I’ve written a few entries now. Definitely ups and downs. Here’s what I’m thinking in the very early days of this venture. It’s difficult. Being in the right mood, finding the right words, making the time. I’m enjoying myself, but feeling that I’m going to need to improve my game. Having a wordpress blog, I’m receiving messages all the time that other bloggers have found what I’ve written ‘totally awesome’ or similar. I’m wise to this now. In the early days of flickr (my first venture into the world of social media) we were all very starry-eyed. I joined the photo-sharing site in 2004, when it had only 10,000 members. If someone liked my most recently uploaded image, I felt I had made a real connection. We were friends and shared our deepest feelings. It was real and lovely, wasn’t it? I still know some of those people; they walked into my real world.
Then a funny thing happened, which I might have been prepared for, knowing all about the Dunbar number, and what happens to country folk when they become city folk (their overall tendency to trust and help strangers declines). People began to play games. Online, I began to notice that some individuals’ ‘number of friends’ began to bloat. People ‘knew’ thousands of others, made contacts randomly rather than because of shared interests, and commented merely ‘wow’ rather than engaging on a more worthwhile (to me) level. Groups were inundated with unrelated images. Trolls trolled. Porn sprouted. The site became a shambles, a wreckage of something which had been rather sweet. Ipernity now looks like flickr then, but without the genuine community. At least, I haven’t found it, and I’m not trying. Finding community online has become all but impossible, unless one has endless time, and an axe to grind. I’m not so much of a ‘game-player’ and I lost the will to join in. I didn’t even want to be that kind of person; did I sense a certain inauthenticity? I’m not expecting to see any community emerge here for me unaided, though it would be nice if that happened. One could spend days hopping from blog to blog, gleaning material, making contact. But the returns seem paltry and diminishing. Effort in does not equal value out. Somewhere in the airways energy is dissipated, and I don’t have energy to spare. Writing here has to be for me alone – no distracting friends, no chasing views, just a convenient platform. Friends are in the real world again. That’s ok (but you can read me here if you like).
My own writing has changed. I said earlier that I was a good writer, but now I’m not so sure. There is a lot of good writing about. People are telling interesting stories. Lots of those people are young. They are quick and trendy. They read one another. Some are generating material which others actually read, to the point of e-publishing and even paper books. Already I have a feeling that I’m not operating on that level. Who could possibly want to read what I write? Talk about early discouragement! But, yes, I know, that’s not what this is supposed to be about. I am not ‘in the market’. I am just dipping a toe.
Certainly I have not been practicing enough. I write maybe three times a week at best. Typing is not quite like handwriting, it’s boring and tiring in a different way. Organising and proofreading is bothersome. My concentration is shot, whether from age or gaily surfing the internet for 10 years without concern for my brain structures. My research and synthesis skills are rusty; thank heavens I never had to submit an academic essay with ‘Turnitin’ (anti-plagiarism software used by British universities). I’ve lost focus in writing, just as my eyesight has become a touch misty. In my mind I am as sharp as ever. I hear neat phrases forming as I take my constitutional – ‘what a brilliant piece that could be!’ – only to find that it’s pretty clunky when I come to write it down. This is nothing like I imagined it would be!
I have a wooden box, it used to be a seed box, which happens to fit exactly some index cards bought for another purpose. This box has a supply of ideas for expansion which is growing more rapidly than my capacity to write them out. I find I always like the notes better than I like the finished piece. Polishing is a process I like less and less (though I don’t mind it so much in the case of poetry). I have a huge supply of pictures, some of which are fit to illustrate my pieces. Maybe this is saying that ideas have been revolving in my mind for over ten years. Now the words and images are blending. Just as well to shovel them out, perfectly formed or not.
How will I ever manage my material in the way of my favourite authors? Between 1951 and 1975, Anthony Powell wrote twelve books documenting the life of his unsung hero, Nick Jenkins. Throughout the series the thread of the story spools out, loose ends are connected up, characters develop yet remain consistent, national and personal history unrolls. Each time I read a volume, I find some new but coherent detail which I had missed before, but which perfectly fits and elucidates. He uses long but perfectly formed sentences, full of allusion and erudition. The scenes convince, the characters fill one with compassion or horror, or both. How could he possibly have planned such a perfect pattern, truly a dance to the music of time, echoing his favourite Poussin painting? How controlled the flow over 25 years? I love it because it calls up so perfectly the world my father inhabited – a Welsh childhood, the Territorial army, a long office career, encounters with famous figures who revealed their feet of clay. I love those details of people’s lives, and in enjoyment of fiction maybe I can escape the accusation of an over curious mind. I feel I shall revisit those pages until I die. I know those people like no others, even though they don’t exist.
There’s a particular problem I’m having, with repetition. Close reading here will doubtless show that I am often forgetting what I have said, and saying it again. It’s like a conversation I’m having during which I become embarrassingly aware that I’ve said it all before, and to the very same patient audience. Perhaps each cycle of repetition subtly changes the phraseology, the emphasis and even my own understanding of the meaning. Maybe it’s due to a focus on the self, rather than the other in conversation. Only this is not a conversation, it is, thus far, entirely one-sided. If only I could remember that even I prefer to hear about the other rather than talk about myself. And yet … I still have the hope that if I write it, the urge to repeat will gradually abate and I will regain my innocent mind.
I’m also wondering whether my themes have become over-complicated with the accretion of material over the years. There is knowing things, and arranging them in a comprehensible way. I’m finding it hard to state things categorically, since I have come to see events and people in so much more nuanced terms. This complexity is hard to write out. Somehow I can grasp an entirety in my mind, with a kind of Keatsian negative capability, but any attempt to convey in concrete terms seems to fail. It strikes me that I am attempting more of an ‘artistic’ or impressionistic approach than my former inclination to pin something down with scientific or philosophical certainty. I even find that I don’t have opinions any more. Or if I have them I certainly don’t defend them. Maybe this is why poetry can seem to appeal more as one gets older. Things don’t have to be certain any more. Science is still valid in some areas, but not others. And any attempt I might make to justify psychology as a science would certainly now be vain.
There has been some discussion of how a dead person’s internet effects might be disposed. Their blog, photo-collection, even documents in the cloud. The question is akin to those previously well explored by curators and historians; which artists’ work enters the ‘canon’? Is all their work ‘worthy’? Is history being written by the victors? And then there’s the vexed question of ‘legacy’; why do humans often seem to feel that without a trace on the collective memory, a life has been futile . Why do people want to be remembered by a wider society than their immediate family and friends? What partial truth about me could possibly emerge from this blog? I’ve become even more acutely aware of the volume of material here in Cyberspace, that Universe possibly even larger that the physical universe, and I wonder what is my own digital trace? I think, if I can, I shall ensure that this evaporates into the ether as I do. Sit mihi terra laevis.