Friday, 8 September 2017

Not just getting by.

This is cheap as chips because I’ve been working my arse off all day and my brain has gone into its traditional fugue state. But I’ve decided to dedicate myself to the blog again so the Dear Readers, who were so incredibly kind yesterday, must have words. And it was a lovely day, for all that the Scottish monsoon rains came with sullen determination. I don’t mind about the rain. I simply put on my special hat and install sunshine in my heart.
The red mare did something ravishing this morning. I had a friend who needed cheering, so I handed her the grand thoroughbred, knowing the mare would do the trick. I can nod and empathise and listen and smile, but the mare works miracles. She was the one who got me through the death of my mother and there are no end to her powers. She did her work. I watched it in slight amazement. Even though I know she can spread her peace like balm, it always amazes me, every time.

The funny thing is that would have been enough, for one day. If that was all that had happened, I would have made this rainy Friday count. But I seem to be entering a newly galvanised state, as if all the griefs and sorrows and worries of the last two years are finally coming into their easy place. (There’s a point where you accept that the thing is the thing and stop fighting it. I know I should not fight, but I sometimes do. I wail, like a child, ‘I want my mum back’.) I have a novel determination to make things work and get things done and not be getting by on sixty percent capacity. I even made a special green drink for breakfast, which I haven’t done since I can remember. Since I can’t turn into a perfect person overnight, I did have bacon and eggs after, but still. Special green drink! With kale and ginger and everything! I shall now live until I am ninety and be roping imaginary cows like Tom Dorrance. Although of course his cows were real.
I plunged into all my work – work work and HorseBack UK work and making the red mare an internet star which is part of my secret plan. The secret plan is so secret that I don’t really know what it is yet but it’s to do with many, many horse books. (Are you amazed?) It was that kind of work storm where you don’t know what the world is doing. Donald Trump could have sent his armies to North Korea and I would be none the wiser.

So that all needs to be recorded. My mare made someone feel better and I did my work and I drank my green drink. This sounds so absurdly basic that even in a blog called The Small Things it might be barely visible to the naked eye. But for me it feels like a vast achievement. I have been, I hate to admit it, getting by. Getting by is not bad. Getting by is something. But I’d like more than that. I feel perhaps it is time to come back to full strength and force.

Unlike the Whig School of History, this will not happen in a seamless upward curve. I’ll fall back again. But I have the hope of it now, of that whole-hearted living in my small way, and that feels like a present when I least expected it. 

Thursday, 7 September 2017

Google hates metaphors.

Today, I go to a meeting with a brilliant internet expert. I have on my special technology hat and I’ve got my special organised notebook and I brandish my special writing everything down pen, so that I may take notes.

I take notes.

The Internet Expert, who is very nice and vastly knowledgeable and extremely patient about the fact that I still secretly live in the age of the pigeon post, looks at me directly and says, ‘Google does not like metaphors.’

My hat nearly falls off.

I open and shut my mouth like a bemused goldfish. I live by metaphors. Virtually everything I write is a metaphor. I’m not really sure what writing without metaphors even looks like.

The Internet Expert, who is kind and forgiving, sees my dismay. ‘I’m not talking now,’ she says, ‘as a human being, but as an algorithm.’

The bemused goldfish is now so baffled that it has lost control of its motor functions.

‘You have to write,’ says the Internet Expert, ‘for a fifteen-year-old. Your problem is that you write for PhDs.’

This, I think, sounds like compliment. It would be a compliment from a human; from an algorithm, it is a deadly indictment. I suddenly feel rather protective of the fifteen-year-olds. I believe in the young people.

‘Fifteen-year-olds are very clever,’ I say, driven to the last ditch. ‘When I was fifteen, I was reading Camus.’

The Internet Expert regards me with a little bafflement of her own. Camus of course sounds very grand, but it was only that L’Etranger was on the O Level syllabus. I did love the old existentialists, though, even if I did not always entirely understand what they were getting at. ‘Hell is other people’ sounds awfully good when you are fifteen, and goes very well with your adored collection of Leonard Cohen records.

‘All right,’ I say eventually. ‘I see that I am going to have to de-poncify myself. I am far, far too poncy.’

There is an interesting silence in the room. Nobody disagrees. People look at their hands. The special hat wilts a little.

‘It will go against muscle memory,’ I say, laughing at myself. ‘I suppose the fucking Google would just like me to be fucking Hemingway.’

Another fairly fascinating silence.

‘Sorry,’ I say. ‘I’m a bit sweary today.’

All this is not for me. It’s not for the red mare or any of my social media nonsense. It’s for the work I do at HorseBack UK. My job there is changing a bit now we have the Internet Expert, and she needs me to please the algorithms, and my idea of a charming Facebook post or an enchanting picture does not get the right demographics, or quite hit the right spot. Not everyone, I start to realise, sees the world through my own idiosyncratic lens. I’m very grateful to the kind expert, because she’s given me a good structure which I did not have before. I feel a little bit stupid, because all this is so, so far from the things I know. I love the things I know. I love knowing things. I love not feeling stupid. But this is 2017 and I am not wearing the hat of technology for nothing.

As I get home, I ponder all this. Some of the rules about being good at social media are a little dispiriting, like keywords and such, but some of them are in fact very fine writing advice. Hemingway would indeed have been very good at it. You need to get straight to the point. (I think dolefully of my terrible throat-clearing tendency.) Your title needs to tell your readers something. A short sentence and a short paragraph are better than a hundred sub-clauses. Clear, plain prose makes the Google happy, and in some ways, that damn Google is right. And, you know, I do love the fifteen-year-olds, so writing for them shall be a pleasure, not a chore. Bugger the PhDs. At last, I shall stop poncing about and write The Sun Also Rises. I am fifty years old, and I spy a whole new horizon. 

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

A good day.

A huge day. An epic day. Everything was vast.
I had a huge conversation with The Oldest Friend. As if we had not covered enough yesterday, today we ranged over the Brontes, the dark woods of the middle of life, literary figures who are surprisingly dull and charmless off the page, the best way to help a friend in need, and the rather astounding fact that Salman Rushdie is surprising fun at parties. (Apparently she has this one on good authority.)

I had a huge ride on the red mare. She started the day galloping about the set-aside under her own steam, as if the Triple Crown depended on it, and within half an hour she was riding three miles into the hills on a loose rein with her dozy donkey ears at their doziest and donkiest. I was so proud of her. She’s been off work for a long time with a wrenched neck from a mysterious field incident and she’s forgotten nothing. In fact, she’s better now than she has ever been. All the things that used to terrify the life out of her, she now takes in her calm and queenly stride. I wonder whether it has something to do with the sweet, gentle work her young friend Isla patiently did with her all summer. Isla is just twelve, and she could have spent her school  holidays going to parties or snap-chatting or whatever it is the Young People do. She chose instead to come and see the red mare three days in every week, and she walked her out in hand and did special remedial exercises with her and gently brought her back to health and happiness. It did not seem to matter to my youthful rider that she could not leap into saddle and canter off across the green fields. She did, with love and care, what I suspect most children and many grown-ups would find quite dull. And now the red mare rides into the hills with boldness and confidence and peace in her heart. I don’t think that is a coincidence.
And then, rather to my astonishment, there was a huge amount of work. I’ve been spinning my wheels lately, doing that awful busy-work which doesn’t really add up to much. You put words on the page but they are not good words, or they are the wrong words, or they are the right words in the wrong book. Today felt like something meaningful and real.
After all that my brain makes its traditional phttt noise and switches itself off, so that I have no idea whether any of this makes any sense or not. But The Dear Readers were so dear yesterday and today was such a huge day that I wanted to write something, even if it is not precisely prose that will blow your stockings off.

It was a good day. At this stage in my life, I don’t take those for granted.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

And the point is.

I had one of those conversations today with an old friend, one of the ones which makes everything better. We ranged over every subject under the golden sun and came to no consoling conclusions or dazzling answers but left each other with the best consolation of all, which is that we are not alone.
‘Sometimes,’ said the old friend, ‘you just do wonder what the point of it all is.’
We are not melancholics. We laugh a lot and see the beauty and are wild enthusiasts. We love the things we love with a fierce love. But we are fifty and a bit bashed by life and there are moments when it all feels a bit much. That’s when we wonder what the point of it all is, not so much in a despairing way but in a faintly baffled way.
I have been wondering lately what the point of the blog is. I do a lot of social media, partly because I genuinely enjoy it and partly because I have made my first foray into self-publishing and one has to polish the brand, or whatever it is called. The books are horse books and so the red mare is my brand. She has to trot out into the prairies of the internet more than ever now so that people might be interested and go and read her story.
So as she and I gallop about on the social media, it feels a little de trop to write a blog as well. Sometimes I genuinely don’t have time; sometimes I think the whole thing pointless and self-indulgent.
I realise today that it is self-indulgent, but in a rather lovely way. I was trying to tidy up some of my files and found the collected blogs of 2013. There were all the stories I had completely forgotten – about Stanley the Manly doing something comical and charming, about a racehorse I once adored who is now retired, about, of course, the red mare being magnificent. I thought: I’m so glad I wrote that down. I have a memory like a colander and all these ordinary but touching little tales would have been quite lost to me otherwise. There, suddenly, brought vividly to life, is my mother, who is now dead. I wrote her down, so she is still with me. When I miss her dreadfully, I can go back and read those stories.

I want to remember the telephone conversation I had today. I never take this particular Best Beloved for granted, because she is an extraordinary human being who has been there for me in every single triumph and disaster since we were nineteen. That’s a lot of laughter and a lot of tears. But I almost do take for granted that I can ring her up whenever I want and she will make me feel better about life. She will make me laugh so much that I can’t speak for half a minute. I want to look back and remember that we talked about her grandfather and the state of publishing and the abdication and the nature of prejudice and the complications of family and a hundred antic subjects. I’ll do twenty other things today, but nothing will make me feel as human and loved and real and alive as that conversation. That is, indeed, one of the small things. On paper, it is nothing more than a chat between two middle-aged women. In the heart, it is absolutely everything.
It is written now. It exists. It will be there, for the bad days and the sad days when I want to look back on the dancing, sparkling moments of happiness and feel comforted and reassured. That's the point.  


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