Posted by Tania Kindersley.
Quite often, when I am pretending to be sage, I tell people that the thing they are dreading will turn out to be nothing like as drack as they thought. It’s the reverse expectation game. So many times one will go to a thing, the thought of which makes one’s heart plummet, and find it is rather lovely. Or the awful, put-off telephone call will go with a swing. Or the necessary confrontation will yield results instead of pointless shouting and strife.
I think about blogging quite a lot. The very novelty of the medium fascinates me. I watch it taking form, growing from a very niche, even slightly geek enterprise, into something which begins to touch the wider consciousness. I observe people approaching it in different ways, readers and writers both. I see the prejudices it engenders, and the elephant traps it presents. I watch it develop sub-sets, and off-shoots. I see it generate its own internal set of rules and mores, as if some collective consciousness is at work. No one sat down and invented the blog rules, and in some ways the first rule is that there is no rule. Yet it has already its conventions and politesses.
I was thinking how incredibly lucky I was that in over two years of blogging I have only ever had one very slightly snide comment. I wondered what would happen when the dark day came, as it must, when someone was angry or unkind. That was my dread. I realised that I have been cocooned by the generosity of the Dear Readers, and might be unprepared to deal with anything other than sweetness.
Well, the thing I dread has come to pass. It is not crossness or rudeness in any guise; but I have pushed a Dear Reader beyond the limit of her endurance. I woke early this morning, and, before going up to the mares, checked my email. That is where the comments are sent, and there, waiting for me, was the voice of exasperation:
‘Just wanted to let you know that I am so very, very pleased that your mare has made such a positive impact on your life and has quite clearly made you so happy, BUT - for the love of god woman - please write about something other than the horse!!!! I know that you do not want to pander to your readers, but by the same rule, do you wish to lose a great chunk of them? I have always relished clicking on to your blog - my daily treat if you will - so it is so disappointing to find that it has become so monotonous, and quite frankly, boring. ‘
There it was, the thing I had been dreading. I fret always, whatever I am writing about, that it will be of no interest, that it may be indulgent, dull, incoherent or shallow. I have a fatal tendency to obsession, so when I become entranced by a subject, whether it is American politics, or racing, or building a relationship with a new horse, or tracing the contours of family life, it is often all I can think about. I know women have a reputation for multi-tasking, but I tend to plunge deeply into one fascination at a time.
The worst criticisms are always the ones that you have suspected yourself. I had feared that I was turning into a one-trick pony. Aware of this, I had hoped that I could broaden out something very specific to me into a set of wider reflections, which might be of interest to a general reader. There are parables here, I had thought, small life lessons about patience and shifts in perspective and seeing the world through another’s eyes. But no, after all, it was just boredom and monotony. The awful thing was that I had gone from daily treat to ghastly, droning dreariness.
One of my deepest fears, apart from going mad in the night, is that I shall be dull. Anything, anything, but that. The words cut into me like sharpened swords. I felt my heart start to beat faster in shock. I felt physically shaky, and tearful. In some ways, I am not much cut out for public writing. However hard you try, there will always be people who hate what you write. I have not much hide to speak of, and take each criticism or rejection as a blow to the heart. I have developed a fairly good facility for talking myself down off the ceiling, but I have never managed to avoid the initial pain. And it is pain, as actual and felt as if someone landed a punch.
This pathetic fragility is enhanced, just at the moment, because of the year of grief. Loss has many interesting ramifications. It is not just simple sorrow. One of the things it does is strip away a layer of skin. People say this grows back, but it takes a long time. As a result, I have found that I have absolutely no defences; the smallest knock whacks me to the ground. Butch up, I tell myself. Where is that vaunted British stoicism that you admire so much? Where is your sense of perspective? For heaven’s sake, I tell myself; you are not five years old.
I dig and scratch, thinking there must be a life lesson here, too. Freedom of speech is one of my most cherished beliefs; everyone must say what they will, and think what they may. I sometimes think that as I get older the only thing I do know is that I know nothing. But one thing I have learnt is that, whatever you do, however hard you try, you cannot make people think what you want them to think. You have to, as the self-help groups like to say, let go with love.
There is also the thing of the bargain. In everything one does in life, there is a deal. By loving someone, you risk heartbreak; by holding any strong opinion, you risk dissent; by scratching a word on a page, you risk criticism or rejection or flat-out failure. That is life. One cannot sit in a darkened room, wrapped in cotton wool, cocooned against consequences.
I think of my playwright. He has his first big production coming on in the summer. Because I know him to be a man of soaring talent, I have no fear for him. But he must know that there is the danger that a dyspeptic critic will take against him, or a tired matinee audience may sit silent at the jokes. Does he flinch? Not he.
I think of the blithe, heedless people, the ones who laugh in the face of catcalls; the duck’s back people, who shrug off water. I think, as I so often do, I must learn from them. Although I do wonder sometimes if they really exist. I mean: are they really as impervious as they seem? Do they go back to their quiet rooms and admit to secret sorrows, when there is no one there to watch?
In my rational mind, I think, come along, this is part of the deal. In my irrational mind, I think: oh no, oh no, I bored a Dear Reader. The Perspective Police are off on another mission, and I am left, unmoored, covered in shame and melancholy. The thing I dreaded came to pass, and it was exactly as bad as I thought it would be.
For a moment, I thought: I cannot write today. I’ll just put up a picture and wait for the storm to pass. One thing I do know how to do is put ballast back in my boots. It takes a while, but it is always done. Then I thought: the thing that horses have taught me is that you have to get straight back on after a fall. Even if your confidence is shot to pieces, you have to take a deep breath and fake it until it is real. So, shaken and bruised, I get back in the saddle and trot on. And to the poor, Dear Reader, bored to sobs, I can only offer heartfelt apology.
The rain still rains, so the camera may not come out. Here is a blinky Pigeon, from the one moment yesterday when it was not bucketing down:
And the hill remains lost in the cloud.