Tuesday, August 25, 2020

Replacing the Handshake

New Etiquette for the New World

A pandemic caused us to behave differently while wondering which or what of the old ways we may keep. One of the first things to go was the handshake.

You know, that thing the ancient Greeks developed to show an approaching stranger you are not armed and can be trusted. That thing young people had to practice so they can do well on job interviews. Firm, but not too firm. Spirited, without being too energetic as to cause a concussion. There you go, just right.

Apparently, it isn’t anymore. Neither is the elbow bump, that touching of the very place we’re instructed to cough into. The Far East’s light head-bow with hand on one’s heart (I always found this elegant and touching) is one fine new way.

There’s also new etiquette for virtual gatherings, a la Zoom and such. There’s new etiquette for how to walk on the street. Hence, there are new requirements for storytelling. Movies shot before look downright historic.

It’s hard to know how much will stick with humanity for the longer run. But considering how long we’ve kept the handshake, (well after the knife-in-hand lost its prevalence) it’s likely we’ll have a few new etiquette rules added to our collective vocabulary.

A friend made the observation that in her childhood she used to ask her mother why grandma saved every piece of string.
“Grandma lived through the Great Depression,” her mom explained.
Someday, our grandkids will ask why Grandma wipes grocery bags with bleach, and our kids would explain that we lived through the Great Pandemic.

Storytellers are watching, and everyone is learning.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Writers’ Conferences

Writers and Conferences

I wrote this post *just* before COVID-19 blasted the four corners of the earth, and all conferencing went virtual. I put the post on the back burner, thinking I may or may not post it shortly/later/never.
I decided that, although it chimes positively anachronistic at the moment, it's also positive to think of in-person conferences as something we'll get to experience again. Some of the points I made could apply to virtual conferences, which are ongoing.

My personal experience of conferences for writers is limited. I’ve attended two, and presented in one. I’m no maven. If you want the most comprehensive guide to such, check this link from the best go-to guide, posted shortly before the SCBWI Winter conference in New York City. This yearly event is mammothian (just made up this word 😉) but there are many much smaller and more manageable gatherings for the uninitiated.  Jane Friedman tells all in the most helpful way, as always.

But my post is about a personal experience at the first regional conference I attended. Take it as a cautionary tale, or just a funny story if you find the image of someone slipping on a banana peel hilarious.

I was not a complete newbie, and I already knew that conferences are not the place to shove one’s manuscript into the hand of a pleasantly conversing agent or editor. Outside of pitching sessions specifically designated for it, it is bad form to push one’s work when not asked.

Even if I hadn’t known this, (from talking with very experienced writers) common sense would have prevented me from doing something as unthinkable as sliding a manuscript under a bathroom stall where a professional is relieving herself. I heard of such horrors and couldn’t believe a civilized person would do something like that, but it seems every conference brings back some stories that amount to this sort of conduct.

I’m also a shy person who does her best to compensate by being friendly. I smile a lot in a room full of strangers when our eyes meet. Maybe too much, but it’s a coping mechanism that occasionally manages to help not only me, but also the person I smiled at.

So on that lovely fall day, right after the registrants completed a check-in, a bunch of us strangers stood outside the main conference room awkwardly smiling. That was when I spotted a heavy-set young woman who looked incredibly unhappy, coming out of the rest room. I hadn’t seen a single person in that hallway that looked as miserable. She looked like she was about to cry and then pass out.

My empathetic (and also shy) nature immediately felt like asking her if she was okay. Instead, when we made eye contact, I smiled and said, “Hi!”
My over-friendly tone was genuine; here was another soul feeling much more awkward than I. Poor thing.

If looks could kill, the look I got back from her would have.

Boy-oh-boy, I thought. This one is one to stay away from.

Only moments later, at the Welcome address, I saw my would-be-killer on the stage. She was the keynote speaker and the big-five editor many came to hear.

I did an internal silent face-palm. So this is who that was, I thought. How was I supposed to know? I never googled the speakers so I would recognize them on sight.
That very moment I realized she thought I was one of those pesky folks who ambush an editor as she comes out of the bathroom. As in, my next move right after the “hi” was to shove something into her hand.

So to Jane Friedman’s excellent post I would add— don’t do as I did then. When we get to gather again, remember that such coziness was never welcomed even in halcyon days, pre-pandemic.

In addition to researching the speakers, make sure to google the speakers with images so you recognize them ahead of time, and if you see any of them coming out of the bathroom, look away. 😔

©Joann Mannix 2012

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

Ghosting in Fiction and Life

Ghost (verb, to ghost someone) = the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication.

Has anyone ever ghosted you? For that matter, have you ever ghosted anyone?

It’s happened to me (twice) although I have never done it to anyone. I’ve broken all communication with someone only once, but with a clear explanation. Having a friend or colleague disappear in the midst of an enthusiastic and close friendship is distressing, and despite re-establishing communication later and assurances that it was nothing I had done, it’s never the same.

Ghosting is apparently a standard feature of casual dating. I wouldn’t know, because I never dated casually. Increasingly, it’s a feature of the writing world’s business practices. Agents or critique partners disappearing into the ether after a flow of communication, and then, without a word--- nothing.* I haven’t had that, either, and I hope never to find myself in such a situation. I sure wouldn’t do this to anyone.
*There are closed/secret writerly Facebook groups I belong to, where lists of professionals who have ghosted their own clients are shared. Sadly, not as rare as I wish it were.

 I was thinking about how breaks of close relationships are depicted in fiction, and it’s always dramatic. A speech, an outburst, maybe even violence, and “we’re done.” A clear demarcation for all to see. But how would ghosting appear in a fictional story? It’s the anti-drama, the no-sound/no-word/no-action event. Much more challenging to write and yet, to anyone who’s experienced ghosting, it is a dragged out wrenching life event. It’s worthy of a writer’s challenge.

So this is where I’m at, writerly-wise. All advice or venerable literary examples welcome.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Managing Time

a.k.a “Time-management”

“Where did the time go?”
“Forwards, darling. Always forward.”

Time marches in one direction and, except for sojourns of the mind, don’t believe the physicists who tell you it’s the fourth dimension and as such it is a line you can move your dot on in either direction. Those same scientists also say the earth is round and, hey, it looks pretty flat to me.
My jesting way of saying our experience is that time runs like sand through our sieving hands.

Some years ago, I was blessed with finding a personal key to managing time. It came just in time, (pun intended) when my life became impossible to manage as a classic “sandwich generation” mom and daughter. But I had the tools, and by golly, I managed to take care of all my responsibilities and also write original fiction.

The key, for me, was to set a daily schedule of the minimal I must get done, and make it utterly doable. If anything, make it “under-ambitious,” so tackling the day’s tasks was not daunting. This is a system set for a marathon, not a sprint. I not only got the “must-do” done, I was less stressed about my time.
And here’s the secret kicker: always leave some time for nothing. That is nothing planned, where I can do nothing, do something I want to do, or attend to the inevitable emergencies that pop up. Nothing Time is sacred, and it is part of time management success.

With the rare exceptions of chaotic days (I take that possibility for granted), this system works for me to this day. Time moves forward, and I’m gliding on it.

I hope you find what works for you, so you don’t look back and say you didn’t get to do something you always wanted to do because you didn’t have the time.