As a lifelong writer and a psychotherapist with many years experience, I found the perfect way to practice my profession a number of years ago: “seeing” clients online via chat and email on my website at LZcybershrink.com. One thing led to another, and I found myself a member of several online communities of mental health professionals from around the world. My home-based career allowed me time to write the murder mystery I had been carrying around in my head for quite a while. Once I had completed the first draft of Death Will Get You Sober, I discovered the online communities of writers and mystery lovers who would help me hone my craft and market my manuscript. By the time I got an offer from a publisher, I knew the Internet would be crucial to my efforts to promote my book—essential to my dream of continuing to write and publish further books in the series.
So now I’m blogging with Poe’s Deadly Daughters, accumulating Friends on MySpace, hanging out on CrimeSpace, launching my second website, elizabethzelvin.com—and still treating clients by chat and email, IMing with potential clients on LZcybershrink.com, training other clinicians in online practice skills in my group chat room, sharing cases with colleagues in a message board format, and gabbing away on e-lists with my mental health peers as well as the mystery communities of Sisters in Crime, Guppies, Mystery Writers of America, DorothyL, and Murder Must Advertise.
In short, I talk to an awful lot of people every day from the comfort of my seat at the keyboard. Sometimes I even multitask. So with all this cybercommunication going on, how do I keep from putting my virtual foot in my mouth? Without claiming a perfect record, I do pretty well thanks to a couple of features of texting: one, the time delay that allows me to delete before sending if I think better of what I’ve just typed; and two, the magic word “Oops!”
As a therapist, I am committed to the principle that it’s okay to make a mistake. It’s one of the tenets of emotional health. As a neurotic like everybody else, I’m embarrassed and mad at myself when I goof in any way. And as one of many who struggle with codependency, I’m devastated when I say the wrong thing. I hate to hurt anybody’s feelings. Nor do I enjoy having anyone mad at me. In real life, when we say something hasty or tactless, we don’t always get a chance to backpedal or apologize. But on the Internet, the adolescent geniuses who I assume (correct me if I’m wrong) dreamed up the smileys and emoticons, acronyms and buzz words that we use online have handed us a simple way to take back what we wish we hadn’t said.
Take the classic gaffe of inadvertently putting the letter in the wrong envelope: the guy who mails his boss the kvetching meant for a sympathetic buddy, the woman who sends her husband the steamy missive meant for a lover. Once the damage is done, the situation might be hard to retrieve. But if I send an email thanking the agent who’s rejected me for requesting the full manuscript—or get my time zones mixed up and schedule an appointment for a client’s 3:00 AM—it’s simply mended: I send a follow-up email with “Oops!” as the subject line. In fact, if I catch my error immediately, they may see it and know it’s a mistake before they even read the first email. The body of the “Oops!” email, of course, corrects the error and apologizes or explains as needed.
I imagine almost everyone has experienced a situation in which the ability to say “Oops!” saved the day. Or am I the only one? If so—oops!