Silenced Again

This is not the blog post I wrote yesterday and intended to post up today. This is the one I wrote today.

Sometimes, when I’m driving along and another driver is being stupid, I shout at them. They can’t hear me, nobody knows I’m doing it, but it seems to do me some good. The post I wrote yesterday was a bit like that. It was a shout in the car and best to keep it in the car. I think I can give you the gist of it though, in more levelled terms.

I have been going through a period of frustration with social media in general and I think this has been reflected in some of the things I have said or maybe just the tone in which I have said them. 

Yesterday’s ‘car shout’ was worth writing, even though it will stay in the drawer. I thought about it quite a bit after I wrote it and I think it’s brought me a little clarity.

The title of the post is the same as yesterday's one. In essence, it discussed how I have got to feel like I am being silenced on social media, how the technology is effectively shutting me down. It recalled how I always loved remote social interaction, even back to the days of CB radio when I was only a kid. It described how I seemed to lose a lot of social interaction when I left London in ’97 and how the discovery of, first, blogging and then Twitter and later Facebook reactivated the sense of extended society that I had missed.

After thinking about it, and staring at the rant, it was plain to see that it is not the whole of social media that was yanking my chain. It was Facebook. I’ve make no secret of the fact that Facebook doesn’t work for me at all. It doesn’t show me the stuff I want to see and it doesn’t show my stuff to more than a handful of people. Updates are thrown out into the void and responses are only forthcoming when one almost shamelessly seeks them out.

In yesterday’s 'car shout', while casting around for some kind of a simile to summarise the negativity of my Facebook experience, my mind turned to that movie ‘Awakenings’ from back in the early ‘90s. In that film, Robert DeNiro is in a coma and is awakened by a new wonder drug. For a time, he is fully alive again, happy and functioning, but then, slowly and horribly, the effects of the wonder drug wear off. He is left fighting to communicate and, in doing so, becomes grotesque to his loved ones and to himself. 

That, I said in my rant, is how Facebook is starting to make me feel. Social Media was the drug that woke me up, allowed me to be sharp and witty and friendly again. Now, thanks to the workings of Facebook, it is being withdrawn, it is no longer effective, and I am left twitching on the floor, trying to continue to make my mark.

By rewriting today’s post, I’ve deliberately removed myself a pace from the use of this analogy because, obviously it is far far too extreme. To compare that level of human suffering to the minor pain in the arse that Facebook gives me is wrong and patently incorrect. 

Reading back on it showed me something pretty plainly. Facebook is not for me. I have been trying to use a marketing medium as a social interaction tool. I can see that it works for lots of people. Facebook obviously deigns to show them the people they most want to see and that’s all it takes for it to be easy and fun. But in my case, for whatever technical reason, it has not done that.

The solution therefore becomes crystal clear. Get off it. Step away from the Facebook. That’s what I’m going to do. I’ll stick up a link to the blog every week and I'll check sometimes and see if anybody is messaging me but, beyond that, I think I’ll try to make my Facebook like my 'Google Plus', a place where I go once a week and then quickly leave again. 

If you want me, I’m not that hard to find. I’m on Twitter.

Another realisation from yesterday’s failed post is that Twitter, for all its flaws, still works. At least it does for me. The crucial difference between Facebook and Twitter, for me, comes down to just one thing. Twitter allows me to see the stuff I want to see and anybody who wants to see my stuff can do so. 

So that’s it. Easy. Why didn’t I give up on Facebook ages ago and save myself some trouble? Well therein lies the rub. There are people on Facebook who I like and enjoy. People I have known for quite a few years now. People who don’t really do Twitter. I’ll miss seeing their stuff. Maybe I won’t be able to stay away, so good is some of it.

But, man, if I learned one thing yesterday, it’s that I have to try.


Footnote: The cartoon which illustrates this post is by Ben Cameron. One of the nicest and most talented people I know. He was doodling yesterday in his open studio and he asked online for prompts. Rather calculatingly, I tweeted ‘talking to the wall’ and, mere seconds later, he came back with this cartoon and kindly allowed me to use it today. Ben brings a level of emotion into his work that is almost beyond belief. Here’s a link to his online stuff. The cartoon is also a link to his blog. Go and check him out, you won’t be sorry.

'Draw Rein; Draw Breath'

Yesterday the national paper had a sort of a local story on the front page. According to the report, the bones buried in Drumcliff Churchyard, in my home county of Sligo, are not WB Yeats' after all or (reading deeper) they may not be.

Shock, horror. All those busloads of tourists who come to visit. Even Charles and Camilla dropped by just a few months ago. What will they do now? Who is down there? Where is Yeats? What can it all mean?

Calm down a moment.

Calm down.

This is not a new story. In fact, it is as old as the re-interment itself. There has always been the niggling possibility that the bones brought back from France were not entirely those of the great poet. What follows is my own potted history, which is probably wrong on a number of counts. Don't come complaining to me. If you want the exact facts, go and look them up somewhere reputable. I just tell stories here.

Yeats died at the Hôtel Idéal Séjour, in Menton, France, on 28 January 1939. He had asked his wife George Hyde Lee to bury him there, in adjoining Roquebrune-Cap-Martin, discreetly. The words associated with this request are, “'If I die, bury me up there and then in a year's time, when the newspapers have forgotten me, dig me up and plant me in Sligo".

If it were me, I think I would have chosen that, ‘Dig Me Up and Plant Me in Sligo,’ as my epitaph but more on that in a moment.

Yeats died and was duly planted in France, the plan being to bring him back to Sligo in a year. But that was not to be. War broke out and no body was going nowhere for a while, if you’ll excuse the pun. 

Yeats' bones were dug up and placed in an ossuary which, by definition, is a place or container with lots of people’s bones in it. When it came time, after the War, to relocate poor WB to his desired resting place in County Sligo, the bones were rather a jumble. In a twist which I rather like, and I think he might have too, a sort of 'WB Yeats jigsaw' seems to have been assembled to create a body to bring to Sligo and 'plant' there in ‘Bare Ben Belben’s Shadow’. 

It's rather a good story with some nice ghastly elements to it. Nobody quite knows who or how many are represented in the grave in Drumcliff. For those who might worry about it, I think there is comfort in the fact the Yeats was supposed to have had an unusually large head and so it seems likely that the skull at least was correctly identified. That’s good. After all, the poetry wasn’t written from his thighbone or his finger. If you’re going to get only one part right, let it be the skull.

What fascinated me more than any of this was a revelation I found about Yeats gravestone epitaph which, as we know, reads:

Cast a cold eye  
On life, on death.  
Horseman, pass by!

I’m from Sligo. I could recite that epitaph from when I was knee high to a grasshopper and, later, I learned that it was also the last line of one of WB’s last poems, in which he writes a wonderful instruction manual for where he should be buried and where he will be found.

Under bare Ben Bulben's head  
In Drumcliff churchyard Yeats is laid.  
An ancestor was rector there  
Long years ago, a church stands near,  
By the road an ancient cross.  
No marble, no conventional phrase;  
On limestone quarried near the spot  
By his command these words are cut:  
Cast a cold eye  
On life, on death.  
Horseman, pass by!

This is why Yeats always belonged in Drumcliff. His instructions could not have been more emphatic.

But here’s a confession. It's a bit embarrassing really. Until yesterday, when the whole ‘Bones’ thing was woken up again, I really did not know what those last three lines meant. The epitaph was a mystery to me. Like so much poetry, it was just another intellectual in-joke to which I was not a party.

I didn’t get it.

Then, yesterday, I finally did.

There’s another line, you see. Yeats cut it out. It didn’t work in the context of the poem, I can almost see that. But, here’s an arrogant suggestion; I think it was a mistake to cut it from the gravestone too. If it had been left, then that 'cryptic-crossword' headstone would have been made into a purer, simpler, more reflective, traditional and shiver-inducing thing than it is.

Draw rein; draw breath
Cast a cold eye
On life, on death:
Horseman, pass by!

See? See? It’s a simple thing. It's really just one of those ‘Stop Traveller’ exhortations like the Romans used to do on their graves. There is a long tradition of gravestones inviting people to stop and rest and reflect for a while. Even my own parents’ grave tries to hold you up, rather solemnly requesting that you should ‘kneel and pray’. Yeats doesn’t want the passer-by to pray though, he just wants him (or her) to stop, think a while about matters of life and death and then… be on their way. 

Cool, traditional, deceptively simple. I think this is how the headstone should be. It even rhymes. But, hey, what do I know?

And if you ever should happen to stop there, will it be the bones of WB Yeats you will be standing over or some anonymous honorable French gentleman, now many leagues from his home?

Who cares?

It doesn’t matter any more whose damp bones lie beneath the limestone slab in Drumcliff. It never really did. Anybody who wants WB Yeats to be in Drumcliff - family, poetry people, locals - they can have him there. 

Why? 

Because his spirit is there. That's why.

Because, let’s face it, ‘spirit’ is not a thing. It is a perception. People who think they see ghosts really do see ghosts. Because ghosts are not things. They are things we think we see.

It’s not where bones lie that make a grave real, nor documents, nor, heavens forbid, shovels and exhumations

It’s just the spirit. It’s where the spirit lies.

And WB Yeats' Spirit is there now, firmly planted. And it will remain there forevermore...

... under Bare Ben Bulben.