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From the Department of Serendipitous Side Benefits

June 11, 2010 at 5:03 am

It seems an odd thing to say, but I have to admit it never occurred to me that being a writer—even a fledgling one, as in my case—would bring me into greater contact with people.  But it has, in ways I never expected.  This has been, by far, the greatest unexpected benefit to come out of my writing efforts.

The only reason I ever took up writing in the first place was solely to have a means of creative expression in my life.  I can't draw; I'm hopeless with music.   Any mechanical task beyond the most basic tool use is a challenge to me (one that comes with the very real threat of self-blinding and/or lost fingers).    Writing is something I've always been drawn to, and something I've always enjoyed, but for the longest time I never considered it something other than a pleasant way to pass the time.  I certainly didn't go into it for the money, and since I'm a pathologically shy introvert, fame is the last thing I'd ever seek.

That pathological introversion has caused me no small amount of grief over the years.  Both personally and professionally. The most unfortunate side effect, and one that I still struggle with even though I've been aware of it and trying to overcome it for many years, is my tendency to lose touch with people.  Even people I really like, people with whom I want to stay in contact.

I'm not the type to pick up the telephone on a whim, just to say hello.  Never have been.  Some of my friends understand this, and tolerate it.  (And I'm profoundly grateful for their patience and understanding.)  I'm lucky to have friends who are the type to pick up a telephone just to keep in touch.

So, people pass through and out of my life more than I would like.  But I'm crap when it comes to picking up my end of the deal.

(Sometimes you have to remove people from your life.  I'm not talking about that situation.  There are times when happiness and security and any number of other things require a conscious change to one's life, and the people in one's life are a huge factor in that.  I've done it when I've had to, and never once regretted it.  If my life is happier without certain people in it than with them, they have to go.  Life is too short to spend it with people who make you feel shitty.)

Writing has brought a huge influx of wonderful people to my life: other writers.  Smart and insanely talented people I would never, ever have met otherwise.  Much of my social network—both online and in meatspace—is related to writing.  No doubt that's true of many writers.  I still have friendships that formed on the OWW back in the days when I'd been writing for less than a month.

It's extremely gratifying.  My life is so much richer for it.  And yet, this isn't even the most touching way in which this strange part of my life has changed my social interactions.

During the run-up to the release of my first novel, and in the two months since then, I've been reunited with a surprising number of people who had passed through my life years ago.  Decades ago, in some cases. 

[Cue Beatles music in 3, 2, 1...]

I've been reunited with cousins on both sides of my family, none of whom I'd seen in well over 20 years.  One of my favorite uncles, who had been lost to the mists of time and geography, got in touch to congratulate me on the release of the book.

I've been contacted by old friends from the OWW (just today, in fact).  Old friends from college.  Old friends from high school. Some, again, going back 20 years.  None forgotten, but all long lost to me.

Some of these reunions have been fleeting, like fireworks.  Others have been more lasting.  But I'm delighted by them all.

During a signing in Minneapolis a couple of months ago (my first solo signing, in fact) a woman came up to my table, shyly slid my book forward, and said, "Hi, Ian.  Do you remember me?"

I did not.  Not the tiniest bit.  If we had passed each other on the street, I would never have suspected that we were acquainted.  I would have sworn under oath I didn't know this woman.  I pride myself on having a good memory for faces.  I'm shit with names, but faces stick with me.  Or so I thought.

After a few seconds spent ransacking the mental archives and turning up nothing but dust bunnies and old Scrooge McDuck comics, I admitted that my memory had failed me.  It must have been blatantly obvious from the look on my face.

So she told me her name.  And all I could do—when I recovered the capacity for speech—was sit back and say, "Wow."

We chatted for a couple of minutes at most.  I signed her book, thanked her for coming to my signing, and that was that.  And such was the extent of our reunion.  But sometimes the brighter moments in life aren't  long-lasting second-sun-in-the-morning-sky kind of moments.  They're firefly winks.  In this case, I was simply blown away by the notion that anybody would remember me from over 20 years ago, and having remembered me, want to know what became of me. 

But, in fact, this is the second time it has happened to me.  A few years back, long before Bitter Seeds, I received an email from a dear friend with whom I'd lost touch about 14 years earlier.  (In this case, neither of us were particularly good at keeping in touch.)  It spun me right around.  I couldn't believe it.  Now we're still in touch, not with great regularity, but frequently enough to be generally aware of events in each others' lives.  My life is so much richer for it.  I regained a dear friendship purely through the magic of Google.

And yet, even after all this, people still continue to amaze and delight me. 

I experienced something entirely new after the publication of Bitter Seeds in April.  Never in a trillion years would I have expected that complete strangers would contact me to talk about my book, to tell me they enjoyed it, or ask me questions about it.  I took it for granted that nobody would care enough one way or the other to go to the trouble of contacting the author. 

I'm glad I was so hilariously wrong about that.

Not that I'm getting inundated with fan mail, because heaven knows that ain't happening.  But the fact that I have received enthusiastic letters from readers just... makes my head explode.  In a good way.  A really good way.

Because of that pathological introversion I mentioned earlier, never, ever in my life as a reader had it occurred to me to contact the authors of books I loved.  Or, if the thought had crossed my mind, I know myself well enough to know it was dismissed quickly.  (Who cares what you think, Tregillis?)   And what a shame that I was so clueless.  Some of my favorite writers have passed away, and now I'll never have a chance to tell them how much their work has meant to me.

In the end, I'm just so grateful that there are people not like me in the world.


ChiaLynn June 11, 2010 at 5:04 pm
So much of this post, I could have written, and I'm always surprised and delighted and oddly grateful to know that "I'm not the only one!"
Ian June 13, 2010 at 12:33 pm
Nope, you're definitely not the only one. So, um, I guess that means there are two of us. I don't hate people nearly as much as I probably appear to. It's just that I kind of suck at face-to-face interactions.
Barbara June 16, 2010 at 6:33 pm
As one of the people who has always been the social one that does the work to stay in touch with my more shy friends, I am very glad for all the opportunities that our networks get to reconnect. It's been wonderful to see where old friends have taken themselves and especially friends like you that have come to mind over the years. Of course, you realize that now that I know how to find you, you're doomed, right? *grin*
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