I recently tweeted about something funny that happened to me. I was in a pizza place, and yes, I know I’m supposed to be like this big health nut tweeting about hummus and running at the gym, but I just finished my proofreads for Sever and I wanted to celebrate with what is essentially a doughy wheel of cheese. Get off my back.
Anyway, the owner of this pizza place has been a family friend for decades. My parents and I have been going there for dinner since I was a toddler. He hasn’t seen me in a few years, and he asked what I was up to. I told him that I write books. The words still feel strange in my mouth, because writing is one of those job titles that come with a lot of questions. And I don’t even see it as a job; it’s more like I tricked a publisher into paying me to do what I love. And people either think I am dirt broke, or a bajillionaire, and they are shocked that I’m wearing sweatpants from old navy and they assume these Target CZ earrings are the finest of blood diamonds. Or they assume that I took out a loan to pay for these shoes (by the way, Payless).
I suppose my pizza-spinning friend chose the dirt poor assumption, because he gave me a sort of piteous smile and said, “Just keep looking for a real job.” I smiled and told him to take care.
Obviously, I came right home and tweeted about the exchange. A few of my followers were amused, and a couple were angry on my behalf. For the record, I was never angry about it. The truth is, I get things like this a lot. And, as I told someone on twitter, because I’m a writer, people often think they can say whatever they want to me. A very wise and experienced industry pro overheard me talking with my agent about a hilarious/infuriating thing that was said to me at a signing, and this industry pro told me, “No matter how long you’re in this business, people will always find a new way to offend you.” This was coming from someone who has been in publishing since before I was a zygote, so she knows her stuff. And if people were still finding new ways to offend her, I supposed I should just accept that this would be a part of my journey.
Writing may be a whimsical profession, but it has more or less the same ups and downs of any profession. Before Wither, I was a switchboard operator for a small lending company. I was the only person directing calls, 8-4:30, Monday through Friday. Every single person to call the office had to go through me, and, this being a loan office, a lot of people functioned under the delusion that I was personally responsible for their low credit scores or for their account representative being out of the office that day. I was called a lot of things I couldn’t repeat in polite company (and I pride myself on this blog being family friendly, besides). For the first month or so, I took it. I referred to each caller as “Sir” or “Ma’am” and in response to venomous remarks, I apologized, saving my curse words for after I’d hung up.
But eventually it took its toll. I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I was raised to be respectful when addressing another person. This isn’t a practice universally acknowledged however. One afternoon, a gentleman called and asked to speak to his account rep. The rep was out of the office that day, and another rep was filling in. I explained this, and he was angry because the rep filling in was a woman. He demanded that I get my fat lazy (redacted) off the chair and go find his rep’s home phone number. And while he was in the middle of a tirade, which I honestly can’t remember, I hung up. Maybe it was a knee jerk reaction, maybe it was anger, or shock, but that’s what I did. A minute later, the gentleman called back. I answered the phone. And, folks, it was like I’d never even hung up. He was still ranting. When he paused for a breath, I told him, “Sir, like it or not, I am the only person who can direct your calls, and I’m not going to put you through to anyone until you learn to speak with some respect.”
He hung up. Didn’t call back. And for all I know, he’s still learning. But I felt better, and that was what mattered. I felt like I had shown this gentleman that I wasn’t just a voice on the phone, but an actual, fully-realized human being. I feel like people forget this, and that’s why they act the way they do. And from that day forward, I was better prepared to handle the more venomous callers. Sometimes they even apologized.
When I left my job to pursue writing full time, silly me, I thought I had seen the last of rude people. Looking back I’m not even sure why I thought this.
Now, to be clear, I am not here to discuss reviews, or blogs, or opinions of any kind. I take absolutely no issue with anyone disliking my work, my person, or my face. I advocate freedom of speech, and if someone wants to tweet about how stilted my prose is, or write a seven-page review detailing why my writing is inferior to the poo of a Montana mountain lion, that is a-okay with me. What’s said about an author is really none of the author’s business.
However, when one is addressing another person directly, respect is kind of standard. Unless I ran over your puppy or insulted your mother, there is no reason to talk to me the way that caller did.
I don’t think the owner of the pizza place meant to be disrespectful. Or at least I choose not to. But what I told that person on twitter is true: since I wrote a book, people really do feel that it’s okay to say whatever they want to my face. Last week during the reveal of my latest book cover, a person tweeted to me publicly, firing off some venom about my cover art, which this person had seen on Goodreads. This person used words like “green THING” among others. In the interest of keeping the peace, I won’t quote it directly, but I assure you it was enough that my jaw about hit the desk. The approach was reminiscent of the mean girls in my high school addressing me about my hair. I was stunned that someone would be so blatantly disrespectful to another person’s face (or, you know, computer screen). Even thinking back on it, words like “flabbergasted” and “befuddled” come to mind. Did I mention that this person’s tweet is how I learned my cover was even up on Goodreads? I don’t mind that this person hated the cover. But no one on this magical green sparkly planet has the right to talk to another human being like that.
But I’m no longer a switchboard operator, and I can’t just hang up. I was struck with inspiration to type out some most unladylike responses before I finally replied that yes, that was the cover, and I loved it, thanks for asking. I don’t think it occurred to this person that I’m as much a human being as they are, and I’m sure they’ll never see this, so I can only quietly hope that this person learns some tact. But nonetheless, I maintain that it’s important for people to show respect to others, regardless of profession. We are all people here.
I hope I’m an approachable person. I’m not on twitter to receive throngs of praise and be fed grapes. I want readers to feel free to say “Eh, this cover, not so much” or “THIS CHAPTER MAKES ME WANT TO PUNCH YOU A LITTLE” (assuming it’s done in jest; please don’t actually punch me). I enjoy hearing from readers. If you love something, like something, or hate something, I’d love to hear from you. All I ask is that when you reach out to me directly, I’m shown the same level of respect any one person should show another person. What matters isn’t what is said, but the way in which it is said.
If a few tweets like that one and some pizzeria snark are the price of being able to tell my stories and interact with all of you wonderful readers and followers and fans, then I happily accept. And even if you are rude, I’ll most likely give you a respectful reply, if I do reply at all. That’s what I’d encourage anyone to do. And then I’ll probably stick my tongue out at the screen. Just saying.