I knew myself once more a poet
Guarded by timeless principalities
Against the worm of death, this hillside haunting...'
Robert Graves again, 'Midwinter waking'.
It's not midwinter, but late summer, turning; not the wolf, who really bites, but the dog - torpor, apathy, doubt and weariness of spirit. And I don't know, and certainly don't call, myself a poet. 'Poet ' to me is a descriptor like 'beautiful', a desirable thing to be, a compliment to be paid to others, but certainly not something one could or should apply to oneself. I write the odd poem. I seem to remember Paula, she of the House of Toast, who is a poet and practises medicine, saying something along the lines that writing poems for pleasure is no more being a poet than sticking Band-aids on your kids is practising medicine, and who'd argue with that?
So, no, I don't know myself a poet. What I have awoken to again with joy, what I know myself to be, is a blogger. Nothing more, nothing less.
It doesn't have quite the same ring, I know. Indeed, the gawky, geeky ugliness of the word 'blog' as any part of speech, is one of the things that does us a disservice; how are we to take ourselves quite seriously in such a ridiculously named activity?
We all know the uncomprehending, mocking way non-bloggers enunciate it when you mention it to them, and the consequent shrinking withdrawal we feel in the face of it ( but take courage, fellow bloggers 'blessed are ye when men shall revile you...'!). But there it is, the word has stuck, even attempts to restore the original and slightly more graceful 'weblog' have failed. Blogging, it's what I do.
And I think I'm going to go on doing it, at least for the foreseeable. There's been quite a lot of discussion around some of the blogs I read, from people who have been doing this very, very well, for a lot longer than I have, about what it means to them, and where they might be going with it, suggesting that perhaps it's had its day as a form, or expressing their personal reasons for needing to move on or change. Some express serious disillusion, some a lack of inspiration, some pragmatically, and with reason, blame the season, some relative newcomers, like teenagers who have just discovered sex, say they cannot imagine a time when they don't want to do it with the enthusiasm, energy and regularity that they do at the moment. I don't know how I'll feel about it when I've been at it twice as long as I have now, but rather than contemplating joining the voyage into the west just yet, I've decided I'll stick around.
It's not like it was, I admit. A little less than three years ago, when I first started, I used to creep downstairs at 6 am of a winter morning, wrap up in shawls and dressing gowns, light a fire if I was really spoiling myself, bring Mol's cushion over next to me ( a habit she still insists on whenever I sit down to the computer ), plug-in the old dial-up, and I was as happy as I've ever been. I had to resolve to stay in bed on Sundays so Tom didn't feel like too much of a blog widower. It went on like that for quite a while, almost like being in love, as the song goes. And I started visiting more and more other blogs, and those people started to come and read and look and say nice things.
You see, and perhaps you know, the part of me that reflected and observed and wrote and made pictures had been starved for a very long time, and now it had something to feed it. Perhaps that's the wrong metaphor. Rather, it had amassed material but there was nowhere for it to go, nothing to do with it, no one much to see it, so the faculty to make something of it was undeveloped. I scribbled in notebooks, drew and painted from time to time. I'd written something resembling poems on and off for years, but never thought of submitting anything anywhere, which was probably just as well. Apart from letters, the odd thing I showed Tom, or rarely a friend, a picture I might stick on the wall for a time, and I suppose home-made teaching materials or gifts might count, nothing I made ever really saw the light of day. And frankly, looking back over it, much of it was simply crap, because I, at least, need to hold the things I do up to the light in order to evaluate and get any better at them. I'd had the camera and been taking photos for about six months before, but was quite uncertain of the point of what I was doing.
Because, in the end, like most people, I need affirmation. Not worldly success, not to be outstanding or saleable, but, as a dear friend said, to have it put up on the classroom wall. And to get a star for it too, is nice. But I always had the idea that unless what one did was outstanding and/or saleable, there was little point in doing it, except 'for one's own pleasure', which for me was always an uncertain area which failed to be fertile enough ground. Like the tiresome Wordsworthian namesake I grew up with, I was 'a creature there were few to praise...'
But no, it's not quite like it was. (But what is? is of course the obvious corollary to that...) Sleep tends to be a more attractive proposition than screen and keyboard at 6 am now, and while I probably spend more time on-line than I did then - not least because broadband makes that more feasible - less of it is on my own personal blogging. Mostly because the wonderful, talented, sensitive people who come and read and look and say nice things, thoroughly deserve to have me to go and read and look and say nice things to them, and if I don't, they won't come and look and... etc Which is exactly as it should be, because another thing about this medium, or the way most of us do it, is its reciprocity, and its positivity. A non-blogging occasional blog-reader said recently, something like 'Don't you get tired of all that niceness, all that 'great post, well done' stuff?'. Well, no, actually. Naturally, a well-thought out evaluation, coupled with a sincere sharing of the reader's own experience, is even better, and I get plenty of those too, but if people just have time to leave a pleasantry or encouraging word that's fine. Rudeness wouldn't be, but then I don't really post much that's contentious enough to generate any. What I do get tired of is people I've come to care about getting hurt and driven out by trolls and nastiness, but that's another story, happily an infrequent one, but at all is too often.
So, it's the recognition that got me hooked, the feeling that what I was doing pleased people. Anyone who says they blog purely to please themselves is, I fear, being rather disingenuous. That of course comes with a downside: the tension between pleasing people and your own self-expression. The kind of blog that develops gets determined somewhat by its perceived audience. This bothers me less than it did; I've come round to the idea that writing and illustrating pleasant and informative pieces which encourage people to want to come on holiday in this area is probably more appropriate here than exploring dark and difficult areas of my psyche and experience, which are rather more limited anyway. I get satisfaction from one of my elderly students coming into class with a grin and saying 'I liked the one with the butterfly on the man's bald head!', or the knowledge that my family are keeping up with what's going on in my life better than they were ever able to before. I think I can keep a generally pretty and cheerful blog without compromising my integrity, but I credit anyone who cares enough to read here regularly with the emotional maturity to be able to cope with a certain level of discomfort without my having to feel too responsible for them.
(On this subject: a while ago, another blogger I read, who is generally chatty and funny and upbeat - dogs, kids, flowers, all the kind of stuff I'm happy to feature - expressed, quite elliptically in a list post, pain and disappointment over an aspect of her life, which was quite distressing to read, but which it seemed brave to be so honest about. However, some her commenters were obviously so discomforted that she clearly felt obliged to redress the balance by writing a positive list, to reassure everyone it was OK really, to which one commenter replied in terms of 'Ah, that's better, now I can feel the love'. That kind of obligation to be nice and keep everyone feeling happy and comfortable should not be required.)
But it isn't only that I'm drawn off elsewhere which has reduced my blogging drive. Perhaps some of the backlog of material I had to draw on, that compulsive urge to release pent up creativity, has been used up. I'm not sure though, to some extent I actually feel I've still got too much potential material, and it's selecting from it that's the problem. I carry the camera less, in the knowledge that I have folders and folders of haphazardly edited pictures using up memory already. Writing this, I am beginning to feel bogged down by my own volublity, and doubts are creeping back about the point, or pointlessness, of what I'm doing, what is worth keeping and what needs to be struck out. I know very well from my own on-line reading and from the responses I get here, that short is beautiful, and, certainly with me, short with pictures is better still. It's not about limited concentration span, it's simply about limited time. The screen is not really the place where I want to read at length, there are books for that, and I have rather returned to reading more from the page, which was rather abandoned in those heady early blogging days.
And I am slow. A post like this takes ages: a pile of longhand scribble, added to as and when I think of things, perhaps a Wordpad file, then composing in that silly little Blogger box. If I'm using photos, the time to edit, export and upload them, reorder them in HTML... I am not one of those fortunate, and clever, ones who can construct a cogent and articulate blogpost in my head the car, keep it there, and write it out in one go in between sundry other bits of multi-tasking any old moment when I get home, with no more than a bit of sprucing up. Furthermore, my typing is dreadful. And always I'm aware that I'm presuming on people's time expecting them to read it, and justifying that expenditure of time becomes harder.
I am still, frequently, discouraged as much as inspired by the excellence of others.
Some things about my life have altered too. We had lived in a state of unfinished simplicity in our house for a long time; at the beginning this was quite close to squalor and privation, by the time I started blogging it had evolved to reasonable comfort and room-to-move, but our living environment was still Spartan and provisional. The advent of this slim folder of light, and its attendant wandering digital eye, its potential for creating, for words and colour and the examination of my experience, was not far short of a life-saver. That state of affairs has changed, quite suddenly it seems over the last year or so; surfaces can be covered with colour and textile, pictures and books that I've not seen for ages are emerging to be framed and hung and shelved and enjoyed again, some new ones added. Life is expanding in other directions again. My paid work too, looks as though it may be taking some new directions. All this brings me away from the computer.
This falling away, the wandering off of the blogging daemon, the dulling of that first, intoxicating, opening up of creative potential, so that it seems to shrink and become illusory, can be hard to bear. I know some for whom it is very, very painful. They are, I think, among the very best, because they are exceptionally sensitive and talented, have found very deep things in themselves, have given enormously, but as bloggers and as human beings, they are the ones who never feel themselves good enough. I wish it wasn't so.
Some, like the one or two members of my family that I badgered into giving it a try, see that, while it is an interesting idea, they are not prepared to commit the time and energy required, and drift off early. Others blog quite intensely but then come to question the sense they have that all experience has become potential material for the blog, and fear that they are losing something of life's immediacy, that the blog monster is always looking over their shoulder, whispering 'And how would you blog this?'
I've wondered about this. But now I wonder if perhaps you can't turn that blog monster round, and make that kind of self-consciousness into a more useful self-awareness, that it can serve you rather than you serving it, as a part of the examined life. Blogging has certainly served to make me far more acutely, constructively aware of many things. I know now that I will not, and do not want to, turn everything into blogfodder. But the drive to turn the raw matter of life into art, (and that's not a word I use easily), is that so bad? I don't know, I don't know.
And a couple of those people that I know, who've quit because they feel the blog-monster is gobbling up their life like this, have cleaned their palettes, reassessed their priorities, and come back again, having simplified and narrowed their way of working, reduced their obligations, banished their trolls if necessary, and are doing it better than ever.
It has its limitations as a medium. But, without wishing to be too platitudinous, I do think that only by recognising and accepting the limitations of things, or people, or anything, can you let go of expectations, and with them disappointments, and begin to come into what can be gained from, learned and loved about them. I find now the blog has become a little less important, I'm able to relax about it and perhaps enjoy it more. While I still find myself wandering back rather too quickly after posting to see if anyone's commented yet, I don't break my heart if they haven't. I'm prepared to write this post of a length that's bound to put some people off, because I want to. I'm very pleased that I always resisted the temptation of the stat-counter, and hardly ever even check how many profile views I've had now! And my other blog is there as a discipline and an antidote to blogger's neediness; I write it most days and keep to a word count, its scope is strictly limited. If anyone wants to join me on a walk they're very welcome, but I don't expect it.
Sometimes I feel like I'm fiddling while Rome burns, in that I seldom write about the wider world, but I have to recognise my own limitations too, what I can and can't do, and I don't know that fiddling's better or worse than hand-wringing.
And, for me, there is so much to love. I don't want to twitter or do Facebook; if blogs like this one are getting old fashioned, clunky and ponderous, then so much the better, I'm very happy to be in an evolutionary backwater, thank you. The mixed-media, neither-fish-nor-fowl nature of it suits me, a bit of this, a bit of that, mixing photos and poems and anecdote and banality as and how it comes.
The colour, the interest, the community and contact, the confidence in myself and in what I love and am capable of, which I have found and will continue to find here has enhanced the way I go about the other things that are growing and coming, or coming back into my life. Many of the books and music and other things I've got piling up to enjoy and explore have been discovered through other bloggers. And though some of the friendships come and go, and that's fine, some of them have become more important than I can say, and will continue to be. Even the new work project that's on the horizon is with another blogger.
One of the marvellous things I've found through all this is qarrtsiluni. Naturally, if being recognised and pinned on the wall and given a star is important, there's no better place for it to happen. However, I submitted nothing for the last edition. This was, I realised, because I was too involved in exploring the stuff I brought back from the Chartres trip in May, and I didn't want to be distracted from that, and to rob what I was doing here in favour of something elsewhere. This time, for their Words of Power edition, I set off for the Seven Saints Chapel, where, I discovered, the Saints have been replaced! I got some good pictures, and if they accept any of them I'll be delighted of course, but part of me was slightly disappointed that it meant breaking up material for what would, I thought, make a good photo essay here.
That made me happy. Yes, going on and getting approval in a wider world is great, but what matters most, I realised, is what I do here. My garden, here, under the Box Elder tree, I'm cultivating it. And as September blows in, in the last week of August as it often does, and the first yellow leaves whirl to the ground, and into my heart an air, and I feel alive again, that's where you'll find me. For the foreseeable.
(I've supplied no links and named no names here. Most of you know who you are, I think, my dears.)