How to Irritate and Confuse People: A Case Study

Posted by @ 10:55 am on March 6th, 2009

I don’t know what it is about the internet that causes people to forget what it means to be a human being. Look at the speed at which comments threads degenerate into hateful, vitriolic invective–people spew things out via their fingertips that they wouldn’t say out loud to someone who was mugging or divorcing them. But it’s a two-way street, and to me, what’s perhaps more interesting than moments when somebody forgets that s/he is talking to a REAL PERSON, are moments when the writer seems to forget that s/he him/herself is  a REAL PERSON. I’m not asking for Victorian etiquette here. I’m just saying that when you pop into a stranger’s inbox, unannounced, in a message with no subject-line, from a personal email address with a joke-name (“redhotstudonearth”–seriously) asking that stranger to give you things without explaining who you are, what exactly you’re asking for, what you hope to do with it, or why you deserve it… I mean what do you expect is going to happen?

After the jump, the transcript of an utterly surreal email exchange I had yesterday, with annotations.

TO ME: 

3/5/09 2:21 AM

(no subject)

 

 

Hi my name is ———- and i am from liverpool England but i live in poland.
 
My polish friend has her own company in marketing and publishing here in poland.
 
Would you be interested in any of your books being published over here in english and polish and also where i can get in formation on other writers addresses.
 
I thank you for your time and look forward to your reply.
 
Regards
———
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I REPLY:
3/5/09, 8:28 AM
——,

Thanks for writing. I appreciate the thought, but I have an agent who takes care of this sort of thing for me.
Yours,
Justin
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[ANNOTATION #1: This person has written me a letter. It came to the email address on my website, so he probably has at least read some of my work, possibly even after reading my blog posts here on Giant. He’s being nice, he’s clearly enthusiastic. The main problem right now is vagueness, combined with over-reaching: Do I want any of “my books” published in English and Polish? Will I give him “other writers addresses”? Friend, you have given me no clue as to who you are or what you want. Even if I wanted to help you, how could I? Which other writers? To talk to them about what? And re “[my] books,” what does that mean? I edited a couple anthologies, but I don’t possess the rights to any of those stories, so I can’t authorize a translation of either of those. My poetry chapbook is available for translation, and I do possess all those rights, but that was a relatively unknown publication, and this person doesn’t mention if he’s heard of it or seen it. So the only thing I can assume is that he maybe heard I have a short story collection coming out next year, and is talking about that? Assuming this to be the case, I gave him the only honest answer I had, which is that I don’t handle my own foreign rights, or even know exactly what they are. Between my agent and the press that bought the book, they could maybe help him. I mean they do this sort of thing all the time, right? But of course, this isn’t even his own press he’s writing on behalf of. He’s just helping out his (anonymous?) friend.]
+
TO ME: 
3/5/09, 8:50 AM
I am trying to generate business for this friend and i want to know how to get business i.e from you???
 
Any ideas???
 
Reading is huge here in poland.
+
[ANNOTATION #2: Wow. I don’t even know–or want to know–what this person’s idea of “getting” business “from” me involves, but it doesn’t really sound like something I stand a lot to gain from. Not that everything has to be about the bottom line (uhh, it pretty much never is- there’s hardly ever a bottom line at all, much less one with numbers on it) but I’m starting to get the feeling I’m being shaken down. Is this a pay-to-play sort of publisher? If so, why not just say so? At least then we could be talking about something (“thanks but no thanks.”) Meanwhile, I still don’t know the name of his friend, their company–assuming such exists–or what kind of work they’re looking for. But this guy wants to know if I have “Any ideas???” ….about what, exactly? I mean it’s good to know reading is huge in Poland, but why am I suddenly the idea man for a possibly imaginary Polish literary concern? Also, since of all the people you could have written to you chose to write to me, I don’t think it’s out of line or narcissistic to ask WHAT OF MINE DID YOU ACTUALLY READ? I’m not looking to get my ego stroked- I just want to know why I’ve been asked to have this conversation. Again, even if I was interested in helping–which obviously at this point I’m not–there’s pretty much no way that I could.]
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I REPLY:
3/5/09, 9:23 AM
——-, I appreciate your trying to help your friend, but you’ve given me basically no information about yourself or your friend’s company. I don’t even know its name, much less what it’s looking to publish– poetry? fiction? I don’t know you, and after two emails, I still don’t have a reason to trust you or give you any information. With all due respect, man–and again, I’m sure that you only mean well–but this seriously isn’t helping her.
Best,
Justin
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TO ME:
3/5/09, 6:24 PM
Over 5,000 people worldwide know me as i have been 2 19 countries and worked in 11 of them. Have given free advice all my life and saved 4 peoples lives in britain risking my own and all i ask is for informatio on how to get contacts.
 
In april i am back in england and no doubt someone will ask me for some advice and if i dont know them i wont see any harm giving them some.
 
I wanted to prove to my friend here i can do anything so as i cannot i will get her to write to you about her compay and what she does. Not sure if it will be in polish or english.
 
Thanks anyway
 
——-
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[ANNOTATION #3: This is the part where words fail. Notice how our friend is simultaneously aggressive and defensive,  the sheer fucking bizarreness of his claims, the implication that I have made a grave mistake of some kind. But also notice that even in this note, I assume intended to be a sort of nyah-nyah about the opportunity I’ve missed, he still doesn’t actually ever tell me any of the things that might—might—get our conversation to some level of reality. Even when he’s making the utterly insane statement that “all i ask for is information on how to get contacts” (and don’t you love that “all i ask for”?) he still hasn’t told me who he wants to talk to or what he wants to talk to them about. Email addresses are easy to find- anyone can get them, more or less. He found mine, right? A “contact” is more like an introduction, as in, “Hey Blake, you’re going to get an email from —- in a few minutes; I just met him but he seems pretty cool; he’s interested in [insert whatever here].”]
And so ends our saga, because I’m not writing back to this guy again. It’ll be fascinating, maybe, if his friend ever actually writes to me. I’ll keep you posted. 

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