Monday, August 15, 2011

A Quick Word... On Narcissism

I have a feeling that when I post a link to this blog on Facebook and Twitter, and people see its title, it's going to get a lot of hits. Why? Because I think all of us are secretly terrified we might be completely self-absorbed. In fact, the only thing more important to us than doing everything we can to make other people like us, is making sure that all these people are completely unaware that we are doing everything we can to make them like us.

It is a label that comes a bit near me, because I am a blogger. Blogging tends to have a reputation for being one of the favourite past-times of the hopelessly self-loving - I mean, even proper writers have at least an editor to read their stuff before they subject the world to it, right? The word 'blog' even sounds a little bit dirty. When I spoke at a University debate I was introduced alongside 'critics', 'academics' and 'writers' as a 'a student and a blogger', two words unlikely to make it into a revised edition of The Sound of Music's 'These are a few of my favourite things'.

People often ask me about this as if they are some kind of social profiler, trying to find the shattering influence that would drive a perfectly normal child over the edge, and turn him into a blogger. Recently, I've heard a couple of people say "Oh I could never... I mean, it would just seem so... narcissistic." And to be honest I haven't quite known what to say, because I don't like to see my self as obsessively vying for everyone's attention, and yet I suspect that perhaps I am.

I do have in my defence that I write this blog with no expectations other than to order my own thoughts, and hopefully provoke thoughts in others. There is no 'friends with Lyndon' quiz in which I ask you to list the reasons I gave a few years ago for you to watch Watchmen, or confirm exactly which Decemberists song is my favourite before I let you into the sanctum (not before you're in the ceremonial gown at least). There are some people I have never met in person who seem to read every post I write, and some of my closest friends haven't read any at all.

And yet would I write these posts if I was the only one who read them? Probably not. I am surprised by people who talk to me about my blog as if they think they have been reading my emails and must keep everything they've seen a secret. I try really hard to put these people at ease, because for better or worse, I love to be read, and I love the conversations that start with "So I saw this thing on your blog the other day..." These blogs aren't stolen from a shoebox under my bed, I chose to post them, and I'm delighted if you also chose to read them.

In response to charges of narcissism I say that Shakespeare is probably not the greatest writer who ever lived. Neither is your choice of best artist in any field - painting, music, cinema, photography... Undoubtedly there are geniuses all around the world who either refused to self-promote and never got started at all, or whose stunning works were created solely for themselves, and slipped into the bottom of a drawer to later be thrown away. But Shakespeare wanted his plays to be read, to be staged, and to be seen. And we still do what he demanded. All the greatest artists you can think of share one common feature - every single one of them had the audacity to think that you cared about what they had to say.

And the catch is - you did. We did. And sure, sometimes we don't. But great art, like great cooking, has to be made before you can expect anyone to eat it. Sometimes you even have to make it twice, and change the recipe before anyone will touch it. Or make desert instead of mains. Or stop cooking altogether and do origami napkins for the table.

Yes, it's narcissistic to expect anyone to read your writing. Just as it's narcissistic to expect anyone to eat your cooking, read your text messages, or look at your Twitter and Facebook updates. It's narcissistic to expect anyone to speak to you, listen to you, look at you, allow you to work for them, or - in working - to buy anything from you.

My advice to anyone who thinks that they want to do something, but who also thinks that they might lose face - or God forbid appear a narcissist - is firstly:

How different would your life be if you avoided every action which had positive consequences for you specifically and not really anyone else? How different would your life be if you avoided every action that could have ended badly?

And consequently, my second piece of advice, is be brave.

One of my friends has a mug on his desk that says What would you do if you knew you could not fail? I always joke that I would jump off a building and try to fly, which I suspect is a rubbish joke, and I only make it because I'm scared of giving the real answer, which is that I would write. I would write daringly and prolifically and because I couldn't fail, people would devour my books like they were starving for them.

And maybe that will never happen, because I can fail. But if dreaming it and working towards it (and I do consider blogging working towards it), and sometimes disregarding the opinions of other people in favour of it, make me a narcissist, then all I can say is pass me the mirror so that I can play with my hair. Because everything I've ever loved was made - somewhere - by a narcissist. And that's good enough for me.

As I was researching for this blog post, I was looking for a quote I was sure I had read somewhere that talked about how it was better to fall on your face then bend over backwards all your life. I couldn't find it. But I found this song by Greg Holden, which does the same thing, only perhaps better:

Photo credit - Damian Pollet

1 comment:

  1. Narcissism isn't my favourite word and I wish it was never created.
    He looked into a pool and saw his own reflection !
    Writing can be a reflection of some of our innermost thoughts.
    Sharing them with others is a generous gift, a selfless act and thats how I view the writer's contribution. There are no strings attached just pure genius. I love it.