Wednesday, 21 September 2011

In which there is a Thing

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:

21 Sept 1

21 Sept 2

21 Sept 3

21 Sept 3-1

21 Sept 4

21 Sept 6

21 Sept 8.ORF

21 Sept 9

21 Sept 10.ORF

21 Sept 11

21 Sept 13.ORF

21 Sept 15.ORF

Dog of Older Niece and the Man in the Hat; very happy because her humans are coming home:

21 Sept 19

And the ridiculous beauty that is The Pigeon:

21 Sept 20

21 Sept 21

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.


  1. Oof, life, it's a bugger isn't it?! I lurk a lot and don't comment much (though I do read regulalarly), but wanted to say I feel for you. It's also been very nice having some pictures of the dog belonging to the Older Niece and the Man in the Hat - a fine dog and nearly as lovely as the Pidgeon.

  2. Those are come hither looks from Pigeon if ever I saw one! I'm glad you didn't take down your wail. I go through similar feelings and come out the other side with a stronger sense of what I really value. And you know how devoted your dear readers are to you. Who wants the masses!

  3. I wish for you a very good night's sleep, and with it, strength for whatever tomorrow holds.

  4. I used to read a number of those blogs with thousands of comments and, for whatever reason, I no longer can. I think it is partly that there is no sense of connection, but partly too that having thousands of readers and making sometimes, apparently, millions of dollars off of a blog (how?!) can do something unpleasant to the author-- that authenticity, the spur of the moment feel, the honesty is not there anymore. There are still heart cries but they are fashioned into things of self-conscious wit or "profound" pathos or something-- crafted beyond any point at which you might personally relate to the author. And they are often all-caps. I stopped reading all those. I started reading yours at the same time as theirs, and I'm still reading yours, because of the truth of it, and the beautiful English too. And of course you have a marvelous dog (agree with the earlier commenter-- your guest dog is also a lovely creature, though no Pigeon naturally).

    And I love that I can come and read the comments and nobody will say "You're a stupid prat" or "There you go again," partly because why would they? And partly because this is a fine and rare corner of civility and kindness on the internet.

  5. Oh, OH, the Dear Readers. You really do restore my faith. Thank you. :)

  6. I completely second (if that is even remotely good English) the 'fine and rare corner of civility and kindness' comment from Ellie. I read your blog for the mixture of honesty, humour and linguistic elegance. To say nothing of the photographs of the truly wonderful Pigeon and your lovely garden and surroundings. (My husband, who is deeply suspicious of all things recreational on the internet as he is a serious scientist, invariably hovers as I read and asks to see 'tonight's dog pictures'!) Over the years, I read fewer and fewer blogs, but I can't see myself ever wanting to stop reading yours.

  7. Helen - you are so kind. LOVE thought of dog-admiring scientist!

  8. I have had a) a rubbish day and b) several glasses of wine in an attempt to compensate for a), so I fear this may not be as articulate as I would like.
    However, I say "pah!" to columnists. I occasionally read an actual paper, more often a Sunday version, and I couldn't tell you the name of a single columnist. (Actually, Clarkson, but only because his are the only books my brother will ever read...sigh).
    Anyway my point: your blog is lovely, and honest, and real.
    I would love to write as eloquently as you, not to mention creating such a lovely atmosphere.

  9. Glad you didn't take this down, truly there will be much empathetic 'me too' nodding.

    Sorry about The Thing, but so understand about the furies. Am wincing as I think of a recent meltdown over bad service in a hotel. I wasn't rude, but there was over reaction. Even while it was going on I knew it was really about the loss.. but still couldn't stop it.

    It is really a tribute to you that by being so honest you have created a place where others can do the same.

    And I totally agreee with the Fellow Readers. I too have stopped reading a couple of blogs where the authors seem to be 'showcasing' themselves and no longer writing from the heart, whereas you always have such integrity.

    The blog is a very lovely thing and you should be proud.

    KBO x

  10. Tania, please don't worry that your blog is not how you sometimes might wish it to be. It is absolutely wonderful just the way it is, and I second all the lovely comments by the other dear readers.

    Life can be absolutely awful sometimes. When you think you can't take any more, it tests you yet again, by throwing another The Thing curveball at you.

    All we can do is to keep plodding on, and enjoy the beauty and grace in the small things, and your blog is a wonderful daily reminder and example of this.

    When I am struggling with various The Things going on in my life, I know I can find a daily dose of beauty, wisdom, kindness and consideration on your blog, all of it beautifully expressed in Proper English. It is not to be sniffed at.


    Ps. I know I say this every time, but I really do think that today’s pictures of The Pigeon are the most beautiful yet.

  11. Lou is right. Whatever your Thing is (and we hope and trust that it is not too hurtful or distressing, because we feel protective of you), it is very true that your writing and your beautiful photographs can so often distract us, the Readers, from our own Things - by merit of being so much more enjoyable and worthwhile uses of our time.

  12. Jen - how very kind you are. Sometimes several glasses of vino are the only answer.

    Elaine - so pleased about the me too nodding. That is what makes me happy.

    Lou - you always say the most generous things. And you know how admiration of the Pigeon makes me smile.

    Cassie - what a very touching thing to say. The Thing is horrid, but it too will pass. Much helped by the goodness of the Dear Readers.

  13. LOL, never enough dog pictures.

    Just imagine how many of us readers, like one above, mostly just appreciate silently. You really don't know how many people's lives you touch each day, but you can be sure that for those of us who keep coming back, your touch is a positive one. I will never really know you---certainly not face to face---but every day, I look forward to going for a walk in Scotland.


  14. Railbird - that is such a wonderful and poetical thing to say. Thank you.

  15. Oh, The Thing. I wish you a speedy and kind resolve of The Thing.
    And, like everyone else, I am very pleased you left your piece alone. I read you before any columist I can think of. So there!
    I say it every time - the Pigeon is beautiful x

  16. Em - how lovely you are. And, quite frankly, anyone who gets the beauty of the Pidge is insanely appreciated by me.

  17. I agree completely with the 'fine and rare corner of civility and kindness' comment from Ellie and that 'it is really a tribute to you that by being so honest you have created a place where others can do the same,' from Elaine. I wouldn't change a bit of your blog, Tania. It's lovely just as it is, wails and all.

  18. As for "The Thing"... this too shall pass.

    As for the universe making a huge deal out of ordinary blogs - I'm with you there. While I enjoy reading "Dooce" occasionally, I really don't see what all the fuss is about.

    It's true in all genres of fame: music, movies, books, etc. It's not always the most talented who get famous. It's like a cosmic happening - right place, right time, right producer/editor/PR person. Bam. Famous.

    Never apologize about wailing on your own blog. It's YOUR BLOG.


  19. Hello - I don't read any other blogs - maybe the odd one every now and then - as I find most of them completely ordinary and self-obsessed in the most boring way. Yours is the only one I keep coming back to, as I love the way you write and the way you think about things. A newspaper column? Tomorrow's fish and chip paper, as they say. Would far rather read your books... Railbird is spot-on - I'm usually a 'silent appreciator', but just wanted to say that reading your words is always a pleasure.


Your comments give me great delight, so please do leave one.


Blog Widget by LinkWithin