A long time ago, maybe twenty years or more, I was walking around Northwest Portland when I spotted the cartoonist John Callahan. I was hugely thrilled to see him — I’d been a longtime fan of his comics, and I instantly recognized him from the author photos I’d seen in his books — but I was too shy to say anything. All I could do was stare. It was mute, slightly star-struck admiration on my part, but I’m sure it looked like something else to him. He was in a wheelchair, after all, and there I was gawking at him like he’d probably been gawked at a thousand times before. He caught my eye as he rolled past, with a mild expression of acknowledgment. Like, yeah, I see you looking at me. I berated myself afterwards for not saying anything, but it was too late.

I was thinking about that encounter a couple weeks ago because I was re-reading his memoir, Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot. It is, among other things, the story of how he came to be a quadriplegic, a recovering alcoholic, and the sort of wonderfully twisted politically incorrect bastard who produced comics like these:

Screen shot 2013-02-22 at 7.27.15 PM

Screen shot 2013-02-22 at 6.41.33 PM

It occurred to me that he probably had a fairly strong online presence these days, and that I should look him up and send him a message. Just … you know, go ahead and say what I should have said all those years ago, but from behind the social comfort of a computer screen this time. Tell him I’ve always admired his humor, his honesty, his tenacity. Fanmail!

I Googled his name and the second link was his Wikipedia entry. John Michael Callahan (cartoonist). February 5, 1951, Portland, Oregon – July 24, 2010.

Wait, I thought. What’s that second — oh. Oh, goddamnit.

I don’t have a point to this story, really, except to say I wish more than ever that I’d have stopped and said hello back on that crowded Portland street. Maybe he wouldn’t have appreciated it, hell, maybe he hated being approached by fans, but I bet he’d have liked hearing some random gushing praise more than being silently stared at.

But also it makes me think how little it takes to tell someone that you appreciate them, and how meaningful it can be. I remember when I left my last job how I got a flurry of sincere, complimentary emails from people who had never given me feedback before, despite the fact that I’d worked with some of them for eight years. It wasn’t until I quit that I actually received the praise I’d been aching for all along. (But did I ever tell them I thought they were doing a good job? I’m not sure I did.)

I tend to be self-conscious and withdrawn and I have a difficult time opening up to people and saying things like, “I like what you do.” Or “I think you’re amazing.” I need to work on this. I want more of it in my own life and I want to give it to others.

RIP, John Callahan. I really like what you did.


48 Responses to “Compliments”

  1. Pete on February 22nd, 2013 8:57 pm

    I wish I could have met him too.

  2. Emily on February 22nd, 2013 9:04 pm

    Random compliments to strangers are fun, too. Give any woman a compliment on her clothes as you pass her on the street; chances are she will smile big. And it always feels good to make someone smile big.

    Thanks for sharing John Callahan!

  3. Playstead on February 22nd, 2013 9:29 pm

    Never seen his work, but those two comics are genius. Good post.

  4. Donna on February 22nd, 2013 9:32 pm

    Isn’t it strange the things that stick with you?
    I’m sure I met Howie Mandel once, but mistook him for someone else, and have been waiting ever since to be a part of his act because the conversation had to be insane to him. LOL, he had this confused look like WTF?

  5. Rebecca (Bearca) on February 22nd, 2013 9:55 pm

    I know this isn’t something you were fishing for, but I like what YOU do. In fact, you’re among my favorites!

  6. Operation Pink Herring on February 22nd, 2013 10:10 pm

    Bearca took the words right out of my mouth! Clicked over from my reader because you are a wonderful writer and I enjoy your blog so much. I know you weren’t fishing for compliments, but I think this so often and hardly even comment. So! To being more generous with compliments! *clinks glass*

  7. Kristen on February 22nd, 2013 10:43 pm

    I used to see John Callahan all the time when I lived in northwest Portland. I never knew his work, until I looked him up right now. Now I wish I had paid attention to his comics and struck up a conversation with him on any of the many times we were in the same coffee shop or restaurant.
    There’s a lot to be said for saying what you think, even if you think you’ll be uncomfortable, awkward, vulnerable, whatever. It’s not a great way to learn a lesson but I’m glad you brought it to my attention.
    That said, I love what you do. Everytime I see you in my reader, I know I’m going to love what I read. Thanks, Linda.

  8. NancyB on February 23rd, 2013 4:12 am

    Great post! I will make it a point to compliment or thank someone for something they’ve done well.
    I feel the same as many here have said. I love your writing and I actually think “oh yay” when I see a sundry post in my feed.

  9. Eric's Mommy on February 23rd, 2013 7:03 am

    Thank you for sharing, that was a great video.

  10. bj on February 23rd, 2013 10:34 am

    I don’t have the courage to approach people I don’t know in real life. But, I have found that I can send emails to people who have touched me, from the scientist-professor who has fought battles to make opportunities to women, to the columnist who wrote a piece that made me think, to the math evangelist who inspired my kids.

    I’ve found, rather surprisingly, that these emails are often returned, showing to me, that in fact, I have paid a compliment that is appreciated. So, I try to remember to send an email, saying, “you made a difference to me”, though I don’t always receive confirmation that my compliment made a difference to them.

  11. bj on February 23rd, 2013 10:38 am

    And, yes, what you’re writing here is one of the reasons why I try to comment on blogs I read, and not just be a lurker. We’re on different sides of the political spectrum on a few issues that are pretty important to me, but, sticking around, and reading “it seemed like one was there”, reminded me pretty quickly what people on different sides of political beliefs (even really important ones) can share. And isn’t that a worthwhile lesson.

  12. Libby on February 23rd, 2013 12:15 pm

    Wow, just last night I re-read one of his books that I have, and was thinking how f-ing funny they all are. Today, this post. Weird. RIP, Mr. Callahan.

  13. Danell on February 23rd, 2013 4:08 pm

    I so very much like what you do. I often feel like bloggers must view comments with a kind of “meh-whatever” attitude…otherwise how in the heck would you ever get through writing your stir articles?? The comments make me want to weep for you! I hope you just don’t read those. :)
    You are such a gifted writer!

  14. Lesley T. on February 23rd, 2013 6:14 pm

    I like what John Callahan did and Linda Sharps does.

  15. Leah on February 23rd, 2013 8:10 pm

    Words cannot express how grateful I am for this blog and for Linda Sharps. I love your writing and I love this blog for helping me get through the days mothering two boys (also born in august and february, two and a half years apart).

  16. H on February 24th, 2013 8:07 am

    John Callahan’s work seems familiar, but I can’t say I remember specifically where I’ve seen it before. Thank you for sharing this. I’ve added his books to my “books to read” spreadsheet.

    For a couple of years, maybe three, I made a point of thanking someone with whom I work at least once per quarter. I somehow lost that habit, but I’m going to resurrect it now and expand it to people in general. Thank you for this reminder. You rock.

  17. Maura on February 24th, 2013 2:31 pm

    I was talking to my aunt about how talking to some people at work feels like a warm hug. I was thinking of one woman, the h.s. librarian, in particular. I felt awkward, but I told her about the conversation , what I said and that she was the one I was thinking of in particular. Her eyes widened and she threw her arms around me an an actual hug. We both felt pretty good.

    I ran into you in an elevator at blogher once, and awkwardly told you I am a fan. I’m pretty sure we both felt awkward about that one, since we rode the elevator in silence from there on. Haha.

  18. Linda on February 24th, 2013 2:40 pm

    Argh Maura, I’m sorry if I was awkward. I’m such a socially inept dork sometimes. (IE, all the times.)

  19. Sarah on February 24th, 2013 5:00 pm

    I haven’t read your blog in awhile, and was wondering why I still did, but then I remembered – you’re a great writer! So just a shout-out from a long time lurker to say I think you’re terrific. Oh, and I live in Corvallis, so if I ever happen upon you out in the world, I promise to say hi.

  20. anne on February 25th, 2013 10:43 am

    This is fantastic. I’ve been trying to be better at just this thing over the past few years. Sometimes it’s kind of hard, especially as I am an introvert to the nth degree, but it’s so worth it.

  21. Janet on February 25th, 2013 11:06 am

    Ugh, I just recently read that a guy that I had a serious crush on as a teenager passed away last year. Not exactly the same but (I’m sure) a similar feeling.

    I felt bad for never saying the things that I wish I would have had the courage to say back then. Funny how time makes us bolder.

  22. Dawn on February 25th, 2013 11:53 am

    While I have been reading for quite awhile, I haven’t ever commented. Just wanted to say that it is awesome that you are blogging more lately.

  23. Andrea on February 25th, 2013 1:30 pm

    Ready for awkward fan mail? I like you…I like your writing, your humor, your honesty. All of it.

  24. anne on February 25th, 2013 1:30 pm

    And, taking a cue from my fellow commenters – yes, Linda, thank you for your writing! SO MUCH! Your writing is high quality, and I am always happy to see a new post from you.

  25. Kristin on February 25th, 2013 9:49 pm

    Thank you for writing this. SO RELEVANT for me right now.

  26. Cara on February 26th, 2013 11:07 am

    I once told one of my favorite artists how much I liked her work and how I loved coming by her booth to see if I could pick out what was new. (Someone else working/helping in the booth had encouraged me to talk to her). She was so rude and mean to me that I can’t look at her stuff the same anymore. I’d previously bought some stickers & magnets with her work on them, and a few months after meeting her I threw them out. I had tried really hard to keep them, because I really did like her work, but seeing them always reminded me what a total bitch she had been.

    Generally speaking, I still try to tell people what I think when I really like their work or whatever –But I thought maybe the possibility that he might have been a total dick might make you regret it less!

  27. Ashley on February 26th, 2013 12:06 pm

    Oh, I hear you. I have loved the Cowboy Junkies’ music for 25 years. I spent thousands of dollars to cross two things off my bucket list–take a train trip across Canada and see the Cowboy Junkies play up close–when I signed up for their special train trip/concert across Canada in 2007. I spent 3 days with them on a private train. I talked to Margo about quilts. I watched them out of the side of my eye. But on the last day, when I had the chance to say something to Michael Timmins, I walked up to him and choked. “Um. Thanks for the music.” That was all I could manage!!!! But I meant it.

  28. catherine on February 26th, 2013 7:20 pm

    i just today saw this on buzzfeed: http://www.buzzfeed.com/daves4/the-absolute-best-selfies-of-all-time (scroll to #12. you and baby dylan!) and decided to contact you for the first time. then went searching for your contact info, read this post, and it seemed serendipitous. this piece really resonated with me, like so much of your writing so often does. i think you’re immensely talented and appreciate reading all that you write. i’ve read your blog for years (though seldom comment, creeper that i am) and eagerly anticipate all of your posts. i do hope you’ll keep at it; you truly have a gift.

  29. Amy N on February 28th, 2013 11:43 am

    You rock! I changed jobs last year. After working for almost 11 years for a boss who never had a nice thing to say, I’ve been on cloud 9 working for people who are kind and sincere and never seem to miss an opportunity to tell you how well you’re doing! So thankful for my new job…and love reading your blog. So just saying….YOU’RE APPRECIATED!

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    I watched that short film and was moved. It really told an absolutely tragic story, that somehow made me laugh and feel better by the end. Hearing the old lady in the nursing home say “Im going to round up the chickens and take them to the pizza church” almost made me lose it. Thank you for sharing this.

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