Here is the deal.
I get to write anything I damn well want.
And you get to write anything you damn well want.
That is the joy of freedom of expression.
You, Dear Readers, have no limits. You can be kind or you can be cruel; you can be charming or you can be rude; you can be generous or you can be mean. You can dangle your modifiers or split your infinitive or curse like a sailor on shore leave. That is the great good fortune of living in a liberal democracy at the beginning of the 21st century. People fought and died for free speech. The first thing the dictators do is burn the books. Liberty of thought and word is a gift, and it is your gift.
You can even, if you choose, tell me that I make you want to be sick in a bucket.
I must admit, that one hurt a bit. It took me five whole days before I could laugh about it. Suddenly, it struck me as not wounding but gloriously comic. I really don’t get up in the morning thinking: now, my plan is to make someone sick in a bucket. Yet, apparently that is what I do. I probably should not laugh. I probably should try much, much harder not to make people sick in buckets.
The direct personal attack is an interesting thing. I’m not very good at dealing with it. I have this theory that when someone says something disobliging, the most important thing is to give them permission, in the privacy of one’s own head. For whatever reason, they need to plunge in the knife. It can be classic Object A, Object B: one is furious and miserable and in despair over Object A, one takes it out on Object B. Whatever the origin, the attack exists and it has come at you. The only thing to do is to let it run its course, because everyone must think what they will, hold the opinions they hold, and say what they must say. Freedom of expression is not all bluebirds and butterflies. It has to allow the dark side.
I quite like this theory but it’s not always that easy to apply. If one is vulnerable, no amount of rational thought can stop the sting. One is only human, after all.
In the last few weeks, my stepfather has been dismantling the house my mother made. He is to go and live in the south. This is a good decision, but it is a very sad decision. For five years, I made him and my mother breakfast every day. It was our fond ritual. I made them Easter and Christmas lunches and birthday celebrations and special dinners too, but it was breakfast that was the thing. Since my mother died, I have gone in each morning to make the dear stepfather his eggs and to see if I could bring a smile to his face. If I could, my work that day was done.
Now, there is this slow dismantling. Every week, there is a moving van with smiling men taking away pieces of furniture. There are blank spaces on the walls where pictures used to be. The chair my mother sat in has gone. On the breakfast table when I arrive there is now a little pile of things found in some drawer or other: a folder of cuttings, old photographs, my grandfather’s wallet. These are the very last remnants of a life, and they break my heart.
I’m trying to be butch about it, because this is life. People die and people leave. This is what happens to everyone. I am not special. All the same, it is a long, low melancholy, the distant roar of a withdrawing tide. It is very much the end, and however much I paint my brave face on, I am sad underneath the smile.
So when the harsh words came, I had no defence. That freedom of expression went whoomp, whack, wallop into my solar plexus. Bloody hell, I thought, that really, actually, properly hurt. One must take the knocks, in life, learn to roll with the punches, but it is never a lovely thing to be told you are vainglorious. (Vain, excessively boastful, with swollen pride, from the 14th century root of worthless glory. Oh dear, I thought, am I really that? How very unBritish. How very much not what my mother brought me up to be.)
I took myself away from the internet for a bit, rather bruised and battered. (When wounded, I always have to withdraw for a bit, go to somewhere quiet, take time to talk myself down from the ceiling.) I thought about this blog. Is it really worth doing it, if it makes people sick in buckets, if they find it an egregious exercise in vainglory? I had some tiny hope of occasionally adding to the sum total of human happiness, if the light was coming from the right direction. Instead, it seems I am adding to world nausea. Perhaps I should just stop. I do this for sheer pleasure. I like writing; I like recording my own small days; I like being able to go back and see what I was doing a year ago, or the year before that. It’s good match practice too. Daily writing is a fine way of keeping your muscle memory sharp, like doing scales and arpeggios. I like that there are readers from Sri Lanka and New Zealand and California It makes me feel like a citizen of the world.
But it’s such a tiny thing, and if it were gone nobody would notice, and I could find another form of daily words. Perhaps it would be rather a relief. I would not have to encounter the angry voices, the unsolicited advice, the strict instructions, the bald litany of my appalling failures. (I'm certain all this is very good for character-building, but it's not my favourite thing in the world.)
I ponder. I ride the mares and walk the dogs and drive my stepfather to the airport and do my work and read a very long book about the Second World War. I wonder and think.
And then I decide: sod it. This is my freedom of expression too. If I want to write a load of buggery bollocks, I shall write a load of buggery bollocks. I shall do it with my head held high. I shall do it whilst wearing my special hat. I shall do it with a spring in my step and a song in my heart.
I shall get knocked down, and I shall pick myself up and dust myself off and start all over again. So keep your buckets handy.