Here’s a lesson I’ve learned: don’t worry too much about bothering people.
Once in a while, I receive a really nice email where someone compliments me on my blog and then apologizes for being creepy. I should first state that people who worry about coming off as creepy are rarely actually creepy. I don’t think it’s creepy when people say nice things to me; I think it’s incredibly generous. And those emails have a way of coming along just when I need a little encouragement.
Fiona Apple was on a recent episode of WTF, and she quoted a former boyfriend as saying, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, then don’t say anything at all, but if you do have something nice to say, then say it.”
I’m not just talking about compliments. A couple years ago, a classmate of mine who I didn’t know very well died of cancer. She kept a blog of her experiences, and after she died, I read some of her writing. There was one post that really struck me where she said that the first time she was diagnosed, the bothersome thing was not the friends who expressed their sympathy in overt ways, but the friends who said nothing. She would hear through the grapevine that these friends didn’t know what to say or were trying to give her space, but whatever their intentions, the bottom line was that they weren’t there for her.
One of the hosts of my favorite podcast, Professor Blastoff, was recently diagnosed with cancer, and she has made a point to say several times that when friends and fans apologize for bothering her or not saying the right thing, she wants to tell them, “I’m not bothered to hear you love and care about me!” The outpouring of support is actually the silver lining to her cancer diagnosis. So when I heard another podcast host say that he hadn’t called her yet, because he was sure she was overwhelmed with everything going on, I just wanted to scream at him that he was being ridiculous.
In Steal Like An Artist, Austin Kleon says that you should write fan letters, but not expect a response. I like that, because it puts all of the meaning on doing the thing instead of someone’s reaction to that thing. Your focus is on what you actually have control over. The person you write to might be busy or bad at email, your friend might truly be overwhelmed, but that doesn’t mean they didn’t appreciate what you said. The only time I can think of that I have been bothered by kind words were when they came with expectations attached. Acting without expectations is the thing that will keep you from crossing into bothersome territory.
Saying something instead of nothing and writing a fan letter without expecting a response are not acts of altruism. Saying something is actually a great deal easier than agonizing over all the things you didn’t say, and there are many benefits to writing a fan letter. Doing these things will likely make you feel better about yourself and more connected to other people.
Now, excuse me. I have some letters to write.