A Slight Embarrassment

In a few weeks, it will be ten years since I started writing on this blog. I think I might celebrate by having a crisis of confidence in the whole business. How does that sound? Good, eh?

I can see the signs. Round about now is the time of the week when I sit down and bang out my first draft of the next blog post. A thousand words or so, on something that has occupied my mind in some shape or form through the previous week. That’s the brief. Easy-peasy. There’s inevitably some block of modelling clay in my head already and I just need to throw a little shape on it. And the actual writing of it tends to do most of the heavy lifting in that regard. 

But this week, I’m looking around for excuses not to write anything. I have some good ones too. I’ve covered some miles this week and I’m tired and my eyes feel strained. I’m a bit achy too, I could just stretch out on the couch like that American guy on the adverts. Also, what the hell do I write about? 

I could write about the Castlebar Musical and Dramatic Society production of ‘White Christmas’, which was lovely, but it will be finished its run by the time this goes up, nobody will read it, and I’m bound to leave somebody out of the blog who would deserve a mention so, yeah, probably best not.

I could write about ‘Let The Right One In’, which Sam and me saw at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin last night. A fabulous production. Go and see it, if you can. I actually jumped at one point and I never jump at anything. 

So, yes, there’s things I could write about. There always is. It’s just I don’t really want to. I could do anything with my little bit of free time. I could take a walk around the lake. I could watch something stupid on Netflix. Why write another blog?

Why write yet another blog post?

Well, Ken, there are a number of good reasons. Because you enjoy it. Because you feel better after you’ve done it. Because it helps keep your ‘writing muscle’ trim and exercised. Because, damn it, it’s just a thing you do. 

So why don’t you want to do it?

When I look back over what I’ve already typed here, I think I see at least part of the answer lying half-buried in the text. ‘Nobody will read it,’ I said. That’s kind of a ‘thing’ isn’t it? The fact that nobody will read it. Go on, admit it. 

Okay, it’s kind of a ‘thing’. Nobody’s read the stuff for quite a while, several years in fact. I know this. And, just to qualify the statement a bit, I know you’re there, right now, reading it and, Lord knows I appreciate that. Thanks for stopping by. When I say ‘nobody’, I really mean to say ‘not many at all’. You are a member of an elite group that contains ‘not many at all’. I’m sorry that I don’t have a badge for you or anything.

I bleat on about it. One day, not too long ago, Social Media discovered that we would accept, almost without question, having the stuff we see filtered through to us. I’d say the powers-that-be were delighted at how easily we gave up the right to see everything and anything. Maybe we shouldn’t have lain down so easily but we did and there ain’t no going back from it. So Social Media now invariably directs our eyesight to the great and the good, to the lowest common denominator, to the loud and the colourful. In fairness, they believe these are the things we want and need to see and they are only serving us well by cutting out much of the background noise. In further fairness, if they didn’t, it would be a noisy place. If we saw every lunch photo and every lost hamster plea, we would be mired in the mundane and the everyday and we wouldn’t see the big picture, the overview, the summary, the prĂ©cis, the… truth. They mean well, these Guardians of the Social Media Galaxy or at least we must comfort ourselves that we believe they do. 

The point is, a blog post like this one, with its funny little website link and its tacit implication of built-in mundanity, is what that bad cop in Blade Runner would have called ‘Little People’. To show it around too much would be to add to the white noise that clutters the 'message', the perceived truth. Best not do it. Give it a limited release, like some wacky home made movie. Keep things tight.

This is more an elegy than a complaint. I long to see everything much more than I long for everything to see me. I wonder which of my friends has just shared some meaningful thought or experience that I will never see, just because some committee who neither of us knows, has decided that it doesn’t fit the algorithm. Back in the day, not too many days ago, when I was allowed to see everything that my friends said, I managed okay. I had my own little filter and it seemed to work just fine. I also had the comfort of knowing that the truth I was distilling from the information I received was my own truth, pure and cold and clear. Not some dubious liquid that had already been pissed through several kidneys.

So, when I write my blog post now, it is mostly for my own benefit.

I don’t need readers. I’ve proved that already. I’ve done this for years on the back of a handful of nods and smiles and I’ve enjoyed it. The problem is not a need to be seen. The problem is quite a new one, actually. I don’t think, I’ve mentioned it before. Although I know that not very many people are seeing what I do, there is always the sneaking feeling that they are actually seeing it. That everybody is seeing it and they are just looking the other way.

This brings the new feeling. The not-very-nice one. 

A growing, gnawing, sense of embarrassment. 

It’s like having a simple trick, a coin-vanishing move, and it’s great and cool the first time you do it and even the second and third time. But you keep doing it and doing it. And people smile and nod politely, ‘Yes, I’ve seen that, it’s good.’ And still you keep doing it and doing it. And now, you’re not sure, but you start to feel like people are saying, ‘Shit, here he comes again with his fucking coin trick. Where do I look? What the hell am I suppose to say to him this time?’

I can write and write for ever and I love to do it. I would actively hate it if there was anyone out there who felt they had to read what I write. It would be as bad as someone feeling they had to reply to every damn tweet I ever sent. I love the idea of someone happening past my scribblings now and again and perhaps seeing something they liked. That is my dream. I don’t dream of the ‘constant reader’. I’m not really ‘constant reader’ material because I am stylistically quite unwavering and I tend to mine the same little quarries over and over (‘quod erat…’ etc.). 

I could quit but that’s actually something I find very hard to do. I always struggle to give up on anything. I wear shoes until they fall off my feet. I use an ancient iPod and I won’t stop until it does. I don’t really ever give up. Somewhere in my mind is a loop that says to give up is to fail. 

So when I do finally stop doing this, whenever that is, fear not. It won’t be because Twitter wouldn’t share my posts or because Joe Blogs (ha, ‘Joe Blogs’) didn’t come to read my musings any more. It will be because I finally came to fully believe the subtext, the niggling voice in my head telling me its own truth. That I had far-outstayed my usefulness. That I had become a slight embarrassment.

A big embarrassment, I think I could handle. That actually sounds pretty okay to me. 

But a slight embarrassment might just be too much to bear. 


Carrie Berry said...

One of the reasons I read your blog (and not always, I admit -- still haven't read the last one -- maybe when I finish this -- is because you write it for the little people. Because you write it for ME. And I feel like when I mention it, or 'like' the link surreptitiously posted in a comment so I can find it, you will know that I did and feel good because of it. When I read, say, a Wikipedia article, there is a degree of anonymity (which is probably a good idea some of the time) that deadens the experience for me. I hate my social media feed being monitored for me and the horrible suggestions of things I might like (they seem to get worse daily). I want to be able to click a list and see every single post by certain people and none from others but even with their lists, it still doesn't work out that way. When I read the word algorithm in your blog an audible 'grrr' emerged from my throat. I've been playing a lot on flickr where they have a feature called Explore that selects 500 photos from the daily onslaught of thousands (maybe millions, I'm not sure) according to an algorithm of 'interestingness' which. they do not explain, though others have studied the 'science' of it. Then after your photo shows up there and you ride the high for a day, they go back with a hu-mon and delete all of the photos of dolls, cars, buses, things with borders, etc. because it is not what they want the world to see as representing their site. Now I am one of the thousands of people who play there photographing dolls, legos, buses, etc. so I am royally pissed when they do that. It's the same on facebook. I want to read my friends posts because they have similar interests. All of them. All the posts, I mean. I don't want to find myself later reading from their page hundreds of posts that never made it to my feed. Posts I might have commented on when it was timely to do so. It seems an easy thing to let us choose for ourselves. I guess it isn't where the money is. Don't stop blogging.

Marc Paterson said...

Giving up. I've been thinking about it. A while back (we're talking years) I was in a band and then eventually I wasn't and I got to thinking about quitting being a musician.

I did, for a while, until I started making music on my computer and suddenly I was a musician again. I started getting into writing and that went okay for a while; Some of it even ended up on the radio. Then I thought I would quit that too and I did. I started playing music again. Giving up was proving to be either very difficult or not worth it.

Anyway, I've been playing guitar again for a while now, loving it more than ever. No bugger listens to it but it's like therapy for me so it's not going anywhere.

Okay so I had this acoustic guitar forever, a bowlback Ovation which could plug into an amp. Me and that guitar have seen a lot of action. Some years ago the headstock got cracked and I thought, 'that's it. Time to give up on it.'

But after I saw it without its strings, collecting dust in the garage, I couldn't do it. I got the money together and got it fixed. It was with me for another 5 years at least after that. We were inseperable. Or so I thought. I recently bought a new, classical guitar, with nylon strings and started getting into fingerstyle guitar. I loved playing it so much that my old faithful Ovation seemed stubborn as a mule to play in comparison. I never thought I would give up on that ol' axe but I just sold it recently to someone who'll get more out of it.

What is my point? I'm not sure. Sometimes giving things up is a good idea? No I don't think it's that. With the money I got for the guitar I sold I bought... an electric guitar!

I guess me and you don't know know when to quit. So let's not eh?

Ken Armstrong said...

Hi Carrie. That's very nice and you're right, of course, I do try to write it for you. (I wouldn't bother with last week's. Onward, ever onward.) x

Marc: I like this. Let's keep doing what we do. Sure, what else would we be doing? ;)

Cleveland Real Estate said...

You're like a meteor shower. I love knowing they exist. It's one of my favorite things. I can't always make it out and often miss them. When I am able and make the effort, I kick myself for missing the last one even though I'm outside freezing my ass off wearing a blanket and some old house shoes with a cup of coffee. The coffee is usually a bother cause my hand gets so cold being outside of the blanket. My neck starts hurting, but I keep looking up, while my cautious side wants to keep scouring the ground for raccoons or possums creeping up on me. I just know they're waiting in the shadows planning their attack. I keep that head at a full tilt though! I do it because it's peaceful. It's oddly relaxing. It's exciting to see a vivid, bright streak. So damn far away, but seems so close! Even with the city lights and clouds filtering the view sometimes, I really have to get out there more often. No more "note to selfs" or lazy 4am sleeping bothers...

To all of us nobodies in blankets, you're a star, man.

Jim Murdoch said...

“When ah were a lad…” I’m not sure my father ever began one of his trips down memory lane with that but the sentiment was always there. Of course when he was a lad it was the 1930s and it really was a different world. I couldn’t understand back in the sixties what he could possibly miss about such a bleak time but now when I find myself pining for the seventies I get it. What I don’t get is feeling nostalgic for things that happened less than ten years ago. And yet am. I remember blogging in his heyday and there was so much promise. And then…

It’s like computers. Both Carrie and I were able to work with the early versions of Windows quite happily, tweaking the autoexec.bat and config.sys files but now I haven’t got a clue when it comes to the registry. And by the time you’ve learned anything the next version’s out. I got to Access 97 and gave up. The world is changing too fast and it’s exhausting.

Words go in and out of fashion as you well know. I think the word “savour” is living on borrowed time. I’m not sure the last time I savoured anything. Not a book. Not a record. Not a meal. And certainly not a blog. In an interview in The Boston Globe Joyce Carol Oates had this to say about Ulysses: “The other book that I worry no one reads anymore is James Joyce’s Ulysses. It’s not easy, but every page is wonderful and repays the effort. […] I started reading it in high school, but I wasn’t really able to grasp it. Then I read it in college. I once spent six weeks in a graduate seminar reading it. It takes that long. That’s the problem. No one reads that way anymore. People may spend a week with a book, but not six.” I think that’s why, when asked to list our favourite books, most of us find ourselves picking books from our early teens. I mean surely there’ve been great books written over the last thirty years and we’ve probably read a good few of them but have we truly read them? Have we relished them? Nowadays we content ourselves with gists. Woody Allen famously said, “I took a course in speed reading, learning to read straight down the middle of the page, and I was able to go through War and Peace in twenty minutes. It's about Russia.”

I don’t always reply to your blogs right away. You might’ve noticed this. And there’s a reason for that. Sometimes I need to digest what you’ve said. It’s like this week’s. I know what you’ve said but what’re you really saying? One day our kids are proud of use, we’re heroes, and then inexplicably—to them as well as us—one day we realise they’re embarrassed by us. I mean we know they still love us but they don’t find us as relevant as they once did. My wife’s started putting the lights on our tree and she’s just asked me to stop what I’m doing—writing this comment—for my opinion as I’m sitting where my daughter will be on the day. Of course, she says, my daughter won’t care and that’s true. She’ll barely notice the tree and have no idea how much time my wife spent fiddling with those damn lights to get them perfect but the simple fact is Carrie has standards; the tree is for her, a way of demonstrating that she’s still got it. The same with her dioramas. It’s not wrong to seek approval and I can see from her comment she approves of what you’re doing with your blog. I concur. Just because I threw in the towel after ten years doesn’t mean you have to. Usefulness is not the only measure in play here. The blog was draining me and so I had to prioritise. Since quitting I’ve written a dozen poems now my mind isn’t constantly fretting about what I’m going to blog about next. I miss it. But not as much as I thought I would.

We may well be one trick ponies, Ken, you and I and many others like us who play with words but there once was a time when people made a living in vaudeville doing something as inane as the Sand Dance year in and year out until they dropped dead. Now that would be embarrassing.

Ken Armstrong said...

My friend C_ said I was like a Meteor Shower. That's good for another ten years at least. :) x

Jim: Thanks for this. I had toyed with calling the post 'One Trick Pony'. It is true that your constancy for years has become a considerable influence on me and on what I do and so it's no accident that the 'ten year' milestone looms large, just as it did for you. I'll carry on, I reckon. I think that writing the blog post adds to my writing time rather than taking away from it. I can't explain that, I just do. It's to do with that 'writing muscle' and how this stuff keeps it trim and able to write other stuff. I like the image of you and me as old vaudevillians. We'd have had 'em rolling in the aisles. :)

Thanks, too, to J who (elsewhere) said, 'write to write, not to be read'. I like that. I think I'm pretty good at it. Thanks, as well, to all the other friends who weighed in on the various platforms. Maybe I needed a virtual hug and I do feel I got it. Now, I just need something to happen so I have a post for next week. :)