Just one thing

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It all started with two remarks, one by a friend, the other by a stranger at work.

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The friend’s first. I’d been whingeing, as I do, about the tiniest possibility that I appeared not to have achieved the level of world domination that my boundless talent merited.

My friend looked at me. She said, ‘So if I Googled you looking for your books and your poems, how would I find them?’

‘You do know about them,’ I said.

‘But people don’t. Where will they look?’

‘But people should already know about them,’ I said.

‘But let’s say they didn’t. Where would they look?’

I could feel sweat starting to form on my top lip.

‘Well, there’s that Poetry Society page…somewhere, I think, in the education bit, actually I’m not sure where it is, anyway, the Poetry Society, there, that’s one page, er, and the Poetry Archive has something…I think…’

‘You don’t even know.’ She looked at me.

‘No. I don’t. I don’t even know.’

‘You could make your own website you know. It’s quite easy. And free, most of the time.’

‘But I don’t know how to.’

‘You could learn. You’re not stupid.’

‘But what would I say?’

‘You’ll think of something,’ she said.

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Second, the remark by a stranger.

I was at a thing. A work thing. A work thing about writing. Research writing. Academic writing. A thing about that.

The entertaining and lovely man speaking to us said lots of things, all of them useful, but nothing had the impact of this.

He said: ‘Everyone here who has a blog, put up your hand.’

There was a silence.

Everyone looked around at each other not putting their hand up. More silence. He watched us looking at each other.

‘So, if I’ve read this correctly,’ he said, ‘I am in the company of some of the best researchers in your field in the land, and not one of you thinks it necessary to share your ideas with the outside world.’

Someone cleared their throat. Then they said:  ‘But people read our work in journals. Isn’t that enough?’

The man smiled. ‘No. It’s not enough, no. Not any more. Four people, four people are reading your work in journals. But everyone reads the internet. You should all go out and start a blog this evening, sharing your work, giving it away, telling your stories. There is a teacher in India who wants to read it, but she isn’t going to find it if all you do is put in the British Journal of Blah. No offence to the British Journal of Blah.  You need to be both/and, not either/or.’ He smiled again.

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Those two conversations fundamentally changed the way I think about what I do and what I make.

Be found. And when you are found, give your work away. Don’t worry, you’ll think of something to say. (You’re not stupid.) Years later I read the same premise in The War of Art and The Icarus Deception. I thought: it must be true.

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Now that I have finally taken the advice of my friend and that smiling stranger I feel another confession is in order.

I have no idea what I am doing. None. Guesswork. All of it.

From how the widget thingys work to getting your Follow button in a promising place on the front page; from understanding my sharing buttons to what, exactly, is ‘About.me’: I am making it up as I go along.

This applies to the writing, too. ‘Oh, but it’s fine for you…’ −

NO. The plan is, there is no plan. (There certainly isn’t a Plan B, either.)

I didn’t know I was going to start writing posts beginning with ‘I am at a thing…’ until I began writing them. I didn’t plan to write about my cancer nearly eight years later. I didn’t even know Lifesaving Poems existed until I’d done about twenty of them.

The writing takes over (the poem always wins).

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When Seth Godin said ‘This might not work’, it was the inside of my head he was talking about. It might not.

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The point is, we all have a thing. As Jack Palance said to Billy Crystal in City Slickers: ‘One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean shit.’

Or, as Thomas Lux says:

You need to love the thing you do – birdhouse building,
painting tulips exclusively, whatever – and then
you do it
so consciously driven
by your unconscious
that the thing becomes a wedge
that splits a stone and between the halves
the wedge then grows, i.e., the thing
is solid but with a soul,
a life of its own. Inspiration, the donnée,

the gift, the bolt of fire
down the arm that makes the art?
Grow up! Give me, please, a break!
You make the thing because you love the thing
and you love the thing because someone else loved it
enough to make you love it.
And with that your heart like a tent peg pounded
toward the earth’s core.
And with that your heart on a beam burns
through the ionosphere.
And with that you go to work.

 

 

23 comments

  1. john foggin

    An inspiration to all of us who come late to the land of blog. And a Thomas Lux poem, too. And taking the whole business into the strange waters of the metablog. What riches. Thank you. (and for the stunning image, too)

    Like

  2. ksjwalsh

    I had a similar conversation at work a little while ago. It left me feeling quite ‘low in my boots’. I don’t have the confidence to get out there like that and I’m not even sure I want to. Unless it’s to do with sewing of course – that’s a different matter :-). Am I in the wrong job? X

    Like

  3. michael9murray

    A colleague asked me about blogging – she had to start one for a research module or something like that. She was very worried about putting herself on display/above the parapet. I realised something, and said to her – what you put up is only one small part of you. This appeased her, somehow.
    To know our self is protected, and not put out/up what is vulnerable.

    Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you!
      It is only a small part, yes. The part that is terrified but steps into the light anyway.
      It’s not like I have a choice, as someone once said.
      Always a pleasure to get your feedback

      Anthony

      Like

  4. Jean | DelightfulRepast.com

    Anthony, this is a really wonderful post. I’m sure everyone who reads it will be encouraged and motivated. To commenter Karen: Yes, by all means, make it about sewing! I’m here to tell you, if *I* can blog, anyone can. I don’t like “to get out there” as Karen put it or “put myself on display” as Michael’s colleague said; I’m very introverted. And I’m also a very low-tech kinda gal, just figuring it all out as I go along. I blog about cooking and food- and tea-related things. And I post just once a week–I have no idea how anyone can possibly manage to post every single day or several times a week. But as my husband always says, “Do what you can, not what you can’t.”

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you so much.
      Your husband’s advice is great.
      It is being on display, kind of, but it isn’t everything, it just looks that way. Like a poem in fact.
      With best wishes as ever
      Anthony

      Like

  5. Jazz Cookie

    Anthony, I’ll catch my breath in a minute and write something sensible, but at this moment, I’m just saying to myself “Yes, yes, yes,” and then “Wow, oh wow.” And then laughing because I’m in the same boat about not knowing what I’m doing. I have two blogs (I hate the word, so I call them sketches) and a website, currently not really active, and I bumble along, and yet what that fellow told you is true. How else would we have met each other? People do want to read and they write to tell us that and we end up with friends and kindred spirits all over the globe. What a joy! As for giving it away, I’m for that, too, and have an idea to get started this very day. Stay tuned! And I send all best to you.
    As ever,
    Your bumbling, tech-challenged but in the world friend…
    Molly

    Like

  6. Jazz Cookie

    And P.S. How could I forget to mention how terrific the Thomas Lux poem is…such images can send a person straight to the workbench. I’ll be there the rest of the day.
    Thanks for that one.
    M

    Like

  7. evelyneholingue

    I’m glad you started your blog, that you wrote your memoir about cancer and that you chose to start some of your posts with “I am at a thing.”
    Thank you for letting me find you because of your good writing.

    Like

  8. opsimathpoet

    I loved the Thomas Lux poem – always finding and linking to good things on your site, thank you. when I was teaching teacher trainers in Pakistan it was so hard for them to see what might make change and I used the analogy of the seed and the rock, how out of this comes breaking out and the great tree grows; I loved seeing them using this when they were training teachers – it’s a really relevant and true thing.

    Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Thank you so much. It sounds like we work in similar fields. The rock/seed analogy is bang on.
      It takes someone else to see what is going on inside ‘the other’, I often feel, and to call it out of them…
      Good wishes as ever
      Anthony

      Like

  9. Brian Ings

    You make the thing because you love the thing
    and you love the thing because someone else loved it
    enough to make you love it.

    Inspirational, AW, and the only motive, in my view, that justifies seeking recognition (or ‘validation’, as the Yanks put it) All else is vanity.Or Vanitas Vanitatum et Omnia Vanitas (as an older source has it) Love your blogs! One of these days…..

    Like

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