Friday, July 26, 2013

Some thoughts on swap etiquette, good intentions and a scattered brain

I got a comment from a frustrated swapper saying she’s sent many swap items and only received two thank yous.  It has made her want to stop swapping.

I’m feeling very bad about this, and it’s got me thinking about swap etiquette.

I’ve never explicitly stated that you must thank your partner for the items you receive, though I always encourage you to include your email address on your swap items in case your partner wants to thank you. 

I know some people consistently send thank you emails. Those people feel a swap isn’t complete until all the thank you emails have been sent.  But I know for sure there are people who get their stuff and love it, but never give it a second thought.

I know it because I fall into the latter camp more often than not.  I’m not proud of it, and it’s not a conscious decision.  It’s equal parts cluelessness, busy-ness, and distractability. 

I’ve never really formed this into conscious thought before, but it’s easy for me to disregard the thank-you email for the following reasons:

1.     I have a personal correspondence relationship with the sender, and I know I will eventually send something back.  I always think I’m going to send something back within a week, but sometimes a few months will sneak by before I get to the bottom of my “respond” pile.
2.     Since we are both lovers of snail mail, I think of email as “breaking the rules” and too “high tech” (and so I will reply in the US mail, but as mentioned above, this doesn’t always happen in a timely way)
3.     A formal organized swap is like a contract.  When I’ve sent and received all my items, I’ve fulfilled my contract and am not thinking about anything
beyond that.

I really don’t mean to be rude.  That’s the cluelessness part.

Also - I’m not much of a scorekeeper.  My correspondence system is rudimentary.  I have an inbox and a storage box.  Everything I get goes in the inbox.  It doesn’t leave the inbox until I’ve answered it.  Then it goes to the storage box (or on display).  I don’t keep track of what I’ve sent to whom and when I’ve sent it.  If I send something and don’t hear from the person, I’m not offended because I generally don’t even notice.  My need to create is so powerful, and the joy of mailing is so rewarding, once the thing has left my hands I’ve moved on to the next wonderful thing.  It’s almost a surprise when I hear back from someone. 

Don’t get me wrong.  I think thank yous are wonderful.  It’s always gratifying to know your hard work has landed safely in appreciative hands.  It’s always my intention to immediately acknowledge everything that comes through the mailbox.

But that’s where the busy-ness and distractibility comes in.
I get mail.  I ooh and ahh and admire it.  I think to myself “I love this so much, I’m going to send the person a special piece of mail as a thank you.  A mere email isn’t enough.  Real mail is so much better.  I will sit right down tomorrow and make a postcard and pop it right in the mail to her.” And then all kinds of silly little things get in my way.  Work, life, family.  A new and exciting technique to try.  A new swap deadline approaching.   Before I know it, I’ve got unanswered mail going back 3 months.  I feel dreadfully guilty.  If I’d sent an email acknowledgement as soon as I received the piece, I might not get my reply in the mail any more quickly, but I wouldn’t feel quite so guilty about it.

I’m turning over a new leaf.
Because really, how hard is it to send an email?  I don’t need to write a novel, detailing all the things I loved about the art.  A quick message saying “I just wanted to let you know your card arrived safely in Massachusetts. Thank you so much!”  is sufficient.  I’m a fast typist.  It might take 20 seconds.

Won’t you all please join me in this small show of appreciation?
When you receive your swap item in the mail, take that 20 seconds (or if you’re a hunt-and-peck kind of typist, 120 seconds) to let the sender know you received his or her work.  If the item you receive doesn’t have an email address, you can leave a comment on the blog on the “received” page.

Everyone likes to be acknowledged.
Everyone likes to know that the MMSA system and the postal system is working.
Everyone likes to know the time and care they took to create an original piece of art was not done in vain.

Wow!  what a lot of great discussion going on in the comments!
Thank you all for expressing your opinions so thoughtfully and respectfully and without judgement of others.
The beauty of this group is that it's casual.  There is no membership required.  You can pop in and out at will, and participate only in the things that are meaningful to you.  I have no intention of changing any of that.  We all have different needs, and get different things out of creating and swapping and online communities.
Keep those comments coming.  After reading them all, I have a lot more understanding of why some people want/enjoy the follow up email and why some people don't.  I don't wish to alienate anyone with a forced social-media component to the swaps.  I think we will all continue to participate in the ways that make sense to us.
From what I've seen, there has been nothing but kindness, support and good will among swappers.  I am always so delighted to go blog/flickr hopping and see so many MMSA swappers commenting and interacting and swapping beyond this blog.
Thank you all for being such a great community!!


Leslie said...

This is a great thing to bring up, but it would be made easier if people would actually put their email on their art. You mentioned it to all of us a couple months ago, but I still get swap pieces that have a name and a snail mail addy but no email. In that case, I go leave a thanks in the section on your site where you can leave a thank you when you don't have the person's email.

When I get a piece from an MMSA swap, I thank them by email but do not send a return piece.

I do many ongoing private swaps and I almost never reply to those by email, because I'm pretty good about sending something back within two weeks or so.

And here's my correspondence system. I have one of those pretty photo storage boxes with the following dividers - 'need to thank' - MMSA swaps received go here. 'need to reply' - ongoing private swaps received go here. 'need to blog' - pieces from the first two sections go here after I've thanked/replied. 'all done' - pieces go here after I've blogged them, then I pull from here to display. Works well for me, providing just the level of organization to keep me on track without killing me with details.

Anonymous said...

I don't spend much time online, and I do not hardly ever email. To be honest I am uncomfortable with people thanking me for what I give them. I do not require a Thank You because it is just pure joy for me to give. I do it just because I want to put a smile on someone's face.
Being a professional Musician does not allow me the time to send out special little thank you notes or write a pile of emails.
Besides, aren't we all saying Thank You in our own way by "paying it forward"?
I hope this comment is not considered rude by some, it is not meant to be.
Have a lovely day :-)

Anonymous said...

Hi Karen, very thoughtful of you to respond to the person's unhappiness over Thank you's. The email or the "received" tab is a great idea. I joined in on the envelope and Postage ATC swaps & only included my email as a way to get in touch with me. I know things get in the way of sending out "real thank you" cards.

Karen Isaacson said...

not rude at all! and I understand limiting the amount of time you spend on-line, including emails.

Karen Isaacson said...

I love that system, Leslie! I think I need to add some dividers like that to my inbox.

big mamabird said...

I have been thinking about the thanking process- how important it is to some and maybe a bit repulsive to others. It may be one of the cultural things we either have or don't, and then artists have another know what I mean! The creative process gets interrupted when the social aspect becomes more important. I have no problem not being thanked, and do sometimes feel it a burden to write a thank-you for a swap( I have been practicing on swap-bot)But I reserve the right to gush enthusiastically over someone's masterpiece! I find that relationships wax and wane in here, and I enjoy that. I don't really want forced responses. So,I guess while I feel bad about Anonymous,I really don't want any changes...

TTBishop said...

I was worried that I was going to be in the minority, but I'm a non-thanker too. (I feel the same as Indigo!)
When I send a swap into MMSA, I get something out of it too. I send a card, I get a card. I put in effort, I get someone else's effort. I view it like a pot-luck supper: I bring something, and I eat everyone else's, but I don't go around thanking every single person for what they made. In the end, we all eat. And isn't that such happiness?!
Getting an email-thank you, (especially one that says "I got your postcard. Thanks!") for me, is borderline meaningless. And then what? Am I supposed to email everyone back, thanking them for thanking me, or reassure them that I got their thank-you email? I participate in swaps because I like making stuff, and I like getting stuff. I appreciate everything I receive, and assume that other swappers feel the same. If not, why swap in the first place? It's one thing if someone sends something out of the blue--not affliated with an organized swap--that definitely requires a response/thank you, but with an organized swap I figure we all play & we all win.
The person who really needs to be thanked is you, Karen Isaacson, for hosting, physically swapping/mailing, enduring paper cuts, schlepping to the post office in all kinds of weather and in general just being awesome!

Karen Isaacson said...

thanks for your thoughtful response, Carroll. I agree that a lot of creative types can lean toward the shy/introverted side. Guilt and obligation are the death of creativity, and I certainly don't mean to force a thank you on anyone. I knew I could count on this group for some constructive discussion!

Karen Isaacson said...

aw shucks, Lynn. a big smooch to you.
and you raise a good point - obligatory thanks isn't meaningful. (and the endless loop of thank yous made me chuckle). It is interesting to see how people feel about this. I know a lot of people don't necessary need "thanks" but are curious about where their art ended up, and are glad to hear it arrived safely.
I like your analogy of a pot-luck supper. Thanks for your thoughtful contribution to the discussion.

big mamabird said...

I like the potluck analogy as well...I also like to see who got what and spend some fun times looking through the various blogs, flickers and MMSA places.I guess someone might send/write to a bunch of people on the informal list- that could be disappointing when they don't all get answered, as it is a very informal arena and not everyone there will always still be interested, maybe? said...

This is a very interesting discussion! Thanks for starting it up Karen.

Cate Rose said...

I'm someone who does send thank yous -- but maybe it's not necessary, after reading the comments above. Also, while we're airing this kind of stuff...I'm fed up/disappointed with all the people who've listed themselves on the page for "informal mail air exchange" as wanting to exchange mail art, but who NEVER respond to mail art sent to them. This has happened to me here as well as on the Make Everyday a Good Mail Day blog. It's really turned me off these lists.

Karen Isaacson said...

it is so frustrating to get nothing in return! (which is why I set up the formal swaps the way I did. I've gotten burned in swaps way too many times with people who join with the best of intentions and never follow through). As I read all these comments I see a distinction between formal one-for-one types of swaps and informal/spontaneous mail. Each type comes with its own set of expectations (which in turn vary from person to person). ah, life would be simpler if we were all the same, but it sure would be boring :)

GinaVisione said...

What a wonderful post, as always, Karen. Once again, you are killing me with how similar we are in how we think, etc., regarding giving and sharing the wonderful world of MailArt in our mailboxes. I too have grand ideas of responding by postal mail to everyone who sends me an address, then "Blam!," my MailBox is slammed with gorgeous goodies again and next thing I know, months have passed!
And the fabulous comments from everyone keep summing it all up over and over.
But also the reality of life is there. Period. Some people have more time and/or energy to create than others. There's waxing and waning, as noted above. There are far too many times when MailArt has to be put on the back burner for life getting in the way, OR simple overwhelm OR both! Well, overwhelm isn't really so simple, but it happens over here in this camp and I just need a break. It usually doesn't last long, as some creative spark happens and I'm back on my merry way to a local MailBox.
I do love that you have the "received" page, because I prefer Not to give out my email, and really would prefer to send a piece of mail back, but... I just participated in the swap, so it's a "Paying it Forward" gig constantly if you ask me. No intention of being rude, but realistic about how I do my best to participate with the time and the energy I have.
I hope your person can come to a better understanding and level of compassion about the wonderful myriad and really unknown lives of fellow swappers, and enjoy the beauty as it appears in their mailbox. It is a gift to receive, and to send it.

Karen Isaacson said...

thanks for weighing in, Gina. address privacy is a very valid reason to not want to go emailing your thanks all over town. and overwhelm is crippling. It spirals me quickly into paralysis and self sabotage. never a dull moment in this busy brain :)

Unknown said...

I think I fall somewhere in between..mostly I'm just curious as to where my swap went and where my received swap came from. I think we are all grateful to be create and share. I'm new,so thank you for the received page reminder. I love this site because it feels personal to me... even though I may never know my receiver or sender... it's a connection. thank you for that Karen. said...

So interesting.....I am kind of surprised so many people don't want a "thanks" or don't send one. I agree the process of making art is the most important part but I feel a part of a whole community of artists and don't like sending my work out into a great void where I don't know if it is received or liked or enjoyed etc I think responding to art is part of the whole process and I like to hear from people....that's just me, I guess. When I get pieces of art i love I am eager to tell the artist how much I enjoyed their work. Some wonderful relationships of making and trading art have happened from that kind of a start. Even if i don'y love something I like to acknowledge the effort someone put into making it and I can always find something nice to say. I agree that an email should be included on the work so it is easy to respond quickly. You can take it to another level if you wish to continue trading art. And it is very simple to set up a free email account just for this purpose if you have concerns about email privacy. I mostly trade with individuals on a one-to-one basis now but I will be curious to see if I make any new art friends with the MMSA trades I'm in. (I don't suppose those Postal ATC's have showed up.....sigh....of all things for the PO to lose....). Pamela

Karen Isaacson said...

glad to hear your take on it, Pamela. I like your point about relationships - I never expected that aspect of blogging and mail art and swapping when I started. Some people I correspond with solely through the mail, but many have moved into email friendships as well and that friendship might not have developed without it. many feelings around this issue and none of them wrong.

cjsrq said...

Karen, thanks so much for starting this discussion and for all that you do to coordinate and administer all the swaps. I have a new perspective and better understanding on the whole swap process and those who don't acknowledge receipt of swaps. However, I would have to say I agree with Arlyn's and Pamela's comments - I just like to know where my work ends up. It's not that I have to have any thanks or gushing. Since I'm relatively new to MMSA I thought putting our email on the swaps meant we were encouraged to respond to one another's art, and so I have done that. I have met some great people through MMSA via the swaps and email. The Received page is a good option to keep in mind. Also, I like how Gina posts pictures of her incoming MMSA swaps on Flickr - something I may start doing, too, as time permits. Thanks, again, for all your hard work on behalf of MMSA.

big mamabird said...

It is a wonderful thing you do,Karen, facilitating these swaps, and we all can agree on that one point! I am so glad I found this place in the big old internet world and will participate as often as I can.I promise to be polite, use my manners and never ever to hurt someone on purpose.

TaylorMaide said...

I can sympathize with the person who is disappointed to not get any acknowledgement. I have been thinking about this as well. While I get very few pieces of mail art with no mailing address at all I do get some and that's what I find disappointing. I want to exchange physical mail and that's hard to do with no mailing address. Keep in mind especially with MMSA you may not get art from me in the swap and when you supply a mailing address it give us the chance to get to know each other.

When I receive mail it goes into rotation and it does take about a month or so to make it through that rotation. It's thoughtful if people want to email a thank you and I have to admit I have several setting in my email inbox that I mean to reply to and I am going to get better about replying to them but the thought of emailing thank you's for everyone I receive from is a turn off.

I don't think any of us can expect others to respond in the fashion we each prefer but some response would be nice. I like that with MMSA I know I will receive something in exchange but more than that it is the chance to build relationships. I reply to all the mail I receive but if there is then no response I don't take it personally. We are all drawn to certain people and art. Also not everyone might have ongoing exchange as a priority.

And last of all, this is the longest comment I have ever made on a blog post!

Me said...

I haven't submitted anything (yet) but I still feel the need to comment as I was completely surprised by this. It never crossed my mind that a thank you would be expected let alone required. I totally agree with the "potluck dinner" analogy. I think that putting contact info on one's submission should be optional. And if there is such info, I don't see much point in the recipient's writing to the creator unless they feel that they have something in common that might form the basis for a relationship or they have a technical query about the piece. (Or they are especially impressed by it!) Otherwise it's nothing more than those "personal notes" that typically come with a small order from an Etsy shop.

On the other hand, I am extremely happy when someone takes the time to respond when I've sent them a gift or written them an email about something I think they might appreciate.

Thank you Karen for all the work you do here. I've gotten a lot of enjoyment from this site!

Tameko said...

Very interesting dialogue. I will make it a point to let the swap partner know that their item was received, and to thank them. Thanks for all that you do Karen!

Karen Isaacson said...

I've just updated the blog post to say this:
Thank you all for expressing your opinions so thoughtfully and respectfully and without judgement of others.
The beauty of this group is that it's casual. There is no membership required. You can pop in and out at will, and participate only in the things that are meaningful to you. I have no intention of changing any of that. We all have different needs, and get different things out of creating and swapping and online communities.
Keep those comments coming. After reading them all, I have a lot more understanding of why some people want/enjoy the follow up email and why some people don't. I don't wish to alienate anyone with a forced social-media component to the swaps. I think we will all continue to participate in the ways that make sense to us.
From what I've seen, there has been nothing but kindness, support and good will among swappers. I am always so delighted to go blog/flickr hopping and see so many MMSA swappers commenting and interacting and swapping beyond this blog.

Thank you all for being such a great community!!

FarStarr said...

Rest assured that I have thanked everyone profusely telepathically...You'll already know if we have a connection because you were able to receive my telepathic message. I find that I spend so much time on the computer at work that when I'm home, I read a lot, but don't tend to comment or email much. It isn't because I don't love you guys...I do!

Karen Isaacson said...

and here I thought I was just eating too much popcorn before bed - it was actually your profuse thanks :)
and you raise a good point about "screen time" - the more time spent at a keyboard, the less time our hands are making art. it's such a balancing act. I love the community of friends I've made on line, but it takes time to interact on all the blogs and swap groups and flickr and facebook pages. so I unplug and focus on making, but then I feel isolated and miss my lovely and supportive friends.

Terrie said...

What an interesting and informative dialogue! For swap thank yous, I have been guilty of writing a generic thank you, copy and paste with a one sentence personal addition to speed up the email process. To Lynn's point above, she's exactly right...this kind of thank you is pretty meaningless. And still time consuming. I'd much rather send a postcard. Like you, it might not be right away, but I ALWAYS send something. I send mail art because I love getting mail art - I get plenty of emails and don't need more - I need more mail art! :)

I don't keep track of who emails me a thank you but know it's probably less than half of the cards I send out...and that's totally okay. I don't want the pressure of "MUST" email...I have enough "must-do" things in my life. Mail art is a pleasure (my hubby just does NOT get it!) and I want it to always be about trading and corresponding (via snail mail) with people who enjoy it as much as I do.

Again Karen, thanks so much for making these swaps a fun, fair, reliable way to get something back for each thing you create. But even more than that it's the variety of challenges, topics, materials that you come up with that keeps us on our toes. As if you don't have enough to do, adding obligatory emails seems ...... a lot.

Anonymous said...

Great comments from everyone. I definitely fall into the "Karen" mode of response or non-response. I do feel that the swaps are the swaps and we all get something wonderful from your organized and amazing system of getting it all out to everyone. With other types of mail I might receive, I have a to send pile of mail I have received and when I have sent something back via snail mail, the original mail goes on my post card wall. It doesn't hit the wall until I have replied, so I know it's been sent, and like you it may take weeks to get that done. We all have busy lives sending out an email is one more thing in the long list that just might not be possible. I would rather make a post card than send the two cents for what it's worth. xox

Andria said...

Interesting discussion! I try to feature the things that I've received on my blog (though I've had a few problems keeping up with that of late...ahem...). I guess I didn't think a thanks was needed when we were all getting as much as we were giving (to put it rather crassly). I am a thank-you note writer after Christmas, though, so I certainly understand the importance of the act of expressing gratitude.

Unknown said...

I'm a little late in responding to this thread, but will add my two-cents anyway. My feeling is that I will send in something and get something in return. Period. It's a given, only because Karen takes the time and effort to make sure it happens. I like and appreciate that element alot! I always put my email on my art....and write "I'd love to find out where this lands. If you can, please let me know. Thanks!" or some version of that. Many times I hear. Many times I don't. I adore hearing and those who don't respond...well, okay! I've corresponded back and forth with several people who have emailed me or I have emailed them with my thanks. We've set-up private swaps, which is also fun. So for me it's simply whatever happens, happens. Feeling mad or hurt with not hearing from those who receive my art is just a waste of my precious time. So there...that's my two-cents worth!

Brooke Ballard said...

I also have received several pieces with no email address, and I just don't feel comfortable writing a thank you on someone's blog!

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