One of my imaginary books is called “How to Wear Tall Stripy Hats the Good Way.” WIP. Been pondering it for several years now. Today I feel called to bring a small part of it into reality.
It’s a letter to any of you out there who’s famous — even slightly famous; also to those who want to be famous, and even to those of you who’re just sort-of-well-known in your hometown. Even if the population of your hometown only hovers somewhere around 302, and the only reason you’re famous is because you wear a tall stripy hat.
It’s also for those of us who are just fame-curious, or even those of us who don’t want to be famous (or who have a gripping fear of it, in fact) but just want to learn how to treat people around us better — either to make ourselves look good, or to get ourselves into some kind of storybook points-based heaven; or more hopefully, because we just genuinely care.
If, for some reason, you don’t actually care about learning how to treat people better, I’m not really sure where to begin. But I guess, in that case, my best advice to you is “fake it till you make it.” The world will then, at least, be a slightly better place.
So here goes: an excerpt from “How to Wear Tall Stripy Hats the Good Way.”
Please Be Careful.
If you have a blog, Instagram account, Facebook page, or maybe just a really muscular, tall-hat-supportive head, and you post a message, piece of art, or place an especially crazy-looking tall stripy hat on it, which took significant energy to materialize, and behind which the sweat and tears made you feel as though you’d just reached into your chest, ripped your heart out and dropped it, still beating, right onto the emptiness of that waiting platform, well, that is something. It’s a huge something.
But mostly, it’s a gift to yourself.
Most of the time we who write AND hit publish (or we who put on tall stripy hats, as the case may be), are trying to accomplish something for ourselves — maybe in tandem with trying to accomplish something for others — whether those gains are materialistic, or intellectual or spiritual. So let’s keep that in mind. It’s always partly for ourselves.
After we hit “publish” (or put on our latest tall, stripy, sometimes still-pulsating hat), we can feel a rush of elation. Then, if there’s a strange silence just afterward, we might feel that familiar yawning void of withdrawal. The act of inspiration/creation is sort of like eating candy, because it just tastes so good and feels so satisfying in the moment; and then what comes after it is like what happens when the insulin rushes to your bloodstream, and then blood sugar levels are suddenly depleted, and you feel drained, and you want more candy to give you more energy.
Or however that works. Either way, I know very well how it feels. I’ve been there. Many times. I have a bag of Big Hits (France’s cheapskate version of M&M’s) sitting beside me right now. Found them when I began my Big Desk Cleanup Project this afternoon. (Apparently the Universe saw fit to reward me.)
So, we long for feedback. Feedback is our Pavlovian reward, our little bit of dog-candy. Positive feedback, mostly — although any feedback can help re-stoke the candy-making (or tall-hat-materializing) flames. And sometimes, someone is kind enough to give us some.
There are avid readers/observers/stripy-hat admirers out there, and there are also avid carers out there.
Some people just genuinely care about others. They go around the Internet (or their local small town) like it’s their personal job to keep the positive content and/or wearers of stripy hats going, or even like it’s their personal job to pull obviously floundering, tall-stripy-hat-wearing persons out of their psychological well that day.
Thank you to those people. You are wonderful. I love you and your good intentions. You are, by the way, one of the main reasons this blog still exists.
Let’s hone in on the blogging world, now, to refine our example, and leave stripy-hat-stuffed sentences aside, just for moment.
Some of us can’t read someone’s blog post without hitting the “like” button or writing a comment, unless there’s something in it that we genuinely can’t understand or agree with. In that case we’ll usually go so far as to search for another article of that same blogger’s, until we find one we CAN give some positive reaction for. (Or in some cases, our browser, or our ad-blocker, won’t let us successfully hit the “like” or comment button. In that case we crazy hat-praisers might even try copying and pasting the blog post link from Chrome into Safari or Firefox, to see if the “like” button works over there.) Some people will go to great lengths to give “likes,” which amount, essentially, in their best form, to Love, with a capital L.
Or sometimes it’s simply that good old rule of reciprocity. If someone puts something out there, and we actually go and read it, for whatever reason, even if we happened upon it by chance, we feel like we owe it to them to give something back.
And in some cases we’re just blown away by the awesomeness of the content and need to “like” and shout about it.
Anyway. In my binge blog-reading over the past decade or so, I’ve seen a lot of things. Many of them wonderful. Some of them awful. But there is something slightly insidious going on in the grey area, as well. It’s when someone leaves a kind comment on someone else’s blog, and the blogger leaves a reply that is just so disappointingly patronizing. I’m sure been guilty of it myself before, clueless as I’m wont to be. The patronizing streak can strike any of us, if we’re not careful — even those of us who, most days, care so much that we’re basically like a giant glitching emoji. None of us are perfect, and sometimes any of us can be tired or tuned out.
But here’s a reminder to all of us out there trying on tall stripy hats: please be careful.
If someone gives us a kind comment, please:
- NO condescending pats on the head in response to simple praise, such as, “Thanks so much for your admiration. Don’t worry, work hard and you’ll get there one day.” (UGH. Did he ask you if you thought he’d get there one day? No. And what if he’s already there, and then some? You don’t know enough about his journey. You haven’t taken the time.)
- NONE of this: “Glad you appreciated the awesome value I just provided.” (Double UGH. The commenter already appreciates the value, that’s why they left a comment. No need to beat them over the head with it.)
- NO superiority complexes. E.g. In response to thoughtful question asked by commenter: “Can’t truly grasp what you just wrote, since I’m really really busy, and I’m just way above all that, anyway, having successfully elbowed my way to seconds at the Superior Gene Pool buffet just before being born; please check out my other three posts here and here and here.” (Triple UGH.)
- NO giving advice of any kind, unless the commenter specifically asks for it. And even then, tread carefully, or not at all. Compassionate listening and reflection is key. When in doubt, err on the side of “each of us has to find our own way.”
In sum: the correct response to any kind comment is first and foremost is an expression of gratitude.
Beyond that, a careful reading of the comment, trying our best to understand the intention behind it, and then further appreciating that intention by perhaps adding something to the conversation, the way you would with your best buddy. Or the way you would talk to someone you want to learn from (because the most successful people learn from the generous folks who take the time to interact with them). In other words, please do not respond the way you would to some imagined gawker or follower, who’s come to lay roses at your feet. Even (and especially) if they did just lay roses at your feet.
If you’re not sure, or not feeling up to more, then a simple “Thank you” is plenty. Or worst case, non-response. That is all.
Please, please, DON’T write an entire blog post starting off with notes about how “some people” left comments on your blog, and you’ve just realized you’re the second coming of the late tall-hat-wearing messiah, saving souls everywhere. And prescribing your own path for others. Just no.
No making assumptions. No taking things personally. No talking about your audience in the third person — the only friggin’ people reading your blog! Try to be impeccable with your word. At least, always do your best. (The Four Agreements — Don Miguel Ruiz.)
If you don’t be care-full for the people who’ve treated you kindly, you might not find yourself surrounded by the kind of people you’ll NEED in your court, if you truly want to be a Big Hit at whatever you’re doing.
Being famous is a big, big job. It means being a public servant — but unlike most public servants, being famous means being a servant that is constantly on display; constantly being criticized for their audacity at making themselves stand out from the crowd. We don’t even have to have ever gotten near fame ourselves, to be able see that with our own eyes.
Being famous is a job that almost none of us in our right minds would want — unless our drive to change the world for the better is so strong that we find ourselves inadvertently doing it anyway.
Fame and recognition can cause terrible destruction, in its worst instances. And those of us wanting fame and/or recognition, or even not wanting it, but finding ourselves confronted by even a tiny taste of it, in the form of noticing someone liking our lonely little posts — well. If don’t honour those people who are genuinely just trying to keep us alive, whether that’s literally, or just creatively, we don’t stand a chance.
Please be careful. You might end up famous one day. You’re gonna want good, fellow, future tall-stripy-hat wearers around, to help you with that.
P.S. What did one flower say to another? “Hey bud.” (Awesome Jokes That Every 7 Year Old Should Know by Mat Waugh. Tonight’s bedtime book, courtesy of “Auntie Leona.” Thanks Auntie!)
Tall Stripy Hat sketch by me, using iPad, Apple Pencil and the included Sketchbook App. (Yes I’m a spoiled brat. Thank you T.!) Visit my Instagram for the time-lapse.
Dear friends (stripy-hat-wearing or not), this is not about you, obvs, but about a personal incident unrelated to you. Dear tall-stripy-hat wearers of all kinds, friends (yet) or not, famous or not (yet), thank you for your inspiration. I learn so much from you/us. Especially those times when you/we’re not perfect. Hope we can still be buds.