It’s been very quiet in my corner of blogland lately and I’m trying not to let this have an impact on my blogging. I remember that the same thing happened last year, and the year before that, and that blogging has notable seasonal variations. Once the weather picks up lots of people have an outdoors life to attend to. Plus, a lot of my particular blogging friends are busy with life events; three have recently had babies (which I recall makes it hard even to get food in the fridge, let alone find time to blog), several others are busy with demanding courses or writing books or similar projects, and many more just don’t blog as regularly these days as they used to. That’s the problem with an elderly blog like this one, which had its fifth birthday at the start of the month. It’s my natural state of mind to stick with the people I know through thick and thin rather than exploring the blogworld to find new friends (although it’s a pleasure to make a new friend when it happens). And I admit I am a dreadful blog housekeeper, and often forget to add new links to my blogroll and then can’t remember who I wanted to visit. I really ought to embrace more outward movement, though, as I hate the feeling of talking to myself.
I could take a blogging break but I don’t want to, partly because my reading has been so interesting (to me) recently, and partly because I am finally feeling much better than I have done in years. A few weeks back I was writing about a period of intense anxiety I was experiencing. My doctor gave me some anti-anxiety medication that I was very unwilling to take, having a prejudice against pills because they deal only with symptoms rather than cause and often bring a lot of side effects. Well, I will have to reconsider that prejudice now, as finally taking a low dose of the medicine has been a revelation to me. I can’t get over how different life feels without the background of constant anxiety that threatens to shoot off into the stratosphere at any moment. One thing I notice particularly is how easy it is to be curious about certain problems and issues now. It strikes me as one of life’s great paradoxes that anxiety collects around the issues that we most need to explore, preventing us from getting anywhere near them.
I’ve long been intrigued as to why we persist in behaviours that do us no good, and thought patterns that reinforce damaging or unskilful beliefs. It’s clear to me now that anxiety wards us off change and experimentation; but why should that be? I guess a possible explanation is that change always looks bad to the lizard brain, where the oldest and fiercest beliefs accumulate; a primitive part of us thinks that anything is better that altering behaviours and responses that we have actually outgrown. And equally, as I know to my own cost, transition periods are just dreadful. You can read all the self-help advice you like about using them to test out new things and try on alternative attitudes like you were having a lovely rummage through the Harrods sale, but in reality, all one really feels is destabilized, adrift and bewildered.
I think it’s hard for us to accept quite how much we dislike change, because we need to hold onto it as an abstract ideal. Plus it’s hard to realise how much we have invested emotionally, and often morally, in our settled patterns. So, for instance, let’s take something completely innocuous, like the way I read, which I notice has been changing despite my attempts to continue in the old routines. When I began blogging I was deeply involved in teaching literature to university students. I was set up to transform what I read into a series of lessons – about how literature creates its effects, about the development of literary history, about the interaction of readerly expectations with a story and about the creative interchange between life and its written equivalent. It was what I did, and I liked doing it. But it fell into a broader mental attitude that I held, which told me I had to find value and meaning in everything I did, and then make something out of that to give to other people. It wasn’t a choice so much as a moral compulsion. I felt I wasn’t earning my oxygen quota if I wasn’t producing something that other people could gain benefit from.
Dislodging this old attitude has been like loosing baby teeth. First it wobbled in its setting, and wobbled for a long, long time. Then it became loose and awkward and uncomfortable. Then it was held on by one last, painful nerve ending that neither I nor anyone else could really bear to look at. And then suddenly it was gone and I never noticed the end.
It’s been six years since I was teaching literature and I have no mental image of how it’s done. Although there was a moment, last term, when I did see a student for a literature supervision and I had the strangest sensation of recall that was bodily rather than mental; I shifted a gear somewhere inside and moved seamlessly into teaching mode. But I can only do that with a student in front of me. Now my reading is selfish and creative. I had this glorious afternoon last weekend when I was dipping into lots of different books. I read a fascinating short story by Maupassant, about a woman who was furious with her husband; he had managed his intense jealousy of her beauty by forcing her into a series of pregnancies, and so to gain her revenge she told him that one child was not his, but refused to tell him which. This story turned out to be a frame for a strange discussion between two characters in which one suggested that beauty and art were a kind of loophole in the universe, an unintended benefit in a world set up by god for animals. Then I read another short story from a brilliant collection by Michelle Latiolais, in which a woman was taken to a lap dancing club by her partner and was aware of what a different atmosphere there was when the men danced for the women; a tender, indulgent sort of atmosphere that made her think of the bonds of maternity. This story was also a frame for the report of a crime committed by an American woman who had drowned all five of her children in the bath. And then I went on to read about the trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D. H, Lawrence, and how the jury had to decide whether it would incite corrupt or depraved behaviour.
Oh I loved all this, all the sparky links between the stories and the sense of a theme developed and fragmented into all kinds of variations. I can’t tell you what it all meant, though, I can’t transform it into blogging fodder. And I feel bad about this, guilty in fact, and uncertain how best to talk about books. I still feel the book review + teaching point is my basic blogging unit, even though those posts get the least interest (due in part to what seems like a recent sensitivity about spoilers, I think). Perhaps it’s just as well if things are quiet around here until I get a better sense of what form a blog post most usefully takes because I do love conversation about books and what they do, and that’s really what I want my blogging to provide for me.