[This image courtesy of Shenkitup.com, and isn't actually a picture of me. But it may as well be.]
I am, as many writers are, an introvert. But I also, as many such writers do, integrate a fair amount of being-in-public-as-part-of-work types of activities into my schedule. So I can certainly put on my Public Face (and/or my big girl panties) and interact with strangers in socially acceptable ways. It may not be the most natural thing in the world for me, but I’ve had a lot of practice and when I head to a conference, for example, I know how to balance my experience so that I have enough time to recharge and can be my best self in public.
Recently I was going about my day—actually I was at physical therapy—and someone recognized me from my personal blog. It turned out to be kind of a funny encounter, and the woman who approached me was lovely, but (as I ended up sharing on the blog) I felt very awkward at first. It caught me off guard, being recognized locally, while doing nothing more than just going about my mundane life.
And then I felt like a giant cliche.
I mean, really, all we needed to complete the scene was for me to be a fat balding guy instead of the completely ordinary middle-aged mom that I actually am. Isn’t that the punchline to every Internet joke ever told, that those of us who write online live in our parents’ basements, recoil from the light of day, and in real life we’re awkward and not nearly as glamorous as we’ve portrayed ourselves online? People are supposed to meet us and realize that it’s all a lie, what we do online, because the reality is that we’re simply social misfits.
Lucky for me, I’ve never made any bones about my dorkitude on my blog (or anywhere else, frankly), so I always soothe myself after unexpected encounters where I feel I’ve kind of been clumsy with the reminder that anyone who is a fan of my writing should expect me to be friendly, sure, but not necessarily graceful or glamorous. (I like to balance out my penchant for hyperbole with the occasional understatement, like this previous sentence here. Ha.) Maybe I wasn’t wearing any mascara or being particularly entertaining that day at physical therapy, but I enjoyed meeting the woman who approached me and our subsequent talk. Hopefully she didn’t go home thinking I was a lunatic, but again, if she’s read my blog, all bets are off.
Here’s the part where it gets interesting for me: I wrote about the encounter (because of course I did), and one of my regular readers left this comment:
OK, you totally have to have a post now about proper etiquette for meeting you in real life. What would not feel weird? I mean, we know all about your divorce and marriage, good, sad and bad things that happen to you and your family, and we do feel like we know you. But you don’t know that much about most of us. So, what is appropriate?
The first thing this comment did was make me laugh, because someone suggesting that there’s “proper etiquette” for meeting me in real life seems like something better suited to people who are legends in their own mind, if you catch my drift. But her point about how readers know a lot of things about me actually gets to the heart of what makes those chance meetings a little weird—it’s not so much that bloggers are socially inept by design (though, let’s be honest, many of us are), but there’s a cognitive dissonance that happens in situations like this. For one thing, I wasn’t expecting to meet a reader in that particular setting. For another, once she approached me, I had to wrap my head around this woman knowing a lot about me when I knew absolutely nothing about her, and I felt… off-guard. Maybe even a little shy.
It worked out fine—I don’t think I embarrassed myself too much, and as I said, we really did have a nice talk—but the initial awkwardness remains an interesting subject for me. Because, sure, I can reason through how I wasn’t expecting anything but physical therapy, and the oddness of talking to someone who knew a lot about me when I knew nothing about them… but I’ve been putting my life out there for many years, so it’s not like I’m unaware that this is what happens. Unless I’m meeting another blogger who reads me and whose work I read, there’s always that inequality of “I know things about you and you don’t know me” when public diarists meet others. Sometimes it’s not awkward at all (like if I’m expecting it, say, at a conference). Other times it’s painfully awkward (not this time, thankfully, but I’ve had some bad experiences).
So is the conclusion simply that I Am An Awkward Person, As Are Most Bloggers? Or maybe that Surprise Meetings Are Awkward? Or maybe it’s just that somewhere deep in my brain, I really believe that things I write on the Internet aren’t embarrassing as long as I don’t have to meet people who read them face-to-face.
I’m not sure.