It’s not about you, it’s me: on saying goodbye to Twitter

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What I want is to – to be present. That’s what I’ve learned. I want to strive for presence, now, here in my kitchen, with a Boeing overhead, and later at Merenna’s prize-giving as she collects her award. In my writing, as I listen to the music in a line and as my characters cause each other damage. In my reading, too. As a thirteen-year-old boy says ‘A light can go out in the heart’ or ‘It seemed you could never really know another person.’ To listen to the voice in that, and the tone and the syntax and the desolation. To hear it, feel it and imagine it, as one might the shock of recognition of Thomas putting his hand in the Lord’s side. I want that ‘deep down sense of things,’ to use Hopkins’ phrase. The wild cry of shame in Shim’s voice when he comes in late and when we aren’t even angry with him. The laughter and a candlelit table which is both transitory and timeless. To spot words in Shakespeare plays that you didn’t know he used – ‘botched’ for example. To watch weird dance and read good, meaty thrillers. To walk on Exmouth beach on bracing Saturday afternoons and be rugby tackled by your son and his friend. To use trains. To watch the light take leave of a room. To breathe, and then breathe again, but to notice it.

from Love for Now (Impress Books, 2012)

I wrote the passage above nine summers ago, in July 2006. Between February and June I had undergone a gruelling two-week cycle of chemotherapy ‘infusions’ for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. During this period a radiologist had misinterpreted my mid-way scan, declaring my tumour to be growing, not shrinking. Until this mistake was discovered, a period of nine days, my family and I had lived with the possibility that my treatment was not working and that I would not, as we say, ‘make it’. By July I had had a PET scan, an instrument which is able to detect cancerous activity at a much more fine-tuned level than those I had received previously. Still my doctors could not be sure how to proceed. Though they were more or less persuaded that I would recover, they still wanted to be sure of what they called ‘a good outcome’. To make doubly sure of this they scheduled me for six weeks’ of radiotherapy treatment, which began in August. I wrote the passage above just as this was becoming more of a certainty, albeit, at this stage, an unspoken one.

As I sat at my kitchen table I therefore felt entitled to a sense of being in limbo. I was neither acutely ill (my PET scan had detected ‘minimal’ cancerous activity), nor completely cured, a word I have still never heard a single doctor utter in my hearing.

Even I, with my cloth hearing and slowness of uptake, had begun to read the signals, spoken and silent, that I would probably live. Far from joy, however, I felt a gnawing sense of frustration that my life would still have some way to go before returning to normal. I believe I wrote out of that frustration, a homesickness of wanting to live a changed and better life, but not yet seeing the means by which I might achieve it.

I now know that ‘normal’ is not what I returned to, because the person I was after my cancer was not and could never be the same as the one before. What I longed for that July afternoon as I sat at my kitchen table may have been an illusion, therefore, but it was also a desire to hold on to, or in some cases renew acquaintance with ways of being and living which I felt I had let slip. (The thrillers and esoteric dance spring to mind particularly in this regard.) I hoped I would return to work, for example, but could never have anticipated how complex a process that would turn out to be. Major life events continue to happen whether I wish them or not: I have lost several friends; my children have now left home. The word ‘remission’ (literally ‘sending back’) seems curiously inept to describe this process, first because it is not one process, and second because it is not a sending back to who we were before. I now think of it as a sending forward to a new (and, in my case, shattered) self who barely knew what day of the week it was, let alone what he now wanted to be.

I will never stop being grateful to the therapist who listened as I pieced this together, and to my friends and family who did the same.

Cancer taught me (is still teaching me) that the negotiation and renegotiation of who I am and what I want out of life, while not always brought about by trauma, is often given new impetus by the same. Without going into the details, I have had cause to reappraise some things this summer. (If I am honest, and with the benefit of hindsight, I think this process began around a year ago.)  I think the outcome of this reflection may be visible to no one but myself (and perhaps the people nearest to me). I am speaking here of daily practices involving silence, reading, walking, praying, and writing: what my July 2006-self called ‘presence’ but which we might now know as ‘mindfulness’. And even that is not the full story.

One further outcome of this is my decision to leave Twitter. By which I mean I will not leave Twitter. For example, as soon as this post goes live on my website it will also appear on Twitter, via the marvels of technology. (I might be crazy, but I’m not stupid, as I think Dudley Moore once said.) You will still be able to find me (if you’re interested). The difference is I will not be there. There in the writing, the showing up and doing the writing, but not there in the sense of looking to see how the post is doing, counting the retweets and favourites, obsessing over my stats, then thanking everyone for their RTs. That is over for me, for now at least.

Also at an end is the endless (and I do think it is endless) scrolling to see who has said what about whom, from Jeremy Corbyn to the woeful form of Chelsea to Adrienne Rich and James Schuyler. And then RTing and favouriting them, as though I were doing the world a big favour, then looking to see how those went. That is over too, for now, at least.

I have even deleted the app from my phone. I can’t believe it.

Please do not get me wrong. Twitter has been the best kind of party for me. I have not been the victim of trolling or abuse, thank God. I have only been met with courtesy, kindness, humour and, in some quarters, lavish and gracious support. I think of the people I have met as friends. Thank you. You know who you are. All of which makes it harder to leave. For once the classic teenage break-up line is right: it’s not about you, it’s me. The person I am (or might be about to become, or have become…), if I do not make some changes. The person I want to be, the person I need to be, and the person I was sitting at my kitchen table (I am here right now) nine years ago, with cancer, longing for a chance to be present and alive in the moment, and realising it took having cancer for a chance to find it.

 

 

27 comments

  1. Kate Bowles

    Anthony

    This is such an important and timely reflection. I think we’re all trying to understand how the good in networks—care, the kindness of strangers, the sense of a wider horizon to our thoughts—can be balanced with the extremes of network fatigue that are almost a kind of nausea at the looping repetitions of hyperconnectedness. It’s not even distraction, but a kind of bone tiredness as it all scrolls endlessly by, with us in it.

    Matthew Crawford has a great book out on attention and presence, and writes about how machine gambling is designed to take advantage of players’ neurological will to “play to extinction” (yes, this is a thing). I think Twitter induces a little of this sensation, the wish to just take it to zero, somehow, and turn away.

    Your blog is really important to me so I’m glad I’ll be able to find it. Enjoy your time.

    Kate

    Liked by 4 people

    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Kate
      Thanks so much for your kind words and support. They mean a great deal. As usual you have sent me to a book I knew nothing about, so thank you.
      Bone tiredness is what I often feel on a literal, post-chemo level. From nowhere I suddenly realise my pelvis is feeling squashed. My body’s way of saying slow down or taking a break, I guess. Well, now I have finally listened to my brain/mind saying the same thing.
      As ever with thanks and respect
      Anthony

      Like

  2. Josephine Corcoran

    Anthony, yes, this resonates deeply with me. Where you lead, others will follow. I’ve been experiencing what Kate Bowles calls ‘network fatigue’ and ‘bone tiredness’ (wow). As you know, I’m trying to limit my time online but perhaps I am just kidding myself. I admire your decision and I’m excited for where it will take you. All good wishes – J x

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Josephine
      Thanks so much for your support and understanding.
      You will be able to see how I cope (or not) because I am sure I have not finishing processing what this has done/is doing to me.
      I am excited, and scared.
      Which means it must be worthwhile.
      All best as ever
      Anthony

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Catherine Dixon

    Thank you for this. Selfishly still very glad your voice will reach through into my Twitter stream + stop me in my tracks (as it so often does) in the poetry + the thoughts you so honestly, generously + humbly share. Plenty certainly to ponder on in this post not least this ‘deep down sense of things’. Just beautiful. Strength to you!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Catherine
      and thank you so much for taking the time to say such kind things. I really appreciate it.
      The Hopkins is really worth checking out. Really mind blowing.
      All best to you as ever
      Anthony

      Like

  4. Rupert

    Well done Anthony! As someone who does no social media at all, I think you will find you have so much extra time to do what you want; and realise how irrelevant most of our commnts about each other [including this one] are!
    Love
    Rupert

    Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Hello Elizabeth
      thank you so much for letting me know. But I haven’t vanished completely.
      I’m just not wasting large parts of each day scrolling down the latest hashtag about Jeremy Corbyn or prizewinning writers.
      Much better for my mental health.
      As ever with good wishes and thanks
      Anthony

      Like

  5. john foggin

    Because I’ve never grasped what Twitter is about or for I have no handle on a dark night of the cyber-soul. On the other hand, I know what cancer (srictly speaking, cancers) is about and does, and why you would want to get a life unwasted. But that ‘scrolling’ stopped me good. Cos that’s my Facebook thing. I vow to ration myself.

    Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi John. Great to hear from you.
      Somewhere on this blog is a post called Being Very Funny On Twitter (in The Book series, I think).
      If I am honest I think I realised then that I was addicted. Also mentions FB.
      As ever with thanks
      A

      Like

    • Anthony Wilson

      Hello Jo
      Thank you so much for taking the time to say this: I appreciate it enormously.
      I do miss Twitter (five days and counting) but I also know that the space in my head already feels different. Lighter.
      And I love that.
      The posts still link each time they go live, so I haven’t gone completely.
      As ever with thanks
      Anthony

      Like

  6. ggmissm

    Thank you, Anthony, for this rich message… Time to do “other things” is a great blessing. It’s such a cliche but time is the one thing we can never get back. Spending it wisely is a happy choice. (And by “wisely,” I mean, of course, in whatever way brings you peace and/or joy.) San Diego love to you…
    Molly

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Tricia Lennie

    Dear Anthony, I have only discovered your posts recently but have loved reading your ‘best blogs’ over the summer. As someone who is also trying to find a way to live more ‘presently’ I absolutely understand your decision. I wish you everything you wish for yourself (and I think I know you well enough from just those few deeply honest blogs to trust you to make the right choices!) Best wishes, Tricia Lennie

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Liked by 2 people

    • Anthony Wilson

      Dear Tricia
      Many thanks indeed for your kind comment and support.
      I hope what I have said makes sense.
      I can already notice subtle differences in the texture of each day.
      With good wishes and happy reading
      Anthony

      Like

  8. Maria Taylor

    I’ll miss you Anthony. I have a lot to thank you for. You’ve introduced me to so many wonderful poems and also written so perceptively about illness and well, life. I’ll keep checking the blog. This summer I’ve been ‘internetting’ less. Scrolling through the comments, I wonder if there’s some strange synchronicity of feeling? Anyway, lots of love to you and yours and enjoy your time away from the networks.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi Maria.
      Lovely to hear from you and thanks for taking the time to comment.
      I haven’t completely disappeared! And Twitter is only as fun as you feel inside. And I wasn’t feeling fun any more. Just fried.
      Maybe others do feel the same…I don’t know. Maybe. Only time will tell.
      As ever with thanks and respect
      Anthony

      Like

  9. evelyneholingue

    Interesting to read. As always. But especially on this topic since several friends tried to convince me that I had to tweet since agents and editors do tweet. I had doubts and I’m glad I didn’t fall for it. As much as I love our new ways of communication I’m aso aware that time is limited and easily noticed that my productivity and quality of work improve when I limit my social media time. Thank you, Anthony, for your honest post.

    Liked by 1 person

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