Social anxiety

Unseen Differences

Another blog post made me think today. This one came from Catdownunder:

There is a very, very small Indian community in Adelaide. It is so small that the sight of sari or turban causes people to look twice. It is all so very different from the area of London I lived in for seven years. I still miss the cultural diversity of London. It is quite different from the “multicultural” ethic here.
The sight of an Indian face at the checkout in the supermarket is even more unusual. There was a pleasant young girl in the “fast” lane yesterday. As people went ahead of me I could hear her dutifully saying the obligatory “Merry Christmas”. Some people would say “Merry Christmas” back. Others would nod, too busy to care about something said meaninglessly.
When I reached her and she said it to me I asked, “Do you celebrate Christmas?”
She looked surprised by the question and then admitted, “No, not really.”
So I said, “Well it is really much too late but would it be more appropriate for me to say I hope you had a happy Diwali?”
Her face lit up. “You know about that?” I do.
Now, instead of the professional smile there was a genuine one which reached her eyes as she said, “It was wonderful. Thankyou – and I really do hope you enjoy Christmas.”
If I happen to see her next Diwali I will give her good wishes at the appropriate time. I like it when that happens too.

My first thought was: how thoughtful of Cat. So many people seem to think that everyone must celebrate Christmas. Even if they don’t believe, surely they’d have a tree, give presents, gorge themselves. When I lived in Britain, people seemed to regard me as weird because we didn’t.

Then my thoughts moved on. If I’d been behind that checkout counter, Cat wouldn’t have wished me a happy Chanuka. How could she have known? Unless I’d gone out of my way to look different – maybe by hanging a big Star of David on my neck. But that would be rather in your face, like putting up a sign.

Sometimes I think it would be easier if all differences could be seen. That would avoid confusion and embarrassment. There’s another sign I’d like to put up. It would say:

Please don't go away. I really want to talk to you, but social anxiety makes it hard.


I have another three days of gorging ahead – on doughnuts and latkes.

Happy holidays everyone!


Writing for Readers

There’s an interesting discussion going on, described by Catdownunder. It caused me to ponder the following question:

If you write for readers, which readers do you write for?

Presumably, the answer is that you write for the majority. Which begs the question:

What about the rest of us?

Do we always have to put up with what the majority want?

I’m thinking of Jodi Picoult’s book, Nineteen Minutes. I read it because someone told me it’s about bullying. The book says several important things about bullying and I felt a lot of empathy towards the main character, despite the terrible crime he committed.


I didn’t like the ending. I felt as if the author said, “My readers want a surprise, so I’ll tack one onto the end and then go through the book and throw in some foreshadowing.”

Also, the back-cover blurb mentions nothing about bullying. Would the majority of readers be put off if they knew that was the topic?

And what about readers who don’t know what they want? Must they be limited in their reading by people who tell them, “This is what you want”? Like my mother, who insisted on reading the Alice books to me because I was supposed to like them.

Catdownunder suggests another way, one that sounds more difficult to pull off but is probably more satisfying for the reader, whoever he or she is.