A reader of mine (who shall remain nameless) met me in Lexington a few months back. We proceeded to have a nice lunch with a few other folks, and we'd occasionally chat on Facebook. A few weeks ago, she messaged me on Facebook and said she was so nervous when we met, and that she's relieved to find out I'm such a nice guy. I didn't understand it at all -- I'm just me! I love meeting new people and telling stories. She was nice to me. So of course, I was nice to her. I clearly didn't get where she was coming from.
So, she sent me this comic to explain it:
And she's not the first (but she IS the first to send me a comic about it incorporating my huge ass in Kaneda's jacket. I regret ever posting that picture). This has happened quite a few times the past 2 years or so. And I didn't really get it. I don't even think of myself in those terms. I'm just a guy who likes writing and telling great stories, who cares a whole lot about the process of creation and collaboration and sharing things with other people.
But then, something happened last week which pretty much smacked me upside the head and spun me into this weird analysis of just what the heck is going on with this whole process.
When I'm at conventions or talks for Art of Akira, occasionally someone who reads my crap shows up. It's always really exciting for me, because I make a point of not mixing Mentally Incontinent with Art of Akira stuff. The Art of Akira Exhibit is so very important and means a lot to a lot of people, and it just feels dirty to go mingling my own personal writing and books with that... It'd be using something monumental and important that people care a lot about and deserve to see, just to market my personal crap.
"Not at all!" I said with a smile. I asked his name, and signed it to him, along with a thanks for taking the time to come to the exhibit and saying hi. He seemed happy. He told me he picked up my book at Barnes and Noble just to kill some time in the cafe, and ended up buying it because he loved it so much. He asked if he could get a picture with me, and I agreed.
Fast-forward to last week at DragonCon. The same guy came up to the Art of Akira booth on Saturday. As soon as I saw him, I recognized him. "Hey, good to see you again!" I said before he could say anything.
"You... You remember me?" He said, surprised.
"Yeah, of course," I replied, somewhat surprised myself. "You totally made my day at Otakon. I don't get many people who come to see me because of my books, so that was really cool."
He blushed. He then began telling me that he was so shy and scared when he met me at Otakon, that he never got to tell me all the things he wanted to, so he decided he was going to take the chance while at DragonCon. He then told me how much my blog and books mean to him, and that I was his hero. Then, he did something that totally rang a new-sounding bell in my head: He pulled out his phone and showed me his wallpaper. It was the two of us at Otakon.
I am someone's wallpaper on their iPhone. I am someone's hero. Someone was scared to actually talk to me, because they saw me in a certain way that I, myself, have seen other people (notably, Henry Rollins and Chuck D). So I totally get it. BUT IT'S ME. So I don't.
I'm arguably the most accessible guy on the internet. You can reach me in 9 different ways, all from my website. I actively invite letters and IMs and Facebook and Twitter interactions. I love them. In fact, I thrive on them. They're what keeps me going. And yet, here's two of at least a hundred situations where someone who wanted to say hi felt like they couldn't or they shouldn't, because -- and I say this with all due tongue-in-cheek candor -- I'm somehow famous to them.
Now, I've been meeting readers of my books and blog since 2005, during my first book tour. The attendance at those things was made up of either people who read my site every day and involved themselves in the editing and comments and forums, or friends of theirs. The context was so different. When I met them in person, it was like checking off the last box on the list of "getting to know you." It was almost a formality.
And yes, there were people then who came up and told me how much they loved what I did and that I was their hero. But the context was completely different. It was almost like an elbow in the ribs moment. "Dude, you're totally my hero! Let me buy you a drink!" and then we get to the business of being friends.
But this... This was different. In fact, a lot of the people I meet now, both on Facebook and in meatspace, the context of our meeting is totally different. Thanks to the Penguin book deal and the FAR wider availably of my book in stores across the nation, there are people who bought my book without knowing who the hell I am, read it, liked it, friended me on Facebook, followed me on Twitter, read my blog and never once say hi.
They read my posts about how to work out at the gym or how to finally punch out a bully and it changes their life. They read my views on religion and it opens a door for them to finally have the courage to admit to people in their lives that they don't believe what their friends and family do. They can publish their own book if they follow my guide. They laugh at my exploits and they cry with my pain. And I have no idea, until they finally get up a courage I don't think they need and they tell me.
And I get it. I just can't ACCEPT it.
When I first met Henry Rollins, it was 1995. I was a Senior in high school. He was in town on his Public Insomniac #1 spoken word tour. He was out in the lobby before the show, giving direction to the person running the merchandise table. As he walked by, I stood there petrified. I couldn't say a word. I mean, it was HENRY ROLLINS. The guy who taught me about self respect and standing up for yourself and how it was okay to admit you have feelings, and that no one has a right to squash them. He proved that being sensitive and self-aware is actually a form of being tough.
And I couldn't bring myself to tell him that, until my friends forced me to. They literally pushed me in front of him as he passed by again.
"Uh... Mr. Rollins?" I said.
"Henry." He replied, looking up at me. I was literally a foot taller than he was, and here I was, babbling like a scared child.
"Yeah, uh... Henry?" I then said. I stuck out my hand. "I'm your biggest fan."
He looked me up and down. "I'll say!" he replied. "You're huge!"
I didn't know what to think. Did Henry Rollins just insult me? I mean, he's my hero... Do I get offended? Do I hate him now? Do I love that he got the better of me? WHAT DO I DO?
Before I could come to that decision, he said "I'm just kidding with you, man!" He took my hand and shook it. "What's your name?"
"Joe," I said with relief.
"Joe, I have to hurry and get on stage, but hey, come by after the show and we can talk." He took off. I was on cloud nine. After the show, I met up with him and brought my copy of Get In The Van for him to sign. He sat there for two hours and talked to everyone there. He was so super nice and friendly. I couldn't believe it. My hero actually deserved to be my hero.
As absolutely weird as this is to type, much less think... I've come to realize, I've become that to a certain group of people. And I don't know what the hell to think about it.
Everything I write and do, I do for the work, not for any sort of glory or recognition of my own name. Even though I write about myself and my life, the point of Mentally Incontinent was to achieve a goal (writing my first book) by asking the world to help me out. People who read what I wrote and talked with me and came to my signings felt like family. They were helping me out. We already knew each other on the site, and they were instrumental in making my dream happen.
When I write things like the fist fight article or how to work out in the gym, my goal isn't to prove I know something about a topic, it's to hopefully give to someone who needs them, the tools to do something they wish they could do. It's to inspire them to feel what I felt when I finally achieved whatever it is I'm writing about. THAT is the goal. THAT is the point. To share. To relate. To unite with those who understand (or want to understand).
Knowing that I did something *inspirational* for someone is far more important than knowing *I* did something inspirational for someone.
And that's why the internet is so amazing and so scary at the same time for me. It's amazing, because it swings wide open the gates that keep people from being able to find and meet and connect with one another. But it also puts content out there without the direct impetus to say hi and get to know each other. I suppose it's just a symptom of having your stuff spread. Not everyone's going to say hi. Not everyone's going to WANT to say hi. Not everyone will understand that you're just a guy from suburban Atlanta who has experienced a lot of cooky stuff which shaped your heart and brain into a mechanism for over-analysis and a need to share.
That doesn't stop it from being completely weird.