It might happen when I've gone looking for meta on writing, say, and suddenly there's someone expounding on why they don't like my writing meta because I'm too proscriptive, or whatever. It's probably a thread days or months old, often a person I don't know, someone I had no idea held passionate opinions about me or my work. And I'm hardly going to burst in with questions, or try to explain myself: "How on earth did you get that idea? Because that's not my philosophy at all!" Can you just imagine the wanktacular response? *shudders*
Once or twice I've broken that self-imposed embargo, because the poster was saying something really interesting and I had questions, but it's always turned out badly, so now I just don't.
But that's only half the story. Sometimes what I stumble across is praise that was obviously never meant for my eyes, and I'm filled with this squirming embarrassment. Again, I rarely acknowledge this, as it seems a huge violation -- much more so that other conversations I stumble across in my travels, no matter the topic.
The thing is, often these casually glimpsed conversations have a huge impact on me emotionally. The praise is flattering, and once I'm over the embarrassment I'm fine with it. But the criticisms often have me questioning myself for days... Do I really do that? Am I wrong, wrong, wrong, so very wrong? Do I not contribute anything useful; do I actively make things harder for people? How did they get that impression? Etc.
I'm sure you all know the crap I'm talking about -- that little negative voice that grown-ups learn to balance out with a measure of self-confidence, but which never entirely goes away or shuts up. It doesn't stop me from continuing to post, but it does make me feel uncomfortable. And maybe it should. Privilege is all about unthinking comfort, right? So maybe these overheard conversations are good for me.
In any case, I firmly believe that everyone is entitled to their opinion -- the world is a richer place for many voices speaking and being heard. So I hope it goes without saying that I'm all for people disagreeing with my ideas, whether they want to discuss them with me or not.
My problem, I guess, is that even though I know these conversations aren't meant for me, it's human nature to want to defend myself or take part somehow. But that's not how these kinds of conversations work; for me to step in would be like... it would be like me reviewing a book by Stephen King or J.K. Rowling on my LJ, and then getting a comment from one of them saying I had misinterpreted their work. Can you imagine my shock? Not that I'm comparing myself to King or Rowling, but you know what I mean, right? Those kinds of conversations take place all the time, with the expectation that the author will never know it happened. The author puts their ideas out into the public domain and those ideas have a certain currency, and part of the whole purpose of putting them out there is so that people can discuss them and use them. I discuss the ideas of others in exactly the same way. So those conversations about my work are part of what I want to happen, they should happen, and they are totally normal. But even knowing that with my sensible grown-up brain, I still have trouble just letting it go.
How do you guys manage it, when you come across people talking about you or your work? Do you compulsively read the praise over and over? What about the criticism? Do you end up second-guessing yourself for days afterwards? Is it water off the proverbial duck's back? Do you click away the moment your eye sees something that looks like your handle? Do you try to engage with the poster, and if so how? And omg, did it turn into wankarama?
I'm really interested in knowing how other people deal with this, because if you've been on the internet any length of time it's pretty much guaranteed to happen sooner or later.
Oh, and I should probably fess up that I'm sucking at replying to comments at the moment. I'm feeling lurky and shy and tired, but I'm reading and enjoying what you all have to say so please go ahead and have fun in comments.
Anon posting is on.
PS -- Also, just to be clear, this post wasn't inspired by any particular conversation of this nature. I'm not angry or anything. I've just stumbled across more casual praise and criticism than usual in the last couple of weeks, so I'm especially aware of my reactions, and it made me wonder if other people experience that kind of dissonance too.