Posts Tagged ‘blog’

pince nez

When we write online, we are like birds calling in the wilderness so our own kind will know us. But we should be careful not to go more than half way towards meeting whatever approaches as a result, and be prepared to withdraw at once if what we have attracted seeks to take advantage. There seems to be no way of inviting exclusively those birds of a feather without automatically attracting the wrong sort as well: the predators.

When we call into the wilderness, we tag our writings so others who share our ideas might find us. But the predators take those tags as indicative of our habit and try to hit us with some sort of service. But I am from the Old Testament era of the Internet, a time when its promise loomed large, and it had more to offer than mere shopping. Therefore I find the predators annoying in their crassness and think their growing domination and their souring of this wonderful mind-space space an utter abomination.

In response to the last blog I have received advice on how to make money online, was offered beauty products, lifestyle advice from teenagers, and budgeting advice from spivs. There were also genuine responses, easily discerned from the fake, and as ever I thank those most valued birds of a feather for being the icing on the cake of my wordsmithing. But in general, our bird-calls mainly flag our position to the hunters who ready their guns seeking to fell the money from our pockets. And in hardening myself against predators, in learning to evade them, I find I mistrust every advert that comes my way online because I suspect I have been clumsily profiled. I resent it and find it creepy. As a self-publisher though I have no choice but to operate in this territory. I suppose then I’ve become quite the snob, seeking kinship exclusively with my own kind while being infuriated to a comical degree when the predators hear my call and respond by showering me with their shite.  Those Victorian men of letters, contributing piffle to “Blackwoods” never had this problem.

As a young engineer, many years ago now, finding my feet in a huge and, at times, terrifying manufactory, I once had the privilege of working with a crusty old curmudgeon in whom I confided my utter bewilderment at the oftentimes Byzantine processes required to achieve the simplest of things, also the long hours we spent in meetings, discussing ‘policy’ without actually achieving anything. And he told me that in engineering, all there really is is cutting metal, that the rest is bullshit, that we should never lose sight of that one key fact, then all would be well – at least with us – and we would not go crazy.

It was good advice, advice that has served me well, and which can be applied metaphorically and usefully to many areas of life outside the metal-cutting business. But in a society that has de-industrialised it has also become impossible not to conclude all there seems to be left now is the bullshit, and no more so than with the online world where nothing tangible ever existed in the first place.

It’s therefore disappointing when you put up a piece of work to which most of the responses are from snake-oil entrepreneurs. It’s not disappointment that so few birds of a feather hear my call, more perhaps that there seem to be so few genuine wild birds of any feather out there at all. It’s as well then that of all the species, I am the least gregarious, and therefore well suited to the environment, happiest in small company. I am an albatross perhaps, or a stormy petrel.

It’s a very big ocean we are crossing, and meaningful encounters are  naturally rare. True, the ocean has also become a sterile environment, thick with dross and boiling with fatuous nitrates, a fact we birds of a feather recognise only by our detachment from it and we lament its loss. Everyone down there is trying to profit at the expense of everyone else, it is a place of predators and prey  like worms in a bucket where everything is a baited hook, and even imaginary concepts like “lifestyle” have their price-tag.

We follow the styles of the celebrities, ape the decor of their homes, dress the way they dress, even pretend we are celebrities ourselves with our Insta-profiles. I suppose I’m no different. It’s just that my styles are a couple of hundred years out of date. I am all frock-coat and pince-nez. I am a pocket-watch and leather-bound journal, grimacing at modernity.

Krishnamurti had much to say about such faulty thinking. Basically, he said, the world was never in trouble before we came along, and even we were fine until we started over-thinking everything, that it is our oftentimes corrupt thought, our ground-level delusions that are at the root of all suffering. It begins with thinking, and ends with killing. So, dear snake-oil entrepreneur, before you respond this time with your spam you should take time to read what I’ve written, observe the tag-traps I have set for you, then you’d realise your hits on me only become a part of the meta-structure of the very thing I’m getting at, and it’s thus I profit instead from your avarice.

But each to their own. So you keep your nose to the ground, Mr Entrepreneur, sniffing out your grubby coin, always an eye for the easy buck, weighted by your  petty ambition, while we true birds of a feather spread our wings and soar.


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The dangers of and the reasons for keeping a private diary.

There’s a touching scene at the end of the Bridget Jones movie where Darcy and Bridget have finally declared their love for each other but, just when you think you’re within reach of this long-awaited happy ending,  Darcy chances across Bridget’s diary in which he reads unflattering comments about himself. Horrified, poor Bridget tries to explain that diaries are “full of crap”, and fortunately for her Darcy is wise enough to understand that. He does the gentlemanly thing and buys her a new diary. Cue happy ending. Ahhh!

But why does Bridget risk it? Why does she feel the need to commit potentially damaging material to such a notoriously insecure confessional as a paper diary? Does she have a self-destructive streak? Does she enjoy the constant danger that her diary may fall into the wrong hands, or is there something else going on here? Why do people ignore the risk of embarrassment, and keep personal diaries?

I’ve kept a private diary since 1974. I was fourteen and I can only say my excuse at the time was there’s a lot going on at that age. Your emotions are being pulled in all directions and your head feels like the inside of a pressure cooker. Throw in a mix or two of unrequited love and a school environment that’s incomprehensible no matter how hard you try to appear normal in it, and sooner or later you’ll end up looking in the mirror and feeling like there’s an alien staring back at you.

Until you write it down.

Writing it down is like opening a safety-valve.

You’re still aware of the mad mix of life, but keeping a diary is a vital means of subduing the occasional demons who are bent on eating us. It is as if by the simple writing of their names, they are rendered less substantial. Diaries are also where you can explore the incomprehensible by writing down what you think about it – without the inhibitions you might normally feel if you thought someone was going to be reading your words later on and tut-tutting at your stupidity or your depravity. You put it all down, you write around it from all sides, and even if you never actually get to the bottom of things, the diary has a way of at least clarifying what it is you think about a subject because certain words resonate – they feel right, or they jar awkwardly, and then you know they are wrong, you know you are being stupid.

We explore ourselves in diaries. They are a meditation. They are cathartic. Diaries do not solve our problems, but they do grant us a means of rising above them. If you’re being really clinical and condescending about things you could say diaries are a useful coping mechanism.

When I look back on my first diaries however, I wonder where all the emotion went. The prose is not quite as purple as I remember my thoughts being at the time. My entries were merely suggestive of the emotional turmoil of my life, while being descriptive more of mundane events. None of those names, either heinous or precious to my memory, are mentioned. All is carefully rendered deniable. It is as if I were writing with someone looking over my shoulder. I dared not say what I really thought, or felt. I was devious,… and wise, because paper dairies are not the secure things they ought to be. They are bombs waiting to go off in other people’s faces. And they’ll get you into trouble as well of course because not all peekers at other people’s diaries are as wise and magnanimous as Bridget Jones’ beau.

So,… how can a diary be cathartic if you’re not saying what you feel? It’s a good point: for them to be really useful, you need to be able to express yourself freely, without fear of censure. You need to be able to say the stuff you’d never confide to anyone.

In my later teens and twenties, I became more open in what I wrote.  Those diaries were subsequently compromised by individuals who read the crap, saw only the crap, and were hurt by it. I was hurt too, by the break of trust – that someone I trusted, could ever read my diary. But that’s life. You live it, and you learn.

Paper diaries are not safe, unless you lock them in a strong box whenever they’re not actually in your hand. If you keep them under your pillow, you might as well be sharing your most intimate secrets with the whole world. This is a shame, because the confessional nature of the diary allows us a measure of control over our emotions. We write down what we feel: I hate him/her. And then we think: how childish, that’s not true at all, I’m just upset because such and such has happened – I really, really love him/her. However, we don’t always put the good stuff in the diary, because it’s the good stuff we’re looking to get at and carry away with us, so all we leave behind are the dark traces: I hate! I hate! I hate! But even if we do put the good stuff in, the fact that we ever thought or felt the bad stuff is sufficient of itself to hang us.

He/she comes along and sneaks a peek at your diary. The darkness shocks them. It morphs into a  spike with a poisoned tip, and springs from the pages to pierce your thought stealer between the eyes. Rest assured, they will never see you in the same light again. Of course it’s not your fault. We all think dark things, silly things, things we don’t really mean. Diaries catch them and keep them safe, that’s all – better in the diary than carrying them around with us all the time! But that’s no comfort when your girlfriend/wife/significant other is heading up the road and your relationship is in tatters on account of something indiscreet, or shall we say “emotionally exploratory”,  that you wrote in the supposedly sacrosanct confessional of a private diary.

Got kids around? Rest assured they’ll make it their life’s ambition to get a peek at your diary if they know you keep one. Is that something you’d be happy with?

At the risk of repeating myself, that paper diary’s going to hang you. Get rid of it! Burn it. Shred it now! Never ever keep a paper diary! We are not politicians, we do not write for posterity, nor the future calculated embarrassment of our peers. We’re different. We write only for ourselves.

What about a coded diary then?

Already been there. Samuel Pepys, the seventeenth century diarist wrote in an obscure form of shorthand, which kept his words pretty safe from casual scrutiny. Such codes are easier to master than you might think, and I developed my own, which I still use occasionally in my notebooks. However, while it’s possible to eventually write flowingly in an obscure, self invented code, I found it was far more difficult to casually flick back through entries and read them, and reading them is an important part of the process.

No,… coded diaries are fun, but a laborious thing to peruse and if a coded diary’s discovered, it doesn’t matter what your code is obscuring it’s all going to be interpreted as dark – otherwise why cover it with a code? Also you should be careful of taking a coded diary abroad, say on holiday, in these terribly paranoid times, as it might get you into trouble at the airport if the security people get hold of it! And you could really do without the embarrassment, or the rubber gloves – right?

So what do you do?

Well, if you’re reading this on my blog, the solution is already at hand. Computers! Computers are ubiquitous and cheap these days. Old ones get thrown away when they’re still useful, or they can be purchased off eBay for very little money at all, and sooner or later they’ll be giving them away free with bags of potatoes at the supermarket. So, write your diary on a computer, but keep it on a memory stick because computers sometimes go wrong and lose everything. Most important of all though is that you get some freeware encryption software off the internet, and secure your diary under a password. Welcome, dear scribbler to the cyber age. Samuel Pepys, would have loved it!

There are, of course, a lot of diary programs you can download, some of them for free, and I’ve experimented with a few, but I find I end up fiddling too much with the software instead of simply writing stuff down. Personally  I prefer a simple Rich Text Format file – along with the encryption software – the simpler to use the better (I like the free Encrypt Files by Pow Tools)

If you’re particularly paranoid and afraid of cyber-snoopers and those dastardly key click capture devices, then don’t write your diary on a computer that’s connected to the internet – though if you’re at this level of paranoia you’re either a conspiracy theorist, or you’ve got something on your computer you really shouldn’t have!

Now  you’ve finally got a diary that’s safe from everyone except perhaps a  state salaried cryptanalyst, so you can write down anything you want, no matter how icky or potentially embarrassing. At last! A private diary you can really trust.

But how do you use it?

Well, that’s up to you of course, and it doesn’t matter, so long as you do use it. I’m a compulsive writer, and perhaps my scribbling habits are different to others, but I’ll describe how I’ve come to use my cyber-diary and where it fits in to the greater scheme of all things literary.

The way I see it the modern scribbler has three levels for self-expression nowadays: We have the private diary, and what we put in here is basically not for human consumption, on account of its occasionally poisonous, unguarded or explosive nature. Then we have the blog, which is a sort of publicly available diary, carefully sanitised and smiley-safe. And then we have the work itself.

The work is the ultimate expression of the cyber scribbler’s imagination. It possesses no personal details. It is informed by the person that you are, but anyone reading it can have no clear idea of the state of your mind, nor the whereabouts of your front door. The work is what you basically do,  what you turn into an e-book, and put up on Lulu or Feedbooks or Smashwords or any of those other means of self publication. The work is the fruit of your labour as a cyber scribbler.

Now we go down a level to the blog:

All right, the blog contains a little crap from time to time, especially if you write it when you’ve been drinking, or within 24 hours of an emotionally upsetting incident. Trust me – never do either of these things! Although sanitised, the blog is a more personal expression of the mind behind the work. It’s a sort of journal – it captures events, or thoughts,… things that catch your eye and which put you in mind of a certain other thing that you feel compelled to share with your mystery reader, but for all of that it is still impersonal. There is no way by reading it your reader can unlock your state of mind, nor again the whereabouts of your front door.

Down another level now, and back to the personal diary.

The diary is the melting pot of your daily experience. It is the confessional, the personal account, the dirty washing, the crucible of your pain, grief and anxiety. It is the repository of the stuff that will hang you, the stuff that will get you into trouble with the girlfriend, neighbour, colleague, boss, policeman, wife and so on. Here you can name names, call names, swear and rant and drip all the poison you like. Here you can tear your hair out in private and you can cry tears of bitterness. When all else fails and the words won’t come, you will always be able to turn to the diary and write something – even if it’s only that the words would not come today.

Can’t make sense of the story you’re working on?… Maybe you can say something on the blog instead, some wry observation, something that caught your eye that day and made you think. Can’t even blog? Wonder what the hell you’re doing even keeping that blog in the first place? My, aren’t we low today? Don’t despair! Settle down somewhere quiet, brew yourself some coffee or crack open the whiskey bottle,… and dig out the diary.

The diary is your best friend.

It’s always there. You can fill it with crap, and it won’t mind. In return, it will point out your stupidity, and you’ll take it better coming from your diary, than from someone else.

My cyber diary goes back to 2002. It’s interesting to read back now over those years, and also to be able to use the search function for finding specific words that haunt me. You’ll be surprised how often things come back at you. You write about them in passing, when they crop up, then forget them and when they crop up again you have this odd feeling of deja-vous  – well the diary will reveal these things to you, like loops in the code of your life. But the diary’s not a place I go to for inspiration. I think its function is more indirect, more mysterious, and therefore best left alone. Just write things down in it. Flick back through it from time to time. And between times,  keep it encrypted.

An encrypted cyber diary is both useful, and deniable. What diary?

The paper diary is highly visible, vulnerable and potentially damaging.

Get rid of it.

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