“If you want your soul to stay around after your death, and you don’t like fights, you better look for another philosophy.” A Russian guy, referring to Dialectical Materialism on some website about Marxism.
I subscribe to The Proofreader’s Parlour, an excellent blog which offers comprehensive tips and advice to would-be writers, proofreaders and editors. The author of the blog, Louise Harnby, is a self-employed proofreader and her content is clear, informative, and practical whether, amongst other things, talking about self-publishing or writing style or how to drive traffic to your blog. Referring recently to the last of those three, she advocated the offering of solutions in your blog titles i.e. a blog that leads with the words ‘How to’ is going to attract more visitors.
Typically, a ‘how to’ post would present a specific skill related to a specific field like How to Change Oil in a Car or How to Swap Motherboards in your PC or How to Depose a Dictator in a Puppet Regime Without the Backing of the Industrial Military Complex. There are also those posts which fall into the Life Hack bracket. You know the ones – How to be Better; How to be Happy; How to Find your Power; How to Get What you Want; How to Disguise Toxic Masculinity etc.
The first type I like for their ‘does what it says on the tin’ simplicity. The second type I really dislike for their generic, repetitive, cookie-cutter, office-poster wisdom and naff, positive psychology soundbites. The first type I like because they are experience- and knowledge-based. The second type I really dislike because not only do they remind me of why I was sceptical about blogging in the first place but also because they speak to my fear that I am merely one of countless delusional numpties spouting their own brand of authoritative slurry into the internet’s vast cess-pit of opinion and certitude.
And yet, here I still am, ‘slurrying’ away, up to my neck in it. Waders on, nose-peg applied, steeped in the pungent aromas of self as I stick my big oar in the listen-to-what-I-have-to-say-effluent. I remain clear about the usefulness of the blog to myself, but I am now wondering if I shouldn’t go back and rename my fifty-odd posts to more clearly assert their usefulness to the world. My posts on depression could be retitled How not to Die and How to Keep Things in Perspective. My first ever post here could now be called How to Settle for Less and a very recent one could be How Not to Settle for Less. Others, on grief – How to Cry for Pain, and on becoming a father – How to Cry for Joy could be part of a series. A couple of posts on living abroad could be How to Know You’re Homesick Part 1 and 2.
But there won’t be any renaming.
I have good reasons for this. One is that I am not a spin doctor. I don’t have a need or an impulse to re-present past events. I reject the idea of ‘fixing’ the past, so I am not reaching for the varnish to make things shinier or more palatable. There are things I have written on this blog that make me cringe. I wince at some of my ill-thought-out holdings forth. I shudder at passages of verbosity and sloppy thinking. But rather than crucify myself for those lapses of discipline or irruptions of callowness, I find them useful reminders of my fallibility or temporary short-sightedness or impetuosity and they spur my creative horse to think more clearly.
I also see my posts for what they are – temporal snapshots that reflect where my head is at at the time of writing. They’re not a single, cohesive document. And it’s the internet, stupid. So in terms of how much attention is being paid to what I write or what I think or what I feel, I am but one of a trillion lonely french fries being consumed like so much plankton by the voracious users of the world wide web. Click. Next. Click, no thanks. Click. Next. Click, oh wow. Click. Next. Click, ugh. Click. Click. Click. In other words – there’s always something else to read and somewhere else to go. Everyone moves on, and they move on quickly.
So, does one agonise over how to stay the hand? Over how to stop that impatient mouse-click? Does one obsess over how to keep those eyes on their page, their output, their product? I suppose one does. One can, if one wants. But I don’t. I don’t see myself as a product. I am not interested in branding myself. I am not trying to package myself a particular way. And crucially, I am not trying to sell anything. I am simply writing, even if I am not always writing simply.
But writing is the thing. Not promoting. Not selling. Not presenting. Not pitching. Not jazz hands nor soft shoe shuffles. The reward is in the doing of something, not the commodifying of it.
I feel I can now retitle this post How to Have No Ambition. Whatsoever. It’s the cliché of the journey being the important part, not the destination. But even that cliché doesn’t quite cut it because there’s still the acknowledgement of an arrival, an endpoint. I prefer the idea of there being no terminus. That stations and natural stopping points are by-products of your endeavours, something akin to organic happenstances; where you find yourself in a place or a moment and you look back along the road you’ve travelled and think, “well of course this is where I’ve come to, because that is where I’ve come from.”
Not for the first time, I recognise an unambiguous linearity in my interpretation of being. Is this influenced by 25 years of practising a very linear style of karate where the fundamental dynamic is A to B, with meaningful nuances and deviations en route? Perhaps. Or it may be attributable to certain rigidity of thought, a conceptual conservatism. It may just be a very Western way of thinking. Regardless, I know that it suits me. It’s a good fit for my mode of thinking and my modes of living.
This blog, and occasionally-used diaries, are where thinking time becomes writing time. Creative thinking becomes creative writing. Everything else is energy management – the channelling and directing of it. Teaching time is teaching time. Cycling time is cycling time. Swimming time is swimming time. Karate time is karate time. I focus on the now and try to bring what is required.
The quote at the top of this post is something I came across when doing a little bit of research for a short story I’ve been working on. I was trying to refresh my understanding of Marxist and Communist thinking and was getting lost in various sociological and philosophical interpretations and historical-biographical vignettes about the relevant personnel when I found a below the line contributor offering frank and lucid clarifications to perturbed readers. His ‘if it walks like a duck’ approach to proceedings reminded me that sometimes it is helpful to simply call a spade a spade. And a little clarity can go a very long way to understanding something.
So, let’s get down to brass tacks. This is what I understand. I’m not going to ‘reposition’ my blog as some sort of positive living solution site. Because it’s just not me. That was never my intention and it still isn’t. I just wanted to write and perhaps start a couple of conversations, on or offline. If nobody reads or clicks, it is still writing practice for me, as well as being a cathartic process. I am very comfortable with this. I don’t care to dissemble nor misrepresent myself. If an acting opportunity comes across my path again at some point in the future, I’ll be happy to strike a pose, happy to pretend, happy to serve the artifice, the creative lie, the manufactured truth. But until then, spare me your song and dance, and I’ll spare you mine. There are worse ways to go about things, right?
Nothing for sale. Just living my life. What about you?