usual. The other night Kam and I went to see some local Burning Man people (there was going to be firespinning, but alas it turned out to be raining), and though I'm sure they were perfectly nice and friendly people, and there were only half a dozen of them, I got to the point fairly quickly where I desperately needed to not be there. So if I flee from a given social interaction, please don't take it personally.

What else? Hugs and back rubs are mostly good, but don't overdo it. How's that for vague and hard-to-follow advice? This is the kind of thing that you would almost certainly have to read my mind to get exactly right, so don't worry about it too much.

If you want to ask me questions when you see me, about any of what's been going on, feel free, but best to do so one-on-one or in small groups; I'm less willing to want to talk about stuff in front of larger groups and/or people I don't know. And in general, be prepared for me to say I don't want to talk about it.

Another thing that's worth keeping in mind is that I'm even more thin-skinned and easy to distress than usual. Please be gentle with me. I suppose it's just as well that the panel I was going to be on at WisCon was moved to a time slot when I can't make it; not that it was a particularly controversial subject, but I always get a little tense on panels. And I'm sure the other panelists will do a fine job without me.

One more thing: I'm always interested in hearing other people's news, whether good or bad. So no need to feel that my bad news trumps yours, or that you can't be happy about your good news in front of me. Human connections and empathy are as important as ever.

Anyway, all of the above is unfortunately subject to change without notice, and various things above may vary along a loose spectrum from close friends to total strangers, but it's probably as good a rough guide to interacting with Jed as you're likely to get. I'm sorry not to be able to provide more guidance. On the other hand, don't fret too much about making sure that your interactions with me provide the ideal perfect interaction experience; few interactions are ideal, and I'm feeling generally pretty forgiving toward people these days, and y'know, it's not like anything anyone is likely to say to me is going to be worse than what I've already been through this year. So when in doubt, just be yourself and don't worry about it.


Duly noted, and thanks for posting this.

I've been out of town and crazed, but I wanted to say how much I enjoyed dinner the other night. And also, the dishes.

I hope you have a wonderful Wiscon this year.