Yes, yes, we all know social media is a weird beast. Especially to those of us who lived in what some would feel were prehistoric times.
At this point it should be admitted that when I was a boy my mum and dad didn’t have a television or a phone. As in landline. Phones you held in your hand and took around with you and which, by and large, worked wherever you happened to be, were not to be found beyond the most laughable works of science-fiction. When I began in journalism, I knew men who wrote their copy in pencil on sheets of paper cut to the size of a thirty-word paragraph.
Further back my dad and I made a pilgrimage once a year to watch the FA Cup final on my uncle’s new-fangled 12-inch TV set with wooden doors. I thought it a bit rude that we never went to see him apart from on that day and we made awkward small-talk until three o’clock when Dad asked if we could see the match.The first time was 1957. Aston Villa beat Manchester United. The United keeper Ray Wood had his jaw broken by a shoulder charge. As the St John Ambulance people went about their task of carting him off the pitch, I remember a voice in the crowd shouting: “Get on with it!”
Broken bones, broken minds. It was a time when people didn’t make much of a fuss about stuff like that. Most families had somebody broken in one way or another by the war.
When my sister was dangerously ill, in order to call the ambulance my father had to walk a quarter of a mile to the telephone box and wait for someone else to finish their call.
Communication was slow and fragmented. We travelled by a complicated network of buses and trains (but there were lots of them and lots more stations). Nobody we knew, outside of the parson, had a car. When it was necessary to contact relatives, we wrote letters.
Aside from the duty of passing on his religious code, I don’t remember my father giving me advice. You knew by osmosis the basic rule: Get on with it, do your best and don’t bring trouble to the house.
When I was nine or ten, I took to climbing on to the roof of the blacksmith’s forge and, lying flat, watching him through a loose slate. It must have been winter because it was dark. When I shinned back down the iron drainpipe to the ground I was met by the local police constable’s boot landing squarely on my behind. He grabbed me by the ear and marched me off home, twisting it as we went. At the gate, he sent me in with a warning not to let him catch me doing that again. He knew if he’d banged on the front door and handed me over himself I’d have got far worse from my mother than he’d given me. An act of kindness, then. And advice that I didn’t need to be told.
To others now, that faraway time is a monochrome world. To me it’s full colour. You grow with it, alter a little as the world ‘develops’, but it is always there, sometimes positive and good, sometimes not.
Anyway, back to social media. And poetry. Or writing anyway. You only have to scan twitter to realise that so many people have become accustomed to feeling it’s their responsibility to dish out advice – all it takes is the trigger of someone asking for help to solve some linguistic conundrum or to end some kind of torment that writing is inflicting on them and a torrent of quasi-psychological or practical ‘help’ arrives, followed by a deluge of likes and retweets or shares.
Frankly, I find it disturbing.
Perhaps it’s genuinely kind. Or maybe just self-serving nonsense disguised as generosity. A kind of cesspit of supposed goodwill.
Partly I blame the proliferation of ‘how to write poetry’ courses, creative writing classes, and more broadly just the availability of contact that is a product of the technology we have available to us. We can interact with strangers so easily and so do because, well it seems so many of us are able to find some kind of validation through it.
Progress, I suppose, but I’m not cut out for this. I don’t need your validation and you, believe me, don’t need mine.
It may be inevitable that at some point anybody who has made some kind of living out of writing or at least has had some books published will be asked questions about this and that. And, in my case, for fear of seeming aloof and unpleasant, I have made an attempt to answer.
OK, I can ramble on about the craft of writing if necessary, but I don’t have the patience to be a teacher, nor the inclination to tell anyone else what to do. You find your own way and that’s about it.
But one thing – perhaps the only thing – that I have ever felt it’s useful to say is ‘Without having fun with it sometimes, writing is a pretty empty activity. Sure, for me as well as for most who write it’s about investigating, reflecting, untangling the mysterious experience of being on this planet but there are times when it’s necessary and, well the right thing to do, to open the pressure valves and enjoy yourself, let the music of the words loose, let yourself dance without a care for how the dance turns out’.
So that’s it, then. Now if anyone asks I can refer them to this blog. Job done. Thank you and goodbye.