Thursday, November 22, 2007

Feeling expansive

Last night I went to the grocery store to pick up a few last minute items. When I walked out the door and down the front porch steps a few flakes of snowy down drifted past my face and I smiled. More snow. There was a little accumulation on my windshield and I smiled all the way to the store, reveling in the possibility of more snow.

It's a small thing, snow in the late fall and winter, but it's something I love and part of the reason I moved to Colorado. I also smile when it rains, sometimes going outside to raise my face to the clouds and spin around and around arms out to feel the splash of raindrops. I didn't know until recently it's something I have done since I was a very small child just learning to walk. My mother told me I used to run outside to spin and dance in the rain, a child of the elements. Some things never change.

I miss the rain that loomed like a dark curtain rushing at me from the horizon every day when we lived in Panama. Winter is the rainy season, but it rains all through the year because it's in a tropical rain forest. It wasn't something I controlled, but something I wished I could control, bringing rain to make everything glossy and green and alive. One thing I have learned is that even when you think you're in control, you're not, least of all when dealing with other people.

As a writer, one of the most important things is communication, not just in my writing but with the editors, publishers and other writers. My livelihood and writing depend on things being sent and received on time. There's nothing more frustrating than being told a contract or writing assignment has gone astray even though it was sent in plenty of time. It's even more frustrating when dealing with friends and relatives who swear they never received what was sent or, worse yet, never knowing if what you sent was even read. In part, it's about control, and it's about instant gratification, but mostly it's about being seen, even by email.

When I send out proposal packages, contracts, manuscripts, cards and letters by snail mail I always spend a little extra to get the delivery confirmation. When someone tells me they didn't get what I sent, I can go online, enter the confirmation number and see how long it took and when it was delivered. I cannot, however, be sure what I sent was read, but I know it got there and I have proof. It's more difficult with email because you can never be sure of anything when you send your words and files out into the cyber ether, that is until I found out about email tracking.

It costs a few dollars, but it's definitely worth the expense. I tried it and I liked it so much I bought a year's subscription and I use it for nearly everyone I email, even family, except, however, for Beanie since we talk on the phone as much as we email. She is the one person I know I can count on to respond and she never leaves me hanging in the middle of an email conversation with questions asked and not answered. I can't say the same thing for anyone else.

One friend reminds me how annoying it is to have our emails tracked so that I know at a glance when an email was read, how many times it was read, whether or not to was forwarded, etc., but it is preferable to being in the middle of a conversation and hear nothing for days or weeks on end. It's the cyber equivalent of being in the midst of a conversation and the other person goes to the bathroom and doesn't return. Yes, it may be annoying to them, but email tracking has saved me countless hours (and much paper and ink and long distance charges).

I don't tell everyone I use the tracking program, but I have told a few and they have responded with anger, annoyance and surprise when I tell them I know when they received my communications and how many times they read it. Obviously, I don't tell everyone and keep that information to myself, but the program has been invaluable in showing me who is and isn't being honest with me and exceptionally helpful when proving that contracts and work have been received.

To some people my actions seem like I'm trying to control them or spying on them, but those people are usually hiding something or don't like the idea that someone other than they have a modicum of control, but it's really not about control; it's about communication and information. It's about not being left hanging and clueless. It's also about peace of mind because I know without doubt that my message has been received and read and it doesn't matter so much the other person didn't respond. It's comforting.

One thing about the tracking program is that the receiver can't just click the button to not send a notice and make it go away. With some features, in order to read the email the receiver has to acknowledge receipt or click a link to read the email but there are less intrusive, more invisible features that are activated when the email is opened and read. I prefer the invisible features and use the more intrusive features only when necessary or with someone who needs proof as much as I do, and I have calmed my fears and doubts and confusion with the knowledge I'm not being ignored.

Even when the rain and snow don't come, there is comfort in knowing it's out there and will visit one day and my prayers have not been ignored. There is no comfort or peace in silence or ignorance no matter how annoying the need to be sure seems to others. And it's not about trust either, although trust is a factor with some people. In knowledge there is peace even when the news isn't always good, at least it's more reliable than some people or expecting snow in the desert.

That is all. Disperse.

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