I wrote the following in February of 2008, at what turned out to be the height of my on-line presence in forums, and of my participation in e-mail exchanges.
Sadly, both have waned, and I do miss it.
Lately I’ve had some good fun with e-mail and some friends. We bantered back and forth, taking potshots at each other, serving up awesome put-downs, and flexing our humor muscles.
I like e-mail for that. While verbal sparring is slightly better, often not all the participants work at the same speed. Plus, in person there is more of a chance to inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings by letting the wrong thing slip out.
Not only is there less of a chance to offend anyone with e-mails (unless, of course, one is actually trying), but the quality of the exchange is higher than it is in person. The written word offers the opportunity to be more elegant with the retorts, and more refined with the irony.
When bantering, the topic is irrelevant. The writing flair, the clever turn of phrase, and linking to almost forgotten items from past discussions is what I derive enjoyment from . The skill, and joy, is in “weaponizing” any item offered up by the other individual.
True, there needs to be enough familiarity between individuals to facilitate uninhibited exchanges of over-the-top insults and put-downs without the worry of hurting anyone’s feelings. And I don’t mean vulgarities and name calling. Well, actually that’s what it would be if the exchanges were to be summarized in a few words.
But the fun is in finding the correct convoluted group of sentences, the right arrangement of words, the subtle tone to say in 30 or 40 words what a baser person might be able to express in two words . . . or four words, if he repeats himself.
Strangely, I’ve met few women capable of exchanges to that level. It could be women are more self conscious of their public image. Or maybe they’re more reserved for other reasons. Or it could just be my perception . Then again, it might be because I tend to avoid making close friends of the female persuasion. These days I also tend to avoid making male friends as well. A few here and there, and of those one, maybe two, are capable of that kind of writing.
Banter cannot be forced. Verbal (written) sparring has a life of its own, arising out of some innocent remark on a random e-mail or post, swelling to 15-25 exchanges, and eventually waning of its own volition. I know a number of smart people, but few that are willing to put that kind of effort into writing.
That is why I don’t mind the occasional troll in the forums I frequent. I come across one and I feel like the apartment dog who has been let loose in a large field of grass. You just let go, and run your heart out.
Yes, sometimes it gets too personal. In one case I eventually succumbed to the dark side, and crossed the line into being insulting and abusive (in an elegant and convoluted way). Never mind that he deserved it, or that most of it easily sailed well above the top of his head. I still regret losing that measure of control. It was beneath me. But it was also a good lesson. One of the few good things about me is I heed life’s lessons, and I rarely repeat the same mistake.
A great exchange fires me up for writing. The creative process is the same to that of writing fiction, with only the scale and focus changing. As a result, I am as proud of some of my posts and e-mails as I am of some of the fiction writing I do. And I enjoy writing them as much, maybe more, especially since the payoff is almost immediate.
Of course I’m my biggest fan, and that’s the main reason why it’s so much fun; I love creating content I know I will enjoy re-reading. Content that will remind me writing can be as exhilarating as running all out with no particular destination in mind and no particular worry about a direction. I wish it were so all the time.