That Was the Week that Was

This week has been quite a busy one blog-wise, perhaps because the weather has been absolutely freezing with snow nearly every day. So, have you been paying attention? The word of the week is ‘progsplaining’ – when TV programmes tell you what you already know because they’ve told you before! Question of the week: who the hell is Vivienne Tuffnell? Bot of the week: Chat GPT, acronym of the week is AITA and expression of the week au reservoir. So there you are – you’re all caught up. Have a good weekend.

Kirk out

Chatting about Chat

I realise the title sounds a bit Alan-Partridge but bear with me. I’ve been hearing a lot lately about ChatGPT but I didn’t know what it was. And now I do. I expect you’re way ahead of me here, but apparently ChatGPT (what does the GPT stand for, I wonder? I could look it up but I cba…) is fully abreast of this blog. Well, whaddayaknow? It gives a very nice and quite flattering precis, saying: ‘The blog contains a variety of posts on topics such as writing, poetry, books, personal reflections, and spirituality.’ (Note the Oxford comma there.) ‘The author seems to be a published author, and some of her posts contain links to her books or reviews of other books.’ It goes on to say that I feature creative writing and posts about mental health. It’s quite gratifying – or would be, if this were a real critic rather than a bot, but perhaps I should be flattered anyway. Maybe bots are harder to please? The only problem with this review is that ChatGPT is convinced that I’m Vivienne Tufnell. I’m pretty sure I’m not Vivienne Tuffnell – at least I wasn’t last time I looked – so what the hell? Who the hell is Vivienne Tuffnell? Perhaps I should adopt that as my pen name from now on…

An interesting typo that came up this morning was ‘wordcress’. I leave it to your imagination to figure that one out.

Kirk out

I don’t know where that coloured thing came from; it just happened. And now it’s gone, so you don’t know what I’m talking about.

It’s Nice to Have Comments

Though my followers are few, yet they are valuable and when someone comments (as they did yesterday) that it’s good to see me blogging again, I feel all warm and fuzzy and have to go for a lie down. Not so long ago I thought this blog was over. I thought I’d said everything I needed to say and had no more ideas. I didn’t think I’d miss it: for months I didn’t miss it, and then I did; sentences started to spring up in my mind and I’d think ‘I’ll put that on the blog’. Or I’d watch a film and think, ‘I must review that for the blog.’

One of the things that dispirited me was the number of followers. There used to be more but they dropped off when WordPress (in its infinite wisdom) decided that you could no longer link automatically to social media, and they never recovered – even though I can copy and paste the link myself. Something had broken and it wasn’t morning – and now my followers are so few that I feel like the organiser of some whacky fringe religion. The Judean Popular Front, perhaps. I am depressed by the awareness that in internet terms I am but an infinitesimal speck; yet I don’t know how to change this. I’ve tried all sorts of approaches but all they do is to make me seem a stranger to myself without garnering any more attention. Hey ho.

The more I see of Ben Wishaw the more I appreciate him. Not only has he captured perfectly the voice of Paddington bear, he played Norman Scott to the life in ‘A Very English Scandal’, the story of Jeremy Thorpe and his gay lover. I think there should be an embargo now on calling things ‘a very British’ or ‘a very English’ something-or-other as it’s been done to death and you can’t remember which very British thing is which – but will they listen? I doubt it. Anyway, it’s a very gripping and well-told story. Hugh Grant is terrific as Thorpe; Machiavellian with a crocodile smile as he lures Scott into an affair and then dumps him. If you haven’t seen it, it’s well worth a watch (and has resurfaced on BBC i-player.) The other thing I enjoyed recently was a webinar on ‘Being Mr Wickham.’ This is a one-man play starring Adrian Lukis who played Mr Wickham in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice. The play tells the story from Wickham’s point of view, asking the viewer, in my situation what would you do? It sounds very interesting and I wish I’d been able to see it.

Book-wise I’ve been reading ‘Bullshit Jobs’ which I mentioned yesterday – I may blog more about this another day – and re-reading ‘Miss Mapp’ by E F Benson. I’ve blogged about his books before

and they are an eternal delight. His style is so Dickensian and the way he describes the minutiae of life in terms of a Greek epic is delicious.

As a true Tillingite would say, au reservoir darlings – and I appreciate you all.

Kirk out

The Woman Who Almost Went to Bed for a Year

So there I am sitting in the cathedral and being mistaken for my sister as we both had the same hair (mine has grown purple since then) and wondering if I’d make it through the ordination. I wasn’t the one being ordained – though several people were apparently wondering if my sister had changed her mind and decided just to watch – so it shouldn’t have been much of an ordeal. But lately everything was an ordeal, even getting out of bed, and today I’d had not only to get out of bed but also drive for an hour along twisty country roads requiring split-second reflexes if a tractor should be coming the other way, find somewhere to park and discover where I was supposed to be sitting. Nothing was required of me for the next hour except to sit still and pay attention, but even that seemed a tall order. I didn’t know it then but I was on the borders of exhaustion, heading straight for Burnout Central.

What does burnout look like? And why was I burnt out? Let me count the reasons: I had problems at home, problems with work, money problems and a father-in-law who took up virtually all of my husband’s time so I couldn’t even talk about how exhausted I was. normally I’d have recharged the batteries with a holiday but the said money problems combined with lockdown meant that I hadn’t had a holiday for three years. I was completely drained, but every morning I heaved myself out of bed because the alternative (I felt) would be to stay there like Sue Townsend’s ‘Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year’ ( and I couldn’t allow myself to do that. I was going to be a successful writer; I must work every day or I’d be dead before I got there. So went the nagging voice in my head, morning after morning until the day came when I was physically incapable of getting out of bed.

I phoned the doctor, running the usual gauntlet of obstacles – finding the line engaged, getting the recorded message and hanging on – and on – until eventually I spoke to a GP. Joy! She was one of the good ones; dedicated, interested and thorough (I wonder where she is now.) I would have a range of blood tests; liver, kidneys, heart, lungs and thyroid function. I had a chest x-ray which was a saga in itself as the first one showed some false positives and I had to go back. ‘It’s your nipples,’ explained the nurse. ‘You’ll have to wear these.’ We both collapsed in giggles as she showed me how to tape curtain rings over the offending nipples: it gave me a laugh at least.

In this way two or three months went by. I was sleeping till ten or eleven in the morning; a dead, drowning sleep, dragging myself out of bed and spending most of the day sitting. I resisted watching TV but barely had the energy to do anything else. Walking to the bottom of the garden seemed a marathon: I felt I was drowning in fatigue. Going upstairs I had to climb two or three steps, then rest. It took me half an hour to eat a simple meal. I was putting on weight through lack of exercise, and one by one like failed lottery tickets my blood tests came back negative. This time the doctor called me:

‘Do you think the problem might be psychological?’

I reeled off my list of problems.

‘I’m surprised you’re still walking around,’ she said. ‘Do you think you’d benefit from some counselling?’

I thought I might, so she put me on the list and on that list I stayed. In the meantime I carried on plodding round the house, picking up books and putting them down and watching mindless TV which fell out of my brain the moment the credits rolled.

Of course I had to stop work. I write full time but now it was as much as I could do to write a couple of lines each day in my diary. I wound up the blog for ever and basically, I lounged. I lounged in the bedroom, I lounged in the sitting room; when it was warm enough I lounged in the garden and lamented all the weeding I had no energy to do. And I waited to reach the top of the list for counselling.

In the end I was able to access some funding and get private counselling, using someone recommended by a friend. My counsellor was brilliant and I made a lot of progress; I’ve made much more since, thanks to the techniques she gave me. I’ve learned to control negative thoughts and believe in myself more, and at the start of this year I felt more positive about being a successful writer than I have ever felt.

I started work again last September after a year off. My pattern of work is very different; I don’t push myself to do anything and I enjoy life more. When I tell people I’ve been off work for a year with burnout, most of them nod and sympathise. They know what that’s about.

So that’s it, that’s me up to date. I’m working on some short stories at the moment; before Christmas I sent off a poetry collection to a publisher and I’m 30,000 words into a novel. And who knows, I might even start writing blog posts again…

Kirk out

Goodbye in Slo-mo

It occurs to me that after all we’ve been through last night’s goodbye was a bit on the perfunctory side. After all, we’ve been together for 14 years, or some of us have, so we deserve a better send-off. In due course I shall be reminiscing about some of my favourite posts as well as touching on some low points: I shall give a mention to some of my most loyal followers and highlight some of the best comments. There may also be photos…

I’ve enjoyed my blogging journey despite the frustrations of working with WordPress. I’ve enjoyed the interactions with readers and the connections with other blogs. I’ve relished the challenge of finding something to write about nearly every day. I’ve posted some stories and poems and for the first couple of years this blog was the only outlet for my work.

And I’ve learned loads: how to structure a good post, how to write interestingly (I hope) on a variety of topics, how to deal with trolls and spammers and of course how to navigate some of the many obstacles WordPress throws in our path. But when the best ideas you can come up with are repeats of something you’ve already done, it’s time to move on, even though I may not have anything to move on to. I shall miss you all and I hope you’ll miss me but as the song says, it’s better to burn out than to fade away. There will be no jumping of sharks on this blog.

Please keep sending in your comments as I value them all. And as the travellers say, I’ll see you down the road…

Go well, friends

Kirk out

Interview, Anyone?

Beetleypete has an interesting post today where he’s interviewed by another blogger about his life on wordpress. Fair warning: I’ll be picking up this idea in the autumn and pouncing on my followers to interrogate them about their writing lives. In the meantime I’ll be asking myself some pretty searching questions:

How would I describe my blog? Hm, that’s a hard one. The go-to description is ‘a writer’s life’ and that’ll do for a start, but basically this blog goes in any direction it damn well pleases and I just tag along (pun intended, ho ho).

What is my writing process like and do I have any rituals? My process nowadays is that I just get to the computer and see what comes up. If nothing comes I’ll look at my diary, news headlines or Facebook for ideas and in the end something usually comes together. As for rituals, a cup of tea always helps.

What’s one of your blogging pet peeves? I guess it’s rudeness or trolling. Fortunately I haven’t had much of this in recent years but I’ve had a few in the past. They always get blocked – and interestingly when you look at their blogs they’ve produced little or no content. Actually that’s another pet peeve – people calling your writing ‘content’ (slaps wrist.)

What are some of your biggest aspirations? I’d like to have more followers and views than I do; then again if I did my whole life could be taken up with responding to comments. I guess as long as I’m enjoying it, that’s enough.

What are some of your biggest blogging mistakes? I’d have to say arguing with trolls. There are some people I should have blocked straight away.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of starting a blog? Do it. Write about what interests you, blog often and don’t go on too long. I aim for around 500 words, Beetleypete goes for 900 but more than a thousand is too much for most readers.

So that’s it. Pretty soon these and other questions will be dropping on your doormat. In the meantime, thanks to Beetleypete and to Confessions of a random blogger and I hope you don’t mind me swiping some of your ideas.

Kirk out

Content? Not Content. My Tips for Writing a Great Blog Post

Beetleypete has a useful post today reminding new bloggers that content is king. He’s right; if you’re going to write a blog post you want other people to read, you have to make it worth their while. There’s so much stuff vying for our attention that if you’re going to invite readers to yet another blog it has to be interesting. And how do you know what people are going to be interested in?

A while ago on this blog I did an experiment; I asked people to tell me what they liked and didn’t like. I didn’t get that many replies but they virtually all said ‘Carry on as usual.’ That was quite gratifying in a way because I’ve never been able to make this blog stick to just one subject; though the main theme is ‘a writer’s life’ it can go in any direction – politics, sport, philosophy, travel, decorating, gardening and probably a whole range of other topics I haven’t even thought of yet. So I think the first rule of being interesting is to be interested; to be engaged in what you write about. Otherwise, if you’re not interested how can you expect anyone else to be? To be engaged is not to be obsessive (as OH’s blog sometimes is; I know OH won’t mind me saying this because often zerothly’s posts are a ‘brain dump’) – you can’t expect all but a handful of people to follow you through nineteen long paragraphs full of technical detail. So the second rule is to know your audience. This is of course impossible because unless they like or comment, how do you know who is reading? What I do is to have in mind a sort of mish-mash of all the readers I know about plus an idea of someone of reasonable intelligence who is interested in ideas. I also write for friends and family who very often keep up with what I’m doing via these posts.

So; be interested, don’t ramble on for nineteen paragraphs, and know your audience; those are my top tips for producing great content. Except that I don’t like calling it ‘content’ – it sounds like toothpaste in a tube – so let’s just call it writing. Which after all is the point…

Have a great Wednesday. I am now waiting for the doctor to call.

Kirk out

Update: doctor called as I was posting. I now have to call back to arrange more blood tests.

Need Me! Feed Me!

Yes, it’s too true, I’ve started to worry about being needed and feeded – or fed and ned – for today I am 64. Yes, that’s right – sixty-bloody-four. When the Beatles wrote that song it must have seemed unimaginable to be that age. 64! God, that’s so OLD! Sadly half of them didn’t get to experience what 64 is like, but I have, and that is something to be celebrated. I’m still here! There were times when, for one reason or another, it looked as if I wouldn’t be but here I am, still moving and breathing and metabolising and all, and with much to be thankful for. So today I’m going to pause and just think about all the good things in my life. I will not be complaining about politics, I will not be mentioning the many faults of our glorious leader, I will not be moaning about the weather or the telly or anything.

First I shall consider the presents. I’m obviously very happy with the bike and since that was my main present I wasn’t expecting much else. But this morning OH came bearing the teapot below (I’ve cut down drastically on caffeine and was after a smaller teapot so I can still brew leaf tea); we’re not keen on the inscription but it’s one of those pots which sits inside the cup, which is neat. Apart from that my mother in law has spent far too much money on a Google play voucher which I shall spend on getting some music for my phone. I’ve had a fair few cards too and lots of birthday wishes on Facebook, which is nice.

So what can I say that’s positive about my life so far? In general I’m in good health, which is not a small consideration. Tiredness and hypothyroidism apart, I don’t have many health problems, partly because I’m still doing my yoga every day. I did have trouble sleeping last night which I think was due to the imminent sixty-fourness of it all; there’s something about that age that feels like a landmark. Maybe it’s the Beatles’ song, maybe it’s because it’s a multiple of 12 – I don’t know, but it seems like a significant age. So if the Beatles are right I should be digging the garden, doing the weeds and renting a cottage in the Isle of Wight (if it’s not too dear.) Actually yesterday OH and I went to B&Q and as we perused the compost and garden gates and pushed our trolley between aisles of bedding plants I said, ‘don’t you just feel like the typical retired couple, going to the garden centre on a weekday?’

What other positives are there? I’m still writing and getting better and better at it. I’m still doing this blog after 13 years. I’m still a Quaker which is a valuable part of my life. I’ve read loads of books this last year and even more when we do the thing-that-isn’t-Sabbath and turn off all devices. I’ve started learning Ancient Greek, I’ve re-read Beowulf and dipped into Anglo-Saxon, I’ve made the outfit I’m wearing (blouse and flared trousers) and I’ve knitted no fewer than three jumpers. I’ve taken up the piano-keyboard again and I’ve decorated various parts of the house.

So that’s all good.

What about the kind of person I’ve become? I was saying to OH the other day that I’m not a selfless person * and I stand by that; on the other hand I’ve become stronger and more assertive, more willing to stand my ground, less concerned with what people think. So that’s all good.

*OH made the mistake of agreeing with me

What else is there to say? I don’t know, except thanks for reading, liking and commenting and please keep it up.

Kirk out

My Last Troll

The majority of my readers are delightful people; they like and comment and follow and post interesting and insightful thoughts. If they disagree, they do so respectfully and politely. But every so often I get a troll. They often start off quite pleasantly, just making one or two points on which they differ from me, but as soon as I start engaging with them they become ruder and ruder until finally their posts consist of nothing but insults. The last one who did this was blocked, though not as soon as he ought to have been (so far I’m pretty sure they’ve all been male) though as I’ve just discovered in the trash folder, he carried on commenting and trying to get me to react for about a year.

Actually reading through all his comments I found myself in tears… of laughter. Like the death of Little Nell they were so ridiculous that I actually found them funny. I’m not going to repeat any of them but I think it’s real progress that they made me laugh instead of getting to me. Because that is the point: to get to you. It’s not about what the comments say, it’s about that person trying to get under your skin in any way they can; to undermine, to pour scorn and loathing and vitriol and keep pouring it until (they hope) you just give up.

It’s my theory (and OH’s) that trolls are generally people with impossibly high standards. I always check out my followers and invariably these trolls don’t have a blog or website of their own with any content on it at all, because they’re afraid to put themselves out there. And because they’re afraid they envy anyone who has the guts to do this; and because they envy us they try to bring us down.

In the early days of this blog I was terrified that as soon as I expressed an opinion I would get a load of criticism from all sides. But that never happened, and over time I’ve learned to handle people disagreeing (so long as they do so respectfully). What took me longer to learn was zero tolerance of rudeness; I put up with it for far too long. All of which links to…

Mental health. This was going to be my main topic but I went off on one. Thankfully it is much more acceptable to talk about mental health nowadays than it was in my youth; although when people say ‘I’ve got mental health’ I always have to stop myself from saying ‘congratulations’ and asking how they managed it. What they mean, of course, is ‘I’ve got mental health problems’ and that is an area I know something about. I know depression and I know psychosis, and right now – whether it’s the hot weather or just a burst of energy or something else – I can feel psychosis nudging at my elbow. What does it feel like? I’ve learned to recognise the signs now, so it doesn’t generally sweep over me. This can be terrifying. The best way I can explain it is like an old-fashioned swirly ‘dissolve’ on TV which they used to indicate a dream or the passing of time (I don’t know what it’s called so I can’t find any videos of it.) Anyway, it feels like that; you’re just walking along and suddenly everything goes swirly and you lose hold on reality. It’s very frightening. I think mental health is very relevant to trolls; I’m not saying they’re all mentally ill but a healthy person does not spend their time trying to bring others down. I’m tempted to write a poem now in the style of Browning’s My Last Duchess:

That’s my last troll up there on the wall

looking as if he were alive…

Kirk out

A Weirdness of Posts

The weirdest thing happened with that last post; I wrote it yesterday as an afterthought and scheduled it for the afternoon. But before the scheduled hour I got a notification that someone had ‘liked’ it. That’s odd, I thought, perhaps I put the wrong time in. That’s easily done, what with wordpress being in a different time zone and galaxy. So I went to check – and it wasn’t there. Not only that, it failed to publish at the scheduled hour, as I realised this morning. OK, I thought, I’ll just publish it now. So I went to make some changes, clicked to publish but it only offered me ‘update’. Clearly wordpress thinks this post is up, I deduced. I checked again. No, not there. Where was my post???? It must be stuck in blogging limbo! So in the end I had to return to draft (‘are you sure you want to unpublish this post?’ wordpress said hectoringly. Yes, because IT HASN’T BEEN PUBLISHED!!!) Anyway, I unpublished and republished – or unrepublished – and here we are. But that was all very mysterious. And it’s not the first time either.

Kirk out