The name ‘Twitter’ always brings to my mind the image of a pair of middle-aged Victorian ladies gossiping behind their pretty paper fans. I just imagine that that’s exactly what they would sound like. It’s onomatopoeia at its finest.
I joined Twitter, despite my usual adversion to anything to do with social networking. I had to ask myself, why would I avoid it? What am I so afraid of? It’s a collective conversation; it’s nothing to be worried about, when you already have a public blog and frequently wander off on non-writing related tangents.
So I joined, and I’ve started to follow a host of literary agents and authors whose blogs I read every day. And I quickly realised that I am terrified of them.
Isn’t that bizarre? I’m actually frightened of these people taking notice of me. As a subscriber to their blogs, I’m only an email address at best. As a follower on Twitter… well, that’s a little closer. A little more open.
I emailed one author in particular a few days ago. There wasn’t anything strange or outlandish about it; I was commenting on their blog, and the comment form didn’t work for me. But I haven’t gotten a response yet, and it’s filled me with this irrational dread that I’ve unknowingly made a social faux pas.
This is the kind of thing you ponder when you’re a little bit socially inept by design. The stereotype of the genius-who-doesn’t-really-understand-people has a lot of truth in it. I might be smarter than the average bear, but being smarter doesn’t help much when everyone around you is speaking another language.
I’m certainly smart enough to know that my grasp of social communication isn’t all that good, and I need to be careful that I don’t say the wrong thing. It happened often enough when I was in school – oh, the boiling embarrassment of some of those moments still haunt me today. I’m not repeating that madness again, so I have to tread as lightly as I can.
I ponder, and after a while, I start to fall into the old habits of trying to analyse the tiny things that make up human interactions. I start looking for the patterns, the reasons, the map that will show me the appropriate way to behave. It’s in the words, and how you say them; whether you move like this or like that; how far away or how close you stand; where you look when you talk, and when you are silent; your expression, your laugh, your stance.
I could walk up to any one of my friends, and tell them something about one of their mannerisms. I know that one has a habit of twirling a pen, or a mobile, or whatever he has to hand, and I can tell him exactly how he does it. Another has a way of clicking his tongue every time he’s explaining something. Another has a gesture he always makes. Another uses her phone in a particular way, or laughs a certain way. I’ve learned enough to know how to act without needing to analyse the situation most of the time, but I still pick up on these things. It helps when I’m writing character interactions, of course; I have a stronger concept of how they should behave, and a clearer picture of what’s going on.
It’s not my native language, though. I’m still feeling my way along in the sphere of social networking, analysing what’s being said and how people are saying it in order to understand what I should be saying and how I should say it. I’m still building the map.