Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Warning: insomnia last night, so the brain is not working well. Thus, I cannot guarantee coherence. So I apologise in advance.
A thing has happened which has sent me into a bit of a tailspin. I am not being gnomic or deliberately obfuscatory. You are the Dear Readers; you send me kind encouragements through the ether; you put up with rambling and mumbling and far too many dog pictures. Mostly, I want to tell you everything. But I think sometimes I must cling to discretion. So, for the moment, the thing is just The Thing. (It’s not actually that interesting; do not think I am keeping some marvellous story from you.)
Anyway, the point about The Thing is that it affects everything else. I’ve written before about bereavement making me feel as if I have lost a layer of skin. So what happens is that there are no defences against further blows. My normal armour, the one that defends against the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, is impaired. There are terrible, ragged chinks.
The arrow flies through and hits the heart, and then everything is infected. Instead of picking oneself up, brushing oneself off, and starting all over again, one falls prey to the stupidest furies and irritations. Instead of dealing with The Things itself, I get in a pointless rage about something quite else.
This is my angry at object A and taking it out on object B theory. (I think I wrote about it in Backwards.) It’s that syndrome when you suddenly find yourself being impatient with someone in a shop, or having road rage, or shouting at your computer because Microsoft Word is not responding. It takes a moment’s thought to realise that you are not really cross about poor customer service, or bad driving, or the usual technological glitches with which we all must live. You are heartsick over something quite else, but that thing is just too big for you to contemplate, so you get in a rage over some Sunday driving instead.
I think the shrinks call it displacement. Or projection. Or something clever.
I call it quite boring, because I really thought after all those years spent on a couch in Hampstead I might have got past it by now.
Today, it took the form of blog rage. I read about someone setting up a new blog, and in about five minutes getting rewarded with a column on a national newspaper. The thing about this blog is that it wasn’t that brilliant. It did not contain any particularly good writing, wry jokes, universal verities, or even photographs of a canine as beautiful as the Pigeon.
HEY, I thought, in a sudden, wild fury. What about me? Am I just sitting here clicking my teeth? I’ve been blogging away for two years. Where’s my fucking column?
It took me about half an hour to realise I do not want a column. It is the kind of work that I could never do. It sounds all lovely and glamorous; you get your picture on the masthead; you may sound off on all your pet subjects to a vast audience. You are someone. The people at Radio Four call you up and ask you on and introduce you as A Columnist, so you sound proper and important. You have heft. Interesting people know who you are.
But, as with all things that sound madly desirable on paper, it has its drawbacks. First of all, there is the dread hook. There must always be a hook. ‘Where’s the hook?’ says the editor, because your column must somehow connect with that day’s news. As the news cycle moves so quickly now, in the age of the interwebs and the 24 hour media, it might have to connect with that hour’s news.
Even if you have a hook, the danger is someone else on the paper might have already baited it. ‘Oh, no,’ says the editor, to your brilliant, lovingly thought-out idea, ‘Marmaduke is already writing about that. Can you do something else?’ So then you have to start all over again.
And then, oh then, there are the comments and emails. Everyone who writes in the national press gets these. They are from what used to be called the green ink brigade, and now I think are described as trolls. They range from the baldly rude (‘that’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever read in my life’) to the homicidal (‘die, bitch, die’). Often some kind of pain or torture or at least mental anguish is wished on the writer. Interestingly, books never get this kind of reaction. Occasionally, I do get a letter from a reader, but it’s always most polite and kind. There is something about newsprint which provokes the hair-trigger reaction, and brings all the crazies out of the woodwork.
Even at the best of times, I have a fairly thin skin. I get hurt, and take things to heart. I could not shrug off those furious reactions. No more could I take the weekly pressure to come up with something suitable for a wide audience, with a strong news hook, and a lovely little lemon twist in the tail.
The point is, I don’t really care that someone who writes a fairly sub-standard blog now gets to write a fairly sub-standard column. I suppose I do slightly mind about the sub-standard part of it. I am never jealous of writers I admire having great success. I always want good writing to win. What pisses me off is when something which is not much good, into which little care and attention has gone, is suddenly lauded and lionised.
It’s the frauds and the phoneys that make me livid, because I believe more than anything in authenticity. So I do get cross about Dan Brown, not because he sells millions of copies, but because he writes as if English were his second language. And that’s an insult to people for whom English is a second language. English was Joseph Conrad’s third language, and he managed to write Under Western Eyes, which entrances me still with its luminous prose.
I don’t really care, because I love this tiny little enterprise, and its small but perfectly-formed readership. I do sometimes look at those blogs which have 25,000 followers and a thousand comments after even the most ordinary post, and wonder what I am doing wrong. But then, just as with the column thing, I realise very quickly how much I would hate that. Part of the reason I love this is precisely because it is so small. That gives me a sense of intimacy and safety that I would never have in something that was a more obvious hit.
I can actually get to know the Dear Readers. The comments come not in an undifferentiated gush, but from individual people, about whose lives I know something. If I do not hear from a reader in a while, I wonder how they are. I know if one of them is having a baby, or has just got a puppy, or is starting a new job. That could never happen on a mega blog. The numbers are impressive, but the sense of connection is lost.
It’s a perfect example of each to each is what we teach. What I do here would be dismissed by anyone who counts things in terms of commercial success or width of reach or bald numbers. But in fact I love it more than anything that people would regard as a weighty, worldly achievement. (This realisation feels like a huge life lesson, and I must remember it.)
So, you see, I was not cross about the blog. I was cross and sad about The Thing. And I have to be brave and face up to that.
Some quick pictures for you:
Dog of Older Niece and the Man in the Hat; very happy because her humans are coming home:
And the ridiculous beauty that is The Pigeon:
Oddly, since I wrote this, the Brother and Sister have arrived and we have all sat and talked and done a huge amount of family solidarity, which is worth more than emeralds. I feel better, and am half-inclined to go back and take down the wail, of which I feel slightly ashamed. But some dogged sense of authenticity makes me leave it up. No idea why. Forgive me.