Thursday, March 18, 2021

Reclaiming the sofa - and our blogs

Did someone mention chicken?

Oscar, my little one-year-old whippet, has developed a range of techniques to stake his claim on the sofa.  Most times it will be gentle pawing, followed by a quick leap to the gap between cushions and leg. Then comes the turning in circles, or perhaps what we call 'long-dog' which involves lying full stretch between the back of the couch and yours... ever so gently nudging us to where he'd like to sit. It's all very genial, and of course, he's warm, comforting and so clearly delighted that before we know it, we've accommodated his desires without a qualm. Most evenings, he rewards us with some quite disgusting farts!

Of course, we love him, and wouldn't be without his ways... except perhaps for an evening like this, when by coincidence both Jane and I have tweaked our backs and I'm remembering the times when there was a little more room. Didn't he used to stay in his basket? And yet, instead of moving him aside, I find myself doing the human equivalent of long-dog—inching into a position that would give me space to balance the laptop and perhaps read some blogs. 

As if that were ever going to happen...

And so it is that Jane's watching TV alone, Oscar has two-thirds of the sofa, and I'm back in my study writing this post on the 'big computer'!  Which got me to thinking, how easily we can be persuaded to accommodate those around us. When we do so for someone we love—be it a person or a dog—it's seldom a problem, indeed any caring parent wouldn't wish it otherwise.  But when that change is more insidious—when it's impacting who we are and what we wish to be—then we need to call a halt and recover something of ourselves.

I say this because over recent weeks I've been drafting some short essays for my next book, which will be both a celebration of Views From The Bikeshed and a selection of new material that reflects on blogging and the motivations for sharing our thoughts online.  By one of those serendipitous twists of fate, I happened also this week to read a number of posts that spoke of 'reclaiming' their purpose; others expressed misgivings at deleting opinions which, though honestly expressed, might have upset the blog's audience.

The wish to please our readers—and its bedfellow, the desire not to offend—is a time-honoured dilemma for writers of any genre.  A good friend of mine claimed the task is so difficult that it's only through fiction that we can speak the truth. I disagree but am under no illusion that sincerity takes courage. Blogs are invariably written in the first person—there's no hiding who it is that's speaking—they can also attract loyal followings, with comments and interaction that sometimes develop into friendships.

The writer Ursula Le Guin, disallowed any feedback on her blog, claiming she didn't want to correspond.  But then she was a world-famous author, guaranteed a readership and not in need of the mutuality that characterises the blogging of us lesser mortals. She didn't need advertising or sponsorship too, and to be fair many bloggers don't either—and yet I've seen legions of them lured by the Sirens of freebies, endorsements and affiliate schemes.  

There's nothing inherently wrong with writing a commercial blog, but if we go that route then we must acknowledge that our course and its destination has changed. I'm reminded of when I worked for a regional newspaper company which, under pressure for revenue, changed its mission statement from 'a trusted source of local news' to 'we deliver an audience to an advertiser'!  Do you see the difference?

I can tell you that the readers did too—and they left in droves.  

Because authenticity matters; it matters to us as bloggers and it matters to those who follow what we write. There are obviously occasions when we should be sensitive and cautious—I self-edit all the time—but we must also be true to the feelings and insights and opinions which make our blogs worthwhile.  If we expurgate these—removing what I describe as the 'inner story'—then we are left with writing that's but an empty husk. What does it matter that we had cake for tea, went for a walk or read the paper—it's how it tasted, what we saw, and what made us angry—or smile—that gives life and meaning to what we have to say.

I should perhaps add here that there are many blogs I enjoy which seldom engage in these issues. Their raison d'être is more a subtle sharing of life's rhythms and progress; the ebbing and flowing of our visible tides. In many ways, these bloggers are inheritors of a long tradition of the country diary.  But they too will know if and when they're withholding, and perhaps also the opposite—on those odd occasions, when they deliver a rant that's so out of keeping it's unsettling to read.

As I come towards a close, I'm conscious that these reflections are somewhat removed. What do they mean for my writing and the Bikeshed? Why did the notion of 'reclaiming' strike such a chord?  Was it truly the essays I've been drafting—or is that assertion a convenient form of self-censorship too?  The events of this last year have dominated my own 'inner story' and yet I decided a while ago not to write any more about the pandemic. Looking further back, I was saying to a writing friend this week that I seldom post now in quite the casual way I did years ago.

I don't have an answer to all those questions; sometimes it's enough just to ponder and declare. What I do know, is that I remain determined to write my blog in a way that's true to me and to be jealous of the space this requires. If I've avoided the pandemic it's been to protect my own wellbeing rather than sidestepping the sensitivities of others; if I post less informally then that's fine, so long as I'm not putting show before substance. In steering my course, I want to avoid the rocks of disapproval, but even more so, the whirlpool of redaction. 

I'd like to think this honours my readers too. Relationships are not strengthened by withholding who we are or what we think; indeed, the sign of their worth is the ability to say what we feel—with care of course, but directly nonetheless. If our candour occasionally gives rise to some tension, then that's the grit in the oyster which makes for a pearl. My favourite author of all time is Jean Rhys, a self-obsessed alcoholic, whose attitudes to life are as far removed from mine as whatever's going on in my whippet's head right now. But oh, the honesty and clarity of her work...

Meanwhile, the evening has turned to night and Oscar has retired to his cage. It's five hours since I started this post and the time has passed in an instant. Jane says that often I'm so lost in my thoughts that were it not for the dog, walking together would be little different to her going alone. I tell her that co-presence is a thing and that I'm talking in my head if not out loud—whippets don't understand anyway. Tomorrow (today, now actually) I'll try and strike a better balance, and no doubt I'll fail as usual—but with luck—and much love—I'm sure we'll come together again on the sofa. 

7 comments:

  1. I too have a tendency to get lost when I wander. I always find my way back home.

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  2. I know my blog is one where you saw the reclaiming of one's own blog mentioned. I was thinking out loud at the time and I didn't resolve anything except that I know I can never be anything but myself, and nor should I be.

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  3. I've just got to write. That's what writers do. Whatever the medium, book or blog.

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  4. You may be one of those (like F) who finds the act of writing (handwriting in particular) meditational; the coming together of a physical movement with a creative thought. Like doing Tai Chi. Something harmonious. There is some evidence that it makes for healthier humans - both mentally and physically. As does meditation. (Ignore F's incomplete and ungrammatical sentences. These are thoughts, and not seeking approval as prose. Tell Oscar that long-dog was invented by long cats; I have perfected that one along with round-cat which involves curled on lap, on TOP of the keyboard if necessary.)

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  5. My blog has changed hugely over the years - firstly as the wife of a watercolourist and musician, then as a widow for a couple of years when I wrote poetry and tried to make sense of a different life, then as the wife of a dairy farmer - helping with the milking, looking for wild flowers and wild animals in our fields. Now as a widow again contemplating perhaps the end of life - although not at all downhearted about it (I am almost 89) Such a fascinating life. Oh and incidentally I adore that Whippet.

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  6. I do indeed live near to Hawes and the place you speak of is Gayle. There is still a ropeworks in Hawes and the Wensleydale Creamery is now a large organisation exporting Wensleydale cheese all over the world. The clogmaker was in Aysgarth between Hawes and Leyburn (where I live) but closed many years ago.

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  7. What a fabulous post - I printed it out so I can re-read at times when away from the screen!
    Your 'little' pup Oscar is extremely large and although I'm more of a cat gal, I do like an unusual dog. He looks like a special boy. My granddaughter often cares for her boss's St. Bernard, Orson. Last year he looked like a big stuffed toy, now he's about 120 lbs. and awesome.
    Your words, "my next book" sound exciting. You mention the tradition of country diaries. I have loved them ever since reading years ago, but still rereading every month, Edith Holden's COUNTRY DIARY of AN EDWARDIAN LADY, nature notes and beautiful sketches - a little treasure of a book.

    Hope your backs are doing better by now!
    Mary -

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