Keeping Up Appearances

Like good writing, I love feedback because it has the power to move me. Much of the best feedback moves me in directions I don’t want to go. Recently I’ve been told that I’m (a) not very friendly, (b) take things too seriously and (c) resemble Hyacinth Bucket – a character in a British TV sitcom (Keeping Up Appearances) who’s such a ridiculous snob that she pronounces her name ‘Bouquet’. Aside from the indignity of feeling like I’d had a bucket (or Bouquet) of cold water thrown in my face, what it did do was wake me up to some new realities and with them, new possibilities.

It’s exactly this wake-up-and-smell-what-isn’t-coffee effect that I appreciate most about getting feedback from others. In telling me what they see, hear or feel they touch parts of me I’m not aware of and wake up other parts once lived but have fallen asleep through lack of blood supply. I find it’s helpful to be awake, even if it hurts. Feedback is the no-nonsense nurse that rips the tourniquet off of your gangrenous leg. It’s served its purpose, she tells you, stopped you bleeding to death so that you could carry on (going to work, feeding the children, paying the bills etc). You probably won’t thank her while you’re squealing in pain but what is pain except another messenger asking for your attention?

This week I’ve been grappling with feedback on this blog. The most difficult thing for me to hear was that people had read what I had to say and cried. My first reaction – what’s to cry about? My second, I didn’t do it on purpose! In other words, denial swiftly followed by defence. So much for loving feedback!

A good friend of mine once said that the best thing to do with feedback is to look for the grain of truth in it. I find the first grain of truth when reading an interview with David Eggers, whose autobiographical work ‘A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius’ was nominated for a Pulitzer prize. He says he has no interest in writing another memoir, which he describes as cathartic but also as the proverbial opening up of a can of worms. I’m shocked to read that in Eggers opinion

‘There’s no such thing as closure. You open it up and you just get messy again.’

Or maybe I’m not shocked. Maybe I know this already. Maybe this is why, as far as autobiographical pieces go, I rarely read back over what I write. I do a little catharsis and quickly turn away. I let out a little blood and then tie that tourniquet back as quickly as I can. Which leads me to the next grain-of-truth. I hate being messy. I don’t like leakage.

Consequently, I should probably stop now, stop looking, stop writing and stop sharing in order that I can stop leaking. I should definitely stop blogging, which is, since it’s available for anyone to read, the worst possible kind of leakage. But I won’t. Can’t.

Ultimately what I see is that leakage is life and this is the way I do it best. In person I can come across as a Hyacinth Bucket, all neat and tidy and concerned with keeping up appearances. When I write, I’m raw and messy and concerned with the changing nature of truth. So from now on I’m issuing this blog with a health warning (Thanks D for that feedback) Caution. This blogger leaks. You may too.

ps If you’re wondering about the relevance of the photo in this post, there is none except that I enjoyed these two old men at a festival last year. Aside from that, It’s pure messy disguise.

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