A Sanguine Response

The BIGGEST MERCH SALE I HAVE EVER DONE  is happening RIGHT NOW in the HE STORE and ends on 9/21/13!!! $10 Books! $9 Shirts! Other things! Different Prices!

I used to have lunch with Josh IRL and his work friends a lot. This was back when the comic was still just a hobby. Josh had a core group of lunch-goers, but he would always show up with 2-3 new people. They, being average, sane human beings would ask me, the one person at the table of 8-10 whom they did not work with, what I did for a living. Back then this question always made me feel like they were saying, “We all make video games. How exactly are you NOT living up to your potential?” Or even more simply, I would hear, “Hi! Nice to meet you! Tell me why you hate yourself!” I would usually say something like “I manage a small design team,” which was true. I would leave out the second half of that sentence which was, “…that makes websites for dentists.” Gross.

Once cartooning became my full time job it took me a long time to get used to saying “I’m a cartoonist.” It was certainly a truthful enough answer to, “What do you do?” but (as with any aspirational, dare-to-dream career) I always felt kind of like I was lying. Like I should have said, “I’m a cartoonist but I’m not very well known and I’m broke.” Eventually I realized the question was not, “How successful are you?” It was, “What do you do?” And What I did was draw comics. Eventually the work became the reward. The measure of success was that I’d spent one more day or one more month cartooning instead of going back to a day job I hated.

Even though I now have the greatest job in the world, I still get squeamish with strangers ask me what I do. This is only with “normal people” type strangers. I’m always more comfortable with other artists, musicians or entertainers since they probably know what it’s like to live part of your life privately and an increasingly larger part of your life in some form of the public eye. I abhor small talk, and I try to cut it off at every possible pass. I try to give short, curt answers that won’t lead to follow up questions. This is, of course, unhealthy, antisocial behavior. At least I can admit that. I get even more weirded out when people in my regular life (people I know from pre-comic days, family, neighbors or anyone else I know NOT through the Internet) bring up specific comics I’ve drawn or talk about things I’ve said online. I guess to me it feel like Bruce Wayne showing up to a shareholder’s meeting and some guy at the end of the table saying, “Nice job capturing TwoFace last night, Bruce.” People aren’t supposed to see my nighttime activities. Of course I do post them in the most public forum on earth with my actual name attached to each and every one. This is also a brain problem that I have. Again, at least I recognize that it’s a problem.

COMMENTERS: Hate small talk? Hate small talk with a certain person in particular? To what lengths will you go to avoid long conversations with strangers, office mates, family, etc? When I’m on an airplane I pop my earbuds in immediately, even if I’m not listening to music. It creates a forcefield of “I probably can’t hear you, so don’t talk to me,” that I quite appreciate because, again, brain problems.


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Comments (39)

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All of these things are right and true, but it doesn’t change how I don’t like to talk to the lady that cuts my hair.
T.J.'s avatar

T.J. · 92 weeks ago

I don’t understand why my barber always insists on talking to me. It’s such an uncomfortable position to be in, with someone you know passingly (at best) wielding an array sharp objects very close to my faceparts, all the while wanting to know my life’s story. I get that it’s probably a bit strange for them as well, and they could probably use a conversation partner. But sitting in that chair kind of puts you in a defenseless position, so coming up with answers to small talk gets even tougher, and all I really wanted was to get a haircut.

1 reply · active 92 weeks ago

Tommy's avatar

Tommy · 92 weeks ago

I’d rather talk to the hair stylist than to try to carry a conversation with the dentist/dental hygienist. The ones fresh off the boat from southeast Asia need the practice in speaking and listening to English.
Of course THEN there was that kid at your house for thanksgiving that grilled him constantly about “teh gaems” and went so far as to ask if he has a bunch of free xbox games he could give him.
Natalie's avatar

Natalie · 92 weeks ago

Pretty sure the whole reason that silent ringtones were invented was so people can pretend they just got a super important text that requires their immediate attention, or so they can just avoid conversation totally. Sometimes I look around a train or a waiting room and wonder what percent of people on their phones actually have friends who are messaging them and which ones are just looking at porn or typing out the words to American Pie.
Will's avatar

Will · 92 weeks ago

I was just thinking the same thing. I generally read this from my ipad and it was great to still be able to see the alt-text via the old button. I was just catching up on the comic when I realized something was missing.
It’s still there for me on on chrome v29.
It’s currently broken because of the big SALE graphic above the comic. After the sale Ill pop it back in.
I don’t normally avoid small talk, actually. One of my favorite things about retail is the constant stream of new customers and small talk and being able to recycle my jokes endlessly, to the consternation of my co-workers. However, there are times I do not want the small talk, usually when I’m taking public transit or walking down the street. Since I am a lady-type, I don’t really have any defense against that. A lot of dudes see ear buds as like an INVITATION to just TRY HARDER.
Amy's avatar

Amy · 92 weeks ago

I actually get more uncomfortable with questions like that. Mostly because I tend to read cheap “genre” fantasy and science fiction. It can be hard to explain what some of my favorite books are about without it sounding ridiculous. There have even been a couple of times when I’ve decided NOT to bring a particular book to work or school because I don’t want to have to talk about it.

But I guess basically I don’t want people getting too close to me, so I’d rather answer the superficial “what do you do” type of questions. I feel like people are more likely to judge me for liking Piers Anthony than for being a math tutor.

Piers Anthony, ?
Amy, I SO used to respect you….
Now let me get back to my auto-didactucation in the tropes of The TV.
Runcibletune's avatar

Runcibletune · 92 weeks ago

I discovered how to make paper book covers in elementary school when I wanted to bring a Piers Anthony book (or one of the more tawdrily illustrated Anne McCaffrey books) to school.
AmyLynn's avatar

AmyLynn · 92 weeks ago

I know enough about weather and sports to be able survive lines at the bank and such. My difficulty is at work, where I have nothing to contribute to conversations about clothes, nail polish and whatever was on TLC last night. I am working on my “I’m too busy – go away” body language, but I am concerned I will be the coworker that everyone hates. It is not that I don’t like anything, I just don’t like anything they like. I also open a book as soon as I sit in my airplane seat, but only because that small talk usually involves long conversations that tend to pry into my privacy, like “where are you going?”

1 reply · active 92 weeks ago

The Unknown FB's avatar

The Unknown FB · 92 weeks ago

I work in a very small office enclave inside our client’s corp HQ, so I have to deal with 2 different work “cultures”, most of which involve pick-em up trucks as big as the Titanic that the ladies in hooker pumps can’t park, burnt/grilled/sauced meat-flavored products that have no actual flavor, and CONSTANT talk about the footsball.

As a nerd gaymer moderately fashionable non-hetero male, you might be able to image me with YouTube running constantly while I have any podcast nerdery available to listen to in my ear buds. And long lunches where I hide from the rednex, yahoos, hilljacks, and the like.

One great way to end a conversation is to invade a person’s personal space. That is the airspace two feet around their body. You don’t have to touch them, just continue with the conversation but get less than two feet from them. Subconsciously they will feel awkward and remove themselves.

This has been tested and proven over a 4 year study working at Six Flags. 😉

3 replies · active 92 weeks ago

Gosh I wish that worked. I seem to get stuck meeting people who have no concept of personal space… the ones who shake your hand and try to hold it for the amount of time it takes to learn all about what you do for a living, where you’re from, and what about before that.
Candace's avatar

Candace · 92 weeks ago

Yeah, I suspect that works better for men than women, and best for men who are larger/taller than average. On the other end of that, most people do not find petite women particularly intimidating, and I have no doubt that there are plenty of male strangers out there who would love it if I invaded their personal space.
The Unknown FB's avatar

The Unknown FB · 92 weeks ago

I find that flatulence, especially some SBDs from a woman, will fix that right up.
Try it sometime.
TJ Kiltman Anderson's avatar

TJ Kiltman Anderson · 92 weeks ago

pretend Turrets ala Boondock SHIT! FUCK! CUNT! Saints..PeopleAreLessLikely To Converse TWAT! CUNT! SHIT! with you.
Jeff West's avatar

Jeff West · 92 weeks ago

I am Deaf, but I was raised in both oral and sign language methods of communication, so I have the best of both worlds. I can talk to hearing people using only my voice just as easily as I talk to Deaf/Hard-of-Hearing people using only signs. However, my favorite thing to do, when avoiding people, is to just start signing and act like I have no ability to speak. Nothing scares hearing people away faster than seeing a Deaf person and not knowing how to respond. It’s effective against chatty strangers, pesky sales/survey people at the mall, and anyone who goes door-to-door preaching their religion.
Cori K's avatar

Cori K · 92 weeks ago

Yeah, awkward I understand. I study religion in the US. People have said so many stupid and even hurtful things about it that I am also sometimes hesitant to tell people what I do. Hell, I’ve even had friends pull the “you’re wasting your talent” line on me. It’s easy to get defensive, especially when you’ve been put on the defensive so many times in the past.

And if I tell them I work on religion and pop culture (with special attention to TV and webcomics), well, then it gets interesting. I’m just throwing my life away, after all.

(How do I get people to stop? I’ll let you know when I figure it out myself.)

I fall on the other end of the career spectrum but I have the same problem. I have a PhD in a hard science and I HATE telling people. I will usually perform conversational back flips to avoid telling people about my job. Once it’s out there it’s the only thing bother to learn about me. People assume I must be super smart and make tons of money. And I have to reply “No actually I spend most of my day watching liquid drip from a tube and make less than a manager at McDonalds.”
Candace's avatar

Candace · 92 weeks ago

I actually don’t mind making small talk with strangers or people I don’t know very well most of the time, although I can relate to not liking it when strangers ask me what I’m reading, since most of it is science fiction or fantasy, and I hate that blank or glazed-eye look I get from non-geek types when I say who/what I’m reading.

If I’m not in the mood to talk to anyone, I try to avoid making eye contact. That usually works pretty well if there’s no one present I actually need to talk to for some reason.

What I really hate is when I’m in a store and just want to browse, and someone is trying to “help” me. Then, of course, whenever I do need help while shopping, there is nary a salesperson in sight.

manbeardman's avatar

manbeardman · 92 weeks ago

i normally avoid people as if all of them are carrying the plague and therefor dislike small talk the only time i dont is when playing online games or at game store or at the anime store getting my gundam fix
I’m riddled with anxieties about social situations. (All part of a larger mental-health clusterfuck I deal with.) These days I try to engage as much as possible, but I still have a range of tricks I use to escape those stressful situations.

In my youth I would imitate a profound speech impediment (a splisp – half stutter, half lisp) or fake a foreign accent to avoid talking to others.

These days, I have an app on my phone that lets me fake a call by having the phone ring and displays one of my contacts as the caller.

If that can’t buy me an exit, then I go for an Oscar and fake an emotional response: I go glassy eyed & stare off into space for a bit, sigh deeply and mournfully, and then ask them if they wouldn’t mind if I stepped out for a bit. Most people are too considerate to say no. (In the event that tears are needed, I like to remind myself that everyone I love will eventually die.)

When in doubt, just quote Kindergarten Cop

Say, “I’m a gynecologist, and I look at vaginas all day!”. If that fails, scream “IT’S NOT A TUMOR!” really loud.

That should get people to stop asking about your job.

Leshka's avatar

Leshka · 92 weeks ago

Putting on headphones works for you? You lucky bastard! I’ll have headphones, mouth the words to the song I’m listening to AND be reading a book, and I still get people who pass others on the subway just to ask me for directions.

I keep looking for that tattoo on my forehead that says “Information – please disturb”.

1 reply · active 92 weeks ago

I believe I heard this from a comedian but the idea that you would try to START a conversation with a person reading a book (an act that requires 100% of your concentration) is sociopathic to me.
Tom's avatar

Tom · 92 weeks ago

Everything I know about small talk I learned from Star Trek: The Next Generation ‘Starship Mine’.

1 reply · active 92 weeks ago

take out “about small talk” and “Starship Mine” and that’s me.
StephC's avatar

StephC · 92 weeks ago

Try this one… you’ve taken off from working a “real job” to try and write a book and aren’t published. That’s always really awkward because people either assume you’re just sitting on your ass all day or they ask what you’re writing about. I can handle other small talk with strangers except the subject of career.
Christina's avatar

Christina · 92 weeks ago

As someone who makes video games for a living, I can tell you that most “normal” people react the exact same way. When my hairstylist, dental hygienist, or random friend of a friend asks me what I do, it’s the same embarrassing experience where they give me a look like “Is that a real job?” because in their minds, someone working on video games is basically an overgrown child. :/
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