Wednesday, 25 January 2012

In which I stare self-indulgence in the face and wait until I see the whites of its eyes

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

The weather is flat and dreich and vaguely cross. The economic news is as dirty and gloomy as the sky. I suppose I should say something about that, but I do not have the heart for it. I start to think it is rather like the famous line that William Goldman wrote about Hollywood: ‘Nobody knows anything’. (In my memory, he thought that line was so important that he wrote it twice, just in case the readers had not quite taken it in, although I may have made that part up.)

My old friend The Expat called and I was so delighted to hear her dear voice that I was inspired to write a little paean to friendship. I had started it, fingers tapping away, when I suddenly lost my nerve. I’m not sure whether it was because it seemed too inconsequential when everything is about to go smash, or for some other reason. I am slightly haunted by what someone said recently, not knowing that I wrote a blog. ‘Oh, blogging,’ she said, in magisterial disdain; ‘it’s so self-indulgent.’ She looked really cross, as if self-indulgence was the thing she could least bear, and there were all these damn people, indulging all over the shop.

I should have let it go. If I were restrained and polite, I would have said: ‘Oh, really, do tell me why.’ I’m not being passive-aggressive; it would have been interesting to know. And besides, it’s a perfectly valid opinion.

Instead, I barged in. ‘Oh,’ I said, ‘I write a blog, and I think if you are going to make that argument you would have to say that all writing is self-indulgent.’

I then launched into a full-bore defence. It’s the usual old thing; I’ve written it before. It’s not so much that blogging is not self-indulgent, but it’s no more self-indulgent than writing a column or an article or a book or a pamphlet. In some ways, all writing is self-indulgent because it’s saying: here I am, I believe I am so fascinating and charming and otherwise worthwhile that I am actually going to publish my thoughts, rather than keeping them quietly in my head.

I’m not sure it’s much of an argument, really. It’s just that when people write off a whole medium, it touches a nerve. I feel protective of my fellow bloggers, whose work I love. I feel defensive, perhaps, of this tiny enterprise, whose worth I cannot gauge. Ever since that remark, as I sit down to write I think: oh, oh, perhaps that woman was right. What am I doing with the rants and the rambles and the endless dog pictures?

Although perhaps I can defend the dog pictures, on account of the raging beauty of The Pigeon, which clearly adds to the gaiety of nations, increases the sum total of human happiness, and puts another gaudy stitch in the rich tapestry of life. She, who has never been self-indulgent in her life, brings smiles to the faces of readers from Sri Lanka to Singapore, from Texas to Tottenham, and that is not nothing.

As for the rest, I remain uncertain.

Actually, bugger it. I can do better than that. I am not going to let doubt and rain and rotten economic growth seep into my soul and sap my spirit.

CS Lewis may or may not have said ‘we read to know we are not alone’, but it is a statement of ultimate truth. Oddly enough, he also said a true thing about friendship, which could apply to blogs too: ‘Friendship is born at that moment when one person says to another: What? You too? I thought I was the only one.’

Despite the hopes for the global village, the modern world is atomised; extended families and tight communities grow increasingly rare. It is fashionable to use the word virtual as an insult just now, but a virtual community may still commune. That’s what happens when the Dear Readers come. It is absolutely something. It is an exchange of words and ideas and kindness where before there was nothing. As I think of it like that, it seems rather a miracle. (I must not now go the other way, and fall into whimsy and sentiment.)

I think blogs are exactly like people. There are absolute crashers; there are ranters and dullards and drama queens and statistics geeks. There are funny ones and clever ones and eccentric ones and inexplicable ones.

As every blogger understands, there are good and bad days, just like in life. There are days when, as the Dear Readers know to your cost, it is all buggery bollocks. The mind is flat, the imagination has gone out for lunch, the grasp of basic language has fled for the border. Those are the days when, as my friend The Playwright says, you can’t write fuck on a dusty blind.

Then there are times when the planets align and the literary angels dance on their pins, and a sentence will dazzle off the keyboard. Some days, one will actually have something interesting to say; on others, it’s back to the dog pictures.

I think I may, as the shrinks say, own my self-indulgence. I do write about the things which interest me. Not all of you will be as in love with trees and politics and the mystery of the human condition and the cooking of soup as I am. There will be days when you really cannot face yet another description of yet another bloody horse race. Oh, you will cry, enough with the Kauto Star already. And I should not blame you for that.

In some ways, it’s right to have doubts. I think a lot at the moment about certainty. It can be a lovely thing; rather restful to have, oddly soothing to be around. But in a flicker of its eye, certainty can harden into prejudice and narrow-mindedness and bombast, and then we are all for the dark. Every piece of writing I do contains doubt, and I believe that is how it should be. The spectre of self-indulgence should haunt the blogger, just a little, if only to keep the word count down to a reasonable level.

At the same time, I think there is something wonderful about the world of the blogs. I love that they give me a flashing glimpse into the mind and life and surroundings of humans I shall never meet. I like that they can bring people together. They can stretch the mind, delight the eye, challenge the received wisdom.

Sometimes, they are inconsequential, but there’s nothing wrong with that. They can also be really good at disseminating information and putting the record straight. As a novel medium, blogging is amazingly agile, as nimble on its feet as a ballroom dancer doing the foxtrot. (Oh dear, strained simile alert just went off. Never mind. Occupational hazard.)

And, and, where else would we all go for videos of small children and cats doing comical things, and pictures of baby penguins? Quite frankly, I sometimes think it is worth it for the penguins alone. And the dog pictures, of course.

Pictures of the day are very few, on account of the risible weather.

There is, amazingly, a tiny bit of early blossom:

25 Jan 1 25-01-2012 16-25-06

And the viburnum is doing its hardy winter thing:

25 Jan 2 25-01-2012 16-25-37

Look, look, the first tips of the snowdrops:

25 Jan 3 25-01-2012 16-26-44

And the hopeful crocus shoots:

25 Jan 4 25-01-2012 16-27-04

Even on the greyest day, the old beech leaves and the mossy wall still work their magic:

25 Jan 6 25-01-2012 16-27-25

25 Jan 7 25-01-2012 16-27-32

And speaking of magic:

25 Jan 10 25-01-2012 16-27-46

This is her Please can we go in out of this absurd rain and eat some biscuits face:

25 Jan 11 25-01-2012 16-28-11

So dreich that the hill is lost. You can just see, if you squint and look very, very closely, the faint outline of it in the cloud:

25 Jan 15 25-01-2012 16-24-43


  1. Oh, Tania: your writing gives me such joy. " can’t write fuck on a dusty blind" just gave me my best laugh in days. I am just emerging from a really unpleasant cough-cold-virus thing; not just sniffs and sneezes, but the whole nine yards of being ILL, at which I am lamentably untalented. That single phrase did me worlds of good.

    And as for blogs being self-indulgent? Well, I suppose the point the criticiser might have been making is that they are so easy. Anyone with a modicum of computer skills can set them up, without needing to be a tried-and-tested-through-the-fire-of-publishers author, which of course will give rise to mediocrity; but as you rightly point out, it also gives rise to beauties and delights that would otherwise have been missed. Such as small children, and penguins, and dogs. And (albeit via Facebook) the photo I saw today of a box of cupcakes decorated as perfect likenesses of the Muppet team. And the beauty of shared words, and the serendipity of experience, and the generosity of the spirit, and the spontaneity that would perish at the first hurdle if faced with a Big Publisher.

    Some people, of course, are both. Some people are both real-life, spontaneous Bloggers, sharing the serious and the inconsequential in equal measure, and are ALSO bona fide published authors. And the Dear Readers are overjoyed to know you in both capacities.

    [Should I have started so many sentences with the word And? Probably not.]

    1. Cassie - you always leave such lovely comments. Very excited about the idea of muppet cupcakes. And I have the most shocking habit of starting sentences with And. Also, so and but. Vv naughty. Hope you feel better soon.

  2. ...being neither a writer nor a blogger, but an avid reader, i second what you BOTH said!

    off to cook haggis and neeps for de scottish hubby, and i shall be making punjabi crannachan (involves the use of whisky - who knew!) as made by anjum wotsherface who had that brilliant indian cookery programme on bbc2...quite why i felt the need ot share that mundane domestic detail i'm not sure...

    1. Anon - love the picture of the haggis, neeps and Punjabi crannachan.

  3. ...and what is wrong with a degree of self-indulgence when readers posses the ultimate weapon...the delete button?
    Thinking a lot about self-indulgence lately, particularly in how it relates to empathy. It's interesting to consider it in the field of sharing.

    1. Jacqueline - so agree about delete button. No one has to read anything, which is the final riposte.

  4. H'm. On some days, photos of The Pigeon are not only NOT self-indulgent, but life support to some of your readers.

    So, okay, some blogs are self-indulgent in the way that some people on Facebook are: do we really need to know that they are dressing for dinner? And then there are blogs which on their best days rival the columnists of the New York Times on their best days. In your case, it is more like the NYT, with, thanks heavens, days of softer, soul-sustaining stuff thrown in. In my opinion, it works out in good ratio; deep thought is not for every day.

    For me, reading here is for The Pigeon and Kauto Star and the beech avenue and Scotland and the assurance that no, all is not madness. Somewhere in the world there is sanity and an appreciation for what is good and honest.

    Give The Pigeon another biscuit and think about tomorrow's blog.


    1. Bird - you are so kind. And do not fear, The Pidge has just had several excellent biscuits and is now flaked out on her bed, happy and full.

  5. I agree. Blogging is no more self-indulgent than writing a column - and how else do you get to become a decent writer but by practising every day? Both the dog pictures and the ramblings are much appreciated. And the ' can’t write fuck on a dusty blind' comment is brilliant. Love it.

  6. Fantastic blogs yesterday and today and thrilled to see so many readers identifying with your excellent and proper definition of an introvert. Me too.

    This time last year was eating haggis in New York with nineteen inches of snow outside. This year will have to make do with a quick dash to Waitrose. Not Scottish, just love haggis.

    Happy Burns night to you, Pigeon and all.

  7. Your blog. First thing I open when I turn on the computer. Today's so eloquently describes blogging and as you say, all writing could be considered self-indulgent. Hadn't thought of that before. As always, loving the progress of your seasons.

  8. *Arseholes* to self indulgence. That's my word for today.
    I adore your writing, your blogging, your photos, your darling Pidge...wonderful. You are sunbeams on a grey day.
    '...fuck on a dusty blind' - I'm having that :)
    PS-George 10 weeks on Friday, growing like the gangbusters and full of smiles.x

  9. And did the critic take the point? If not, she will never know she could read your fine writing and look at Pigeon. Her loss.

  10. The Playwright is a genius. And the Pigeon is shiny, silky and beautiful.
    And the wonderful thing about blogs is that you (as the blog writer) have the most discerning critics ever (the Dear Readers) - that we love your blog, your writing, your hill and horse races is our indulgence.
    And I start far too many sentences with And. :)

  11. If it is self indulging then please keep on indulging. I am new to your blog and blogging. Blogging makes me a writer. Your blog makes me happy. Reading your beautiful, intelligent writing makes me feel like I am not alone. Pigeon is gorgeous and your photos of her and the hill somehow seem to lift the ever present gloom that we are told exists and put into perspective each ordinary day. Ordinary is also special. Thank you for your writing.

  12. The communication does take place in the virtual world but it is communication from and to you, between real people tapping away at their keyboards in response to something you've written. That makes it real and not virtual for me. And your dear readers chose to read and engage with you because of shared experiences and interests - for me it's Radio 4, soup-making, US politics, the wonder of nature, dogs, friendships, writing, self-questioning and even though I know nothing about horse-racing, I'll read those pieces with pleasure because it's you writing them. I'm honored to count myself as one of your dear readers and the photos of the Pigeon, last weekend's snowdrops and your beech avenue are much appreciated by this ex-pat just outside San Francisco too!

  13. Please just continue the way you do. It is a free country and everyone is entitled to their opinion - stupid or not!!! What would I do without the avenue of beech trees and Pigeon.

  14. Community does, of course, come from the word commune, which comes from the Latin, communicare, and means to talk or difcourfe together. As indicated by Bailey's Dictionary of 1749.

    I do adore words and dictionaries.

    But this discourse thing is exactly what blogs do. So it is not self-indulgent. Really, the arrogance of the woman, to assume hers is the only correct world view. Blogs are a means of connecting, of conveying meaning. Hopefully in considered phrasing. And is there any authorative definition of what is inconsequential? I daresay the sight of a galah ruffling her feathers is inconsequential to someone, to me it is a moment of beauty, a reminder that we are not the only inhabitants here....

    NEVER apologise for the photos. They bring so much pleasure - the vistas, the close-ups of vegetation and the glory of the Pigeon. Truly, they help make life worth living.

    Now, to the important things. When will the daphne be in bloom?

  15. Oh it does make me cross, these lazy criticisms from people who've never been bothered to experience what they're talking about. Twitter is just people telling the world what they had for breakfast. Blogs are self-indulgent. As you say, it's all just people!

    I've had my eyes opened to so many wonderful articles from publications I'd never have dreamt of reading; so many books, films and documentaries that I never would have known existed - all from Twitter. And as for blogs, they contribute so much to my day that I can't see how creating one can be self-indulgent. Rather, very brave and ever so giving.

    PARTICULARLY ones with dogs in. ;)

  16. Tell Miss Smarty Pants to eff off. Your Dear Readers are here by choice.

  17. Pavlov's Cat26 January 2012 at 13:37

    I second everything about the lazy criticism that's already been said, but I for one don't see what on Earth is wrong with a bit of self-indulgence.

  18. Words, ideas and kindness are all that matters. Along with the avenue, and Pidge and your always interesting thoughts, even on what you would call a bad day. And brilliant playwright friends who can come up with such wonderful lines (does The Playwright have any more great lines like that? Can you share them?). There are plenty of self-indulgent whiny blogs out there; yours is not one of them Tania. That is why your Dear Readers love it here.

  19. So many more lovely comments. Got behind today, so cannot reply to you individually, which is what I would really like to do. Just did want to say: the self-indulgence woman was a really nice and intelligent and interesting person. I have a suspicion that those who get cross about blogging often don't read that many blogs, or have encountered a couple of horrors and extrapolated from those. But the rising up of the Dear Readers in defence is incredibly touching. Thank you all, as always. You really do make my day.

  20. The raging beauty of The Pigeon CLEARLY adds to the gaiety of nations! And I, too, love trees and politics and the mystery of the human condition and the cooking of soup, along with Kauto Star, the Littles, the Younger Brother of the purple shoes, the beech avenue, the mossy walls, and the rants. And where else would I ever learn words like dreich?


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