I can’t be alone. In fact, I know I’m not as I have come across a good many others who have the same problem. There isn’t even a name for it, but I would not be surprised to find that there is a high proportion of fellow sufferers within the blogging community.
I am the last person to belittle phobias, which can be as debilitating as they can appear unreasonable… I need only say ‘spider’ to one of my sons… or ‘wet worms’ and my own version of terror wriggles before my eyes. The present issue may not have an official name of its own… or at least none that I’d care to admit to… but it sits somewhere between topophobia and deipnophobia, which, roughly translated means somewhere between stage fright and the fear of making after dinner conversation. Except in this case, it relates specifically to making those first steps in conversation with people in the comments section.
I can write till the cows come home, as the saying goes… and sit me down with a cuppa or a nice glass of Burgundy and I can talk all night face to face. I can stand in front of a room full of people or up on a stage and speak off the cuff if I have to. And I enjoy conversations online with people I have come to know… but those first steps in the transition between article and conversation leave me feeling as awkward as a teenager on a first date. Compliments are even harder to answer… yet I’d be lying if I said they didn’t make me smile. It is that stage between writing and the personal touch of friendship where I never know quite what to say.
It is true that when someone leaves a comment on your blog you have little to go on… no smile, no eyes, no body language… and these are usually our first line of enquiry when we meet someone new. You can always nip across to their blog, if they have one, before answering and try to get a feel for them through their writing. I tend to do this, but it doesn’t always work… you can’t learn a huge amount from, say, a recipe or photography blog unless they have a good ‘about’ page.
I do answer all comments… unless WordPress’ notifications let them slip through undetected… even if it is sometimes no more than a ‘thank you’ or a ‘like’. Pages of unanswered comments would seem all wrong to me. But I have to admit that I struggle sometimes with what to say… or I feel awkward and stilted…and as shy as I was as a teen.
I’ve thought about it a lot. Why? I write as I am; most of my posts are written off the cuff and posted with no more than a quick proofing… it isn’t as if I have a persona to maintain. Why, when I could meet you for a coffee and would start by holding out a hand or giving you a hug… why can’t I answer those comments with ease. It’s not as if they really matter… except, there’s the rub, because they do.
If someone has taken the time to leave a pertinent comment, then they have read what has been written. It has touched, moved, amused or evoked a fellow feeling in them and they have taken a step forward with extended hand. They have voluntarily moved from the shadows of being an invisible and anonymous reader into a spotlight that says, ‘this is me’. It is the greatest compliment and the best gift for any writer to know they are being read and evoking a response. When that response is shared on a personal level, there are few things more important. And that’s exactly the point at which I clam up.
Maybe that is the reason why… because they are important. And suddenly, it’s personal.