Friday, 19 November 2010

The Way We Wrote

I've been struggling a great deal recently with online identity. That sounds pompous and overblown. I don't mean "branding", which is a creepy concept (possibly necessary, but definitely creepy). It's more about using my name, or not using my name, and working in two different capacities and trying to decide whether I need to distinguish between them. And ultimately realising that if I did want to do that, I've left it too late anyway. The horse has not just bolted, it's had time to win the two thirty at Kempton, and I haven't even built the stable door, let alone shut it. I'm sitting on the stable floor trying to work out why the assembly instructions are written in sanskrit and how the fuck a ratchet screwdriver works anyway.

(This overwrought, over-extended metaphor has now left the station. Thank you.)

I'm not giving up blogging or anything. I wouldn't remotely want to, and anyway, what the fuck would I do with myself? Pitching ideas to disinterested features editors with an increasingly obvious note of cheery desperation is not a full time job. I have thought a lot, though, about what I can and can't say online, more than I ever used to, and I have felt very constrained in the last six months or so in what I feel comfortable saying. I don't know what exactly changed - but oooh, imminent unemployment might conceivably have had something to do with it, I suppose. Anyway. It's made me wonder if there's a template for the lifecycle of a blog: early months of glorious indiscretion, a period of happy insouciance, posting your visceral inner torments and grievances as the readership builds and then, somewhere along the line, a tipping point, where you realise that x and y and z are reading and maybe you can't, or shouldn't, say that thing you were thinking about. There might even be some hurried deletion. I wouldn't know anything about that, obviously. Nope. Not me.

Perhaps other people, wiser, more thoughtful people, think before they start out, but when I started writing here I wrote because I had to. It was a genuine compulsion; I had years of stuff to say, and it all came spilling out, screeds and screeds of indiscretion. You couldn't even say it was brave, though it could have been mistaken for bravery. It was thoughtless. I quite literally gave no thought to who was reading, and the idea that my writing might have any effect, or consequence, was so remote as to be laughable. That changed hugely when my name appeared in the Sunday Times about a year ago, and has continued changing in smaller increments ever since.

But now what? You try and find some kind of a balance, I suppose, between causing hurt or offence - or in my case, more probably damaging my prospects of ever earning a living - and ending up writing stultifyingly dull stuff about the weather and what you had for dinner. I feel like I've struggled with this recently, that I haven't written anything very entertaining for ages. Of course, that might be nothing to do with any of the factors I've described here. I might just have lost it, might simply be struggling to be funny at the moment, and this is all an elaborate excuse.

I think I do have to accept, though, that I can' t go back. I miss it, miss that freedom, miss saying whatever I damn well liked. I see people who still write like that and I admire it, and envy them. That's the kind of stuff I enjoy reading myself; you don't want to read something that has all the emotional pull of a European Commission press release in your free time. Well, maybe some people do and many of them live in the same city as me, but that is irrelevant. Actually, here's the proof positive that the early confessional stuff wasn't brave, just unthinking: I can't do it any more. I'm too conscious of who's reading and what they might think. That's partly weak, and partly sensible, and I can't do anything about it. I'm thirty five, I'm not going to grow a pair overnight and suddenly become the kind of person who can publish and be damned. I have a craven need to be liked, more's the pity.

This isn't heralding any great change in what I write about, or any change even - it's more by way of an explanation of the shift that has already happened over the last year or so. I'm just marking its passing, I suppose. Looking back, half embarrassed and half wistful, at the kinds of things I used to say. Misty Water Coloured Memories Of The Way We Wrote.

Let us pause for a beat as I stare, teary eyed at the archives.


Would you like a picture while you wait?

(From here, via Fi. Thank you Fi)

Ok, done.

Right. So. Look. I have put an "about" page at the top and it has my name on it. Most of you knew it anyway, and you could all have found out without the slightest difficulty, so it's no kind of a secret, really. That boat sailed a year ago (hang on! Where's the HORSE gone???), here. Do I wish it hadn't? Possibly. But it did. So I might as well take proper ownership of what I write, right?


Mother Inferior. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
B said...

Courage, my friend. Well done. What you have done here is formidable. (And provides me with just enough ammunition to tease you relentlessly at cocktail parties, which is also nice.)

Anonymous said...

How well I know the feeling, except that I have always always failed utterly at being properly forthcoming.

I'm sure the need for censoring and the start of the Era of Self Consciousness has felt incredibly obtrusive to you, but your writing still reads as personal and confessional and gripping.

JB_Kiwi said...

Own it I say. The web has changed wildly since you first started out and what seems to have started as just an urge to speak (or write, rather) might just be able to bring you a job you care about and for that you need to own it. Besides which, you and your words are wonderful so the world should know that they are yours. I hope that owning your online identity brings you all the fame, fortune and all the happy editors/publishers that you deserve! We have to keep you in craft supplies, after all!

Dara said...

ditto what redfox and jessb said.

Z said...

Well, I think that choosing to write about yourself means that you can't be worried in the future about something that you have kept secret. I found, early on, that it's a good idea not to write anything about something that you'd hate them to read. Not because of anything I write, by the way, but a friend got into trouble that way. I've always taken the view that I can be outspoken or revealing about myself but I've got a duty of care to others - and I think that's the way you behave too.

Emma, I've been reading this blog for a long time, I love and like you a lot and I wish you a happy and successful life. It's been hard this year, but you're getting through it. I think you will always have an edge, never accept the moment for more than a moment, but I hope you will be easier on yourself at some time yet to come.

Once I said to my daughter, when she was angsting about something that couldn't be helped, I'm sorry darling, you're just going to have to cope. She rather held it against me to some extent, she mentioned it for some time afterwards, ahem, but with some appreciation too. "Cope" is what we do. And it gets better, which helps for when it gets worse. Just be kind, especially to yourself.

Oh bum, darling, I've written a whole fucking post and I haven't been near my own blog yet. Inspiration shot, I'll have to write about what we had for dinner again.

Z said...

First para, something should have read someone. Can't do anything right - but people forgive. Hey.

Anonymous said...

the end of an era, the start of an error

Anonymous said...

Oh Waffle, I do love you a ridiculous amount.

Though I am sad that no young homosexuals or flat pack fetishists will ever experience the frisson of breaking though and discovering your secret identity (as I did) it is marvellous that you have er - come out of the closet officially?

The Belgium Closet

hmmm... it needs some work - B will doubtless think of something infinitely snappier (B - I miss you - you are marvellous) There is SO MUCH potential in this.

Anyway - you remain an incredible writer and an amazing woman and this is the start of something marvellous, so even though the horse has itself bolted, I am sure that I can come over and decorate the stable in a jamapanese style, Mrs T will bring some sort of Pimms o'clock style cocktail dispensing device and B will bring his Mariah boxset (he may not have one of these, but I hope he does) Horses are hard work, and we can have a fabulous party in the abandoned horsehouse.

Huge amounts of love as ever,

Your doting adoptive gay son/ratchet screwdriver expert/dog walker


Anonymous said...

Oh, yes. GOD, yes.

This is me, but insert MAD Awards for Sunday Times.

Betty M said...

Even if all you ever wrote about was the weather and dinner I doubt you'd ever be boring. I'd noticed a shift in tone and content and was hoping it didn't herald a process of goodbye so I am very glad of the confirmation that it doesn't.

Jane said...

Thank you for your courage. I love your writing.

Summer Kinard said...

I really did read your emotional outpouring, but I'm just commenting to say that I saw a real live capybara at our state fair recently and thought of you. No monkeys, though.

Anonymous said...

I'd suggest removing the address etc. from your CV site, now it can be linked with this blog.

Anonymous said...

Dear Waffle

I've been a devoted reader for the last couple of years, and while your content has changed (along with your life) I stil really enjoy what you write! Just keep on writing what you feel comfortable with, and I'll keep on reading - promise!

Anonymous said...

please do not stop posting about shit weather and failed attempts at dinner. makes my failed attempts at dinner seem not as bad. i just wish mine were as funny

frau antje said...

A year is a nice round number. I was reminded, by your mention of Nov. 17th, 2009, that I was paying more attention to the yoghurt's expiration date than to the anniversary of my father's. Having been trained as a dairyman, before becoming a public servant, I don't think he would necessarily disapprove.

mountainear said...

Doubt very much that you could ever be boring - an so glad you've not taken the bat home.

M. said...

It's not often you come across with someone with as much OH MY GOD CAPYBARA RIDING MONKEY. CAPYBARA RIDING MONKEY!!!!

.... What was I saying?

Bryony said...

I love your writing whatever it's about - keep on doing it Bxx

Anonymous said...

I have been reading and enjoying you for a good while now and I have always admired the way you write so openly. I have been going through a similar thought process, myself, especially since I write both as an expat and a teacher in a very small community. At times I feel frustrated by the reigns I need to put on my writing; but what choice do we have? Like me, you seem to write because you must and not for your readers, despite how much they enjoy your musings.

Madame DeFarge said...

Lovely to meet you. I will never reveal my real name, mostly because of work, and partly because who I really am probably holds no real interest for passing readers. I am not that exciting really. But you are braver than I will ever be, and for that, I admire you.

The Return of the Native ... sort of. said...

Publish and be damned as someone said ...
I think your blog is wonderful and if a future employer stumbled upon it he/she should hire you immediately. It seems that Facebook is checked by future employers and people have missed out on a job through their remarks.
So keep on scribbling so I can get my daily fix!
WV excoy - appropriate!

Johnners said...

Things you have written have made a large difference to me, and you're always entertaining and/or insightful. I'm very glad that it seems you won't be stopping, whatever you choose to include.

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