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Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Fellowship of Saints and Sinners

Of Hate Mail and “Oxford Commas”

I got my very first piece of borderline hate mail recently.

Since it has been said by writers far more seasoned than I that you haven’t really “arrived” in the blogging world until the hate mail starts accruing, I’m actually feeling pretty un-phased by the development.  (Just think, for example, about all the controversy that Rachel Held-Evans’ use of the word, “vagina,” in her latest book has stirred in certain conservative Christian circles.  For me, it’s a feather in her cap.  Way to go, Rachel!  I’m behind you!)

Of course it’s hard to say whether the note I received technically qualifies as “hate mail,” but here is where I think it may:

  • Civilized punctuation is sorely (and intentionally) lacking: you know you’re scorned when you don’t even get a period at the end of sentences- and of course, forget about Oxford commas altogether.  (By way of musical tribute to my mystery hate mail friend and as another “mental health break” for us aspiring authors, I’ve enclosed below the official video for Vampire Weekend’s single, “Oxford Comma;” enjoy- but please be forewarned that it contains an expletive.)
  • Instead of identifying himself or herself, the writer uses a mysterious Google avatar as a ploy.  An “amaryllis,” for those of you who like me would have to look it up, is, ironically, a graceful looking flower of the kind that usually appear on Georgia O’Keefe greeting cards.
  • My mysterious sparring partner offers me free psychoanalysis: all the reasons I took a particular line of argument in the article, “Facebook’s Disappearing Mothers,” boil down to my “selfish narcissism” and tendencies to project.  (Which may be true.  I’ll have to ask my shrink next time I see him.)
All of this is to say…if you disagree with me, please feel free; but kindly identify yourself, use appropriate punctuation and refrain from psychoanalyzing me when I haven’t asked for it.  A solid dispute with my line of reasoning is one thing; calling me names, even if they are psychobabble, is another.
Until now I haven’t really put much thought into “guidelines for reader responses;” maybe now I shall, at a time when I’m feeling less groggy.  I do very much like to hear from you- all of you, whether or not we see eye to eye on everything.  Vociferous disagreement is much preferable to catatonia.  That said, please do it with respect.
From here on out, the informal guideline for leaving angry comments is simply this: in addition to letting me know who you are and why you disagree in respectful, full sentences, without the psychoanalysis, consider how you might say what you want to say to me if I were sitting across from you over a cup of coffee.  When I write or critique other writers, I will try to do the same.  I know I’ve already failed at this on occasion (my initial review of Sandy Ralya’s book, “The Beautiful Wife,” a case in point).  Maybe we all can at times be taken in by the limits of cyber dialogue: it becomes easy to lob verbal grenades at those with whom we disagree, so that we fire our sentences off like rapid-fire drones, no matter that there are real people on the other side.
So, from now on, please hold me accountable to how I use my words.  I will do the same for you.  We’re saints and sinners after all…
Tomorrow: Meditation 2 in our Advent series with guest photographer Katie Archibald-Woodward.
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