Showing Off For Shy People

I am normally the kind of person who flinches when I see someone I know. I duck, hide, evade, avoid. I am – perhaps clinically – shy.

So why then this urge to write books, publish books, do interviews, publish blogs? What business has a pathologically secretive animal such as myself with the mechanics of mass-media self-exposure?

I suspect that it comes from birth order. I am the youngest of five, closely spaced, and always felt I needed to make a lot of noise to get noticed amongst the clamour. This has translated in adult life into the belief that no one is taking any notice of anything I do. I will be ridiculously rude to people, believing that they will simply not notice me doing so. I will ignore people, safe in the knowledge that they probably don’t remember meeting me in the first place. I once had a weekend of drug-fuelled passion with someone: I contacted him a day or two later, and was at pains to remind him who I was. He was insulted that I should assume he wouldn’t remember. I was surprised that he did. So it goes.

The pursuit of fame is, of course, the pursuit of notice. Status is just another way of saying that people take notice of you. Other people’s time becomes the currency: the more of it you can claim as yours, the more status you will have. In extreme cases, this will become something like a personality disorder, resulting in monsters such as Katie Price or Tony Blair, people whose only reason for existing, seemingly, is to be noticed, for something, anything. Big breasts, dodgy wars, the means are irrelevant: other people’s time must be captured and put into your status account. The minute people stop attending to you, you shrivel and die. More and more extreme measures are required to keep them attending.

For writers, though, it is an oddly double-edged situation, since a great many writers are, like me, essentially solitary cave-dwellers, occasionally peering out suspiciously at the busy world and vaguely wondering what all the noise might be about. For writers, the need for limpet-like seclusion is confounded by the need to have everyone in the world talking about nothing except your new book.

I was astonished when someone said they had read one of these blog entries. More than astonished: I felt invaded, pried-upon. It was the last thing I had thought would happen. Someone (David Mitchell possibly?) described a blog as ‘an invitation for strangers to be contemptuous of you’, and I had never imagined anyone would ever read it. I mean, why would you? You’re busy, surely?

Michel Foucault (no sniggering at the back please) says somewhere that ‘monster’ is derived from the French ‘monstrer’, (to show), the original meaning surviving in such words as ‘demonstrate’. But a shy monster? I think that’s what a lot of writers are. So speak softly when you next meet a writer at a signing: you wouldn’t want to rouse the beast residing unquietly in that evasive, timid breast.


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