Posts Tagged ‘facebook’

av3I keep getting messages from Facebook telling me how so much has been going on recently I have the impression that if I miss checking up even for a day the world will have moved on beyond all hope of my ever catching up with it. But although Michael Graeme does have a Facebook account, he doesn’t use it because, well, he feels there’s an existential danger in spending one’s life simply recording one’s life – that eventually all we’ll have to record is the fact we’re recording we’re recording, ad infinitum. It’s at that point, he thinks, the entire human race will disappear into a self-created singularity.

It’s also a factor that beyond the keyboard, Michael Graeme doesn’t have a recordable life at all, at least not one that’s easily disentangled from that of his primary personality, who is by contrast too reticent to have his innards plastered all over the Internet. If I Google my real self, I appear once in a blurry photograph taken years ago at a Tai Chi retreat, and even that’s more exposure than I’m happy with. Google Michael Graeme however and he’s all over the place with his books and his stories and his blog-blatherings. But I’m careful the one should not be identifiable as the alter-ego of the other, which I admit is a bit schizophrenic, and certainly isn’t the way authors usually go about promoting themselves.

That said, my admittedly fragile cover may have been blown. We had the decorators in this week and one of them was asking my wife about me – where I worked and what I did in my spare time. Oh, he writes, she said, then produced an old Lulu copy of The Lavender and the Rose to show him. So, what’s it about, he asked? I dunno, she said: I’ve never read it.

I felt uncomfortable, that some real life person might know where Michael Graeme lives, that he might tell others who I am. Hey, I was at this house today and you know what? The guy who lives there writes stories?

But so what? Michael Graeme’s not exactly a household name, and I’m not expecting a press pack to descend on our doorstep should I find myself widely “outed” as the author of that particular tome – or any other for that matter. Why then be so protective about Michael Graeme’s anonymity? After all he’s not that much different to me; he drives the same car, lives in the same house, likes visiting the same places. He even thinks the same thoughts as me, so why not let him simply be me?

Well, where he differs, fundamentally, is in the way he escapes my primary personality’s admittedly neurotic belief he must say, do, think, and conform to a set of obligations that are necessary for face to face interpersonal, professional and societal harmony. Or in plainer words I’m interested in a lot of stuff that is of no use whatsoever to a suburban life, and which never comes up in conversation with the people I know. So I give all that stuff to Michael Graeme, who is better placed to make use of it than I am.

There was an interesting case a little while ago about a blog written by a Lancashire Copper called Nightjack. It was an expose of police work that revealed policemen very much as human beings doing a difficult job, while slowly being buried under the crushing weight of bureaucracy and political interference. That said its honesty and its engaging style probably did the service a lot of good on the public relations front. Officially though Nightjack was skating on thin ice; the blog although anonymised and semi-fictional, was a bit like keeping a diary on active service in wartime – it happens but its frowned upon and you’re for it if you get caught. Then the press – bless them – decided they had a public duty to “out” the identity of Nightjack, which they did by means both fair and foul. It got them a bit of a story. It also got Nightjack keel-hauled, and the blog taken down – but not before it managed to win the Orwell Prize for political blogging.

Was public interest served by outing Nightjack? I think not. I have no problem with anyone telling it like it is, or like they see it, and I wish more would do it, and if that needs to be under the cover of an anonymous blog, then so be it. It’s only by getting behind the serenely smiling mask of public relations we see a picture approaching anything like that of the real world. Policing, the NHS, Teaching, Mental Health Services – these are vital institutions, the very bedrock of our society and we get a very different impression of these things from the “off-record” front lines than we do from the “on-record” headlines.

Yes, I know there’s a delicate balance between blogging anonymously for honest means, to inform or enlighten, or blow the whistle, and doing it to deceive or to defame, or to suit one’s own dubious agenda. There was a popular and very touching blog some years ago apparently written by a young Lesbian woman living in Syria, a place where the persecution of gays is severe to say the least. It turned out though she was actually an American guy living in Scotland who’d simply made the whole thing up. I forget his reasons now, but this one left a bad taste and upset  lot of people. It also presents a good counter-argument for why all anonymous bloggers should crash and burn eventually.

Including me.

We all deceive. We all pick our noses while pretending to others we do not. We do not present the same face to the boss we present to our friends. And even among our friends that mask will change, so we become two faced, or even three or four faced. We can be more truthful to a stranger, more truthful to the unknown reader, than the reader we know, and who we must rub along with in real life. If I wrote as myself, for readers I know, I fear I would have very little to say to them – as little as I do in real life.

Give a man a mask though, said Wilde, and he will tell the truth.

Or at least in so far as he sees it.


Graeme out.

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fire engineMy morning commute was interrupted earlier this week by a lorry on fire. I saw the funnel of smoke from five miles away, a great ominous plume rising thousands of feet into the air. Fire Engines and police vehicles tore past me, and then the motorway slowed to a halt. My heart sank. I’d a feeling this was a big one, a terrible accident up ahead, and we wouldn’t be going anywhere for a long, long time. I switched the engine off, opened the window a crack, settled back and took a deep breath.

To the right of me was parked the great shiny white whale of a coach. The driver was a bulky fellow, shirt-sleeved, leaning forward a little over his wheel. His muscular forearms were perfectly relaxed, resting lightly on the rim, his fingers drooped, his posture empty, his expression impassive. This was a face used to staring out at an endless ribbon of road, in all weathers, day and night. He barely moved from that position until the traffic cleared. Some people are naturally meditative and calm. I admired his stillness, and adopted him as my guru for the morning.

Behind me, through the rear view mirror, I spied a Mercedes, all corporate black and shiny. It carried a lone occupant, a suited man, grey and of late middle years, apparently talking to himself. Now and then he’d shake his head in vehement disagreement, then drive home his point with sharp little nods and jabs of his fingers. I presume he was using one of those hands free things. It was barely eight fifteen but his business was already running at full tilt, and very important business it appeared too, at least judging by his tense expression. He was an eminent meetings man, no doubt, a finger-on-the-pulse type, dynamic, assertive – all the things I am not, and am consequently quick to notice in others.

To my left was parked a red Ford family saloon, a man and a woman, again middle aged. The woman was very still, the man by contrast very twitchy. His window opened half way and he lit up, releasing a great gasp of smoke. Neither spoke. She seemed withdrawn into a place of deep silence, her eyes inexpressive, resting in the middle distance while he appeared more quick-eyed, prowling and irritable. He was a caged and hungry lion, his patience sorely tested by the interruption of his routine – she a docile rabbit. I felt a tension between them – unspoken and probably imaginary on my part. I felt also a passing and quite peculiar sense of compassion for her – in all likelihood entirely misplaced – but interesting all the same.

In front was another Ford, a small, squat little Ka. Its occupant was a young woman who had the immediate urge to remove her jumper, then comb her hair, then check her face in the mirror, then put her jumper back on, then apply some lipstick, then slide her seat back and recline it, then pull it forward again, then check her ‘phone, then pull her jumper off again, then comb her hair a different way, then check in the mirror to see if she preferred the hair up or down. All this and we’d only been stationary for five minutes – any longer and she’d be getting out to have a walk around! She too lit a fag and a great gasp of smoke leaked from her window. She was indeed a terrible fidget, the little vehicle rocking impatiently on its springs as she wrestled gamely with her restlessness. I tried to remember if my own energy at her age had bucked so fiercely against such imprisonment. I know it had. It was only in my thirties I discovered the damage it was doing and began groping my way back to some sort of stillness.

Eventually, her window came right down and she stuck her head out. Her body followed. I was thinking now she might be trapped and was trying to escape, but then the ‘phone came up and in a couple of little flashes we got the “selfie”. I wondered at the caption. “Me stuck in traffic?” Heavens, love! A little dull?

The traffic began moving again after thirty minutes or so – not a severe delay by any means, and a sterling effort by the emergency services. I was lucky – those stuck at the tail end of it were delayed by a couple of hours, and the motorway was down to a single lane all day. The lorry was a terrible mess, the forward half of its cargo, some 20 tonnes of pet food, all gone and the cab burned to a shell. When the engines of these monsters overheat, they really overheat! The driver was unhurt, but it was a sobering scene all the same.

I carried with me into the day the stillness of the coach driver, but also the memory of the fidgety girl, and her diametrical lack of any stillness whatsoever. Of course for the Facebook generation there can be no such thing as inactivity, with even moments of forced inaction necessitating the reactive “action” of capture and comment. There seems nothing mindful in such a culture; it’s definitely a “look at me” kind of thing, more self absorbed than self reflective, and a little childish. I hesitate to criticise though, because I was young too, once, and remember being more painfully aware of myself with the world as my backdrop, trying to be seen as “cool” and likeable, as I made my first hesitant steps into manhood. Who’s to say I would not have been a Facebook fan, had they had it in the 70’s and 80’s, when, let’s face it, I was trying to attract girls?

Nowadays I think I look more at the world itself, in all its shades, perhaps seeking to catch glimpses of myself reflected in its sometimes quirky, sometimes mysterious traces, but without bothering much about the picture of myself within it. Is that true? Or do I delude myself? Is blogging not the more mindful selfie of the older generation? There I was, stuck in traffic, and here I am now, writing about it. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that’s about what I’ve written here. Perhaps I should have saved myself the self reflection, joined with the fidgety girl, and taken a selfie, just two faces in ten thousand, the pair of us held up by a lorry on fire.

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The_ScreamNo one knows who I am, not even friends and family. I have an introverted personality you see? I guard my deeper thoughts, sit upon the fence of life, and talk to others of nothing more controversial than the weather. Everything else I keep, well,…


I share my deeper thoughts here of course, and in my stories, but only under the veil of a pseudonym. As an audience you are equally anonymous and unseen. We are ships that pass in the night, and will never meet. I could be anyone. You might have passed me on the M61 this morning, or stood beside me in the chippey queue last night, but you’ll never know me. I’ve grown up this way, no one really knowing me. It used to make me feel strange, isolated, alien, but now, in the September of my life, I realise I prefer it.

I speculate a lot on things that are probably beyond my intellect. I dream too, and write a lot, but I fear those who know me will only take the piss, and pick up on my typos, so no one who knows me knows what I write, or even that I write, let alone that I write as Michael Graeme. I seem to find my balance in it, but still, sometimes I pause, like now, and ask: is it healthy, such a secret life?

Online social media encourages us to open up more of our lives, our thoughts, our indiscretions, even our downright stupidity to the scrutiny of others. But to one possessed of such a private, introspective nature, openness of this degree borders on obscenity.

Private. Why?

There’s a dignity in it, I suppose. Old fashioned word – dignity – and misunderstood. Some think it’s about putting on a show, walking around with a stick up your arse, but it’s not – quite the opposite. It’s about not putting on a show at all.

I suppose it’s a wonder I’ve been married as long as I have – 25 years next year – for to hear myself speak I would surely be better living alone, but the present Lady Graeme seems understanding, and is anyway possessed of her own quiet dignity, so we see eye to eye most of the time. But I sometimes wonder what it would be like to out myself – to live as Michael Graeme and say the things I say here, express my thoughts, my most capricious desires,…

In the open,…

I’ve made speculative forays in this direction, around the dinner table, but I find eyes glaze over and yawns are stifled. Others cut in with irrelevant asides, and then I hear the sound of my own voice, so I shut up. Better to leave the pontificating to Michael Graeme, and to you dear anonymous reader, as my patient listener, the pair of you preventing my whole self – the whole ambivalent bag of me – from going slowly mad.

Life is never simple; personas do not always complement one another – indeed they must by nature be contrasting. But fortunately, both this self and all my others seem at least capable of cooperating, so there’s a good chance I may yet survive my life.

I’m reminded of Stanley Kubrick’s final movie “Eye’s Wide Shut”, a tale of destructive sexual fantasy containing more full frontal female nudity than I think I’ve ever seen in any Holywood movie. To paraphrase the closing lines, the best we can hope for is that we survive our fantasies. But then so much of life is fantasy – even the bits we think are real – the thoughts we speak out loud, and those we hold closer to ourselves. But it is only through this, our vehicle of fantasy, imperfect though it might be, we can explore the nature of reality. And I suppose I’ve always viewed reality as more of a personal interpretation, than a consensus thing.

In maintaining a veil of privacy then perhaps we’re simply protecting others from our view of the world, a world we sense, rightly or wrongly, may not sit well with others. Are we right then to look to our own privacy? Is there greater integrity in dignity, are we being truer to ourselves? Or is it a deceit? Do we fail utterly to engage with life, when we make ourselves so private, no one even knows we’re there?

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While I was away on holiday last week a man died. He was out on his motorcycle, enjoying the air of a warm sunny morning, riding along quiet country lanes. He rounded a bend and struck a deer. There was nothing he could do. It was a million to one chance, shocking and upsetting for those who witnessed it and a terrible loss for the man’s family. But motorbikes are dangerous. When we ride them, we accept the risk in exchange for the sheer exhilaration of the experience. They’re such damned good fun, and the bigger the bike the better. This is not to lessen the tragedy of that incident of course.

Then, on my return home, I picked up the news of two deaths as a direct result of the use of “social media” which seems to be increasingly lethal – as lethal as motorcycling these days. The victims were young adults who took their own lives. In one instance the perpetrators were other young adults writing vile comments and hiding behind what they believed to be the anonymity of the internet, in the other it was criminals blackmailing a youth they’d lured into an online video indiscretion. This isn’t the first time it’s happened and it won’t be the last. Indeed the online world seems to engender at times a kind of “Lord of the Flies” savagery amongst our progeny. As a father of young adults I found the news particularly upsetting; two youngsters with the world ahead of them and a lifetime of potential for love, laughter and the sheer exuberance of life, persuaded that life was unbearable, persuaded that the on-line world by which they judged their own self worth, judged them to be of no worth at all.

I look up from my computer screen and I see a green lawn, flowers in a late-season riot of colour and above, a deep blue sky streaked with white cirrus. Leaves are in motion on distant trees, stirred by a summer breeze. A wind chime tinkles. It’s beautiful, gives me great joy – more joy than a million likes on my blog will ever do. I have no difficulty identifying it as the real world, as real life, no difficulty recognising that what goes on out there is where I really am, and that what goes on in here – while allowing me to give vent to the voices in my head – is not much of anything at all really, and certainly not worth pinning the whole of my self worth on. And if I have to die, then better by far a quiet country lane and a motorbike at full throttle than a spiteful troll lying in wait among my comments with a thoughtlessly sharp tongue and a twisted belief in his own grotesquely egotistical wit.

Social media is not real life. It sounds obvious, doesn’t it? Even clichéd, but I think adults are seriously underestimating the degree to which social media is becoming real life for our youngsters, and I don’t know where that’s taking us or what safety measures we need to implement to safeguard those who can be so deeply wounded by the vindictive, criminal or just plain thoughtless tongues of others that they will think of taking their own lives. I feel desperately sorry for the loss of ones so young and vulnerable, also ashamed to be a part of a media that seems incapable of policing the occasionally lethal savagery it also spawns.

So, join with me. Close down your machines. Do it now. Switch off your ‘phone. Put it in a drawer. Take a walk without it – seriously. Spend an hour in the real world – no dammit, take the whole day. Reconnect and be present in it.

There, remember what it feels like?

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