Where the hell I’ve been.

There is no such thing as a typical blog, just as there is no such thing as a typical book or a typical movie. There are all sorts of blogs out there. Photo blogs, rants, fashion blogs, food blogs, humour blogs, and on and on and on. Over the past few months, I have tried my hand at a couple of those. I’ve done a photo-post. I’ve done a fashion post. I’ve even tried my hand at a cooking-post. And now it’s time to try something new. A “Where the hell I’ve been” post.

You may not be able to find that heading under the list of topics on the wordpress reader, but, if you have spent any time checking out other blogs, you will recognise the genre immediately. It usually goes something like this:

“Wow! I hadn’t even realised it, but when I sat down to write this post, I realised that I haven’t posted anything for seven years. Sorry! I would have posted more often, but I set out to explore the Amazon on a unicycle, and a capybara ate my keyboard.”

Ponceby-Smythe! Thank god it's you! One of these blighters has stolen my iPad charger, and now they're all pretending not to speak English!

Ponceby-Smythe! Thank god it’s you! One of these blighters has stolen my iPad charger, and now they’re all pretending not to speak English!

There are many subgenres. There’s the “I’m too important” post:

“You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. I do apologise, but I’ve been a little too busy. Over and above editing the Scientific American, and my weekly opinion piece in the New York Times, I’ve also been heading up a special task-team set up to find a cure for left-handedness in Latvian albinos. (It’s not a disease, I know, but they are too poor to afford those special scissors, and I just want to help.) My bad.”

Yes, I know it's a little showy for a visit to Mcdonalds, but the humble serving-people there do so look forward to my visits!

Yes, I know it’s a little showy for a visit to Mcdonalds, but the humble serving-people there do so look forward to my visits!

There’s the “poor me”:

“First post in four months! Wow! I really had intended to post at least once every 37 minutes this year, but I twisted my ankle trying to kick a chair out from underneath a disabled retiree, and now it’s very hard for me to walk to my computer. And I’ve had a headache.”

It's just awful, Doctor. Every day he tells me he's working on a new post, but all he's managed in the last two weeks is a tweet about fashion fails at the Oscars!

It’s just awful, Doctor. Every day he tells me he’s working on a new post, but all he’s managed in the last two weeks is a tweet about fashion fails at the Oscars!

And then there’s the “slightly bolshie writer’s block” crowd. In the past I have fitted fairly comfortably into this crowd. On the surface, their statement is fairly simple:
“I haven’t posted in a while. Sorry.”

But that’s not simple at all. Because what we mean is “Oh God! What is happening to me! I started this blog because I’m a writer! A Poet! An Artist! An unrecognised genius! And now I can’t even write my own name without a coffee break and a pep-talk from my therapist! I sit, and I sit, and I sit, staring at the empty screen, but the screen just sits and stares back at me, a single, all-seeing eye, the keyboard an endless, silent, many-toothed scream! Help me!”

I have no idea why we all feel this drive to apologise, but we do. For most of the people I see on this site, blogging is a hobby. We do it for free. For fun. For ourselves. We shouldn’t be sorry for not pursuing our hobby with enough dedication. You don’t catch stamp collectors taking out an ad in the classifieds explaining why they’ve taken a little break. Fishermen don’t phone all their friends to explain to them that they just haven’t been in the mood to get out on the water for a couple of weeks.

I think it has something to do with having an audience. The day you post your first piece, and see that someone else has looked at it, you become world famous. The day you get your first follower, you become a celebrity. And celebrity comes with a set of responsibilities.

Modesty may dictate that you turn to your partner and mumble “I’m just going to post something on my blog”, but secretly you hope they know you well enough to recognise the truth, that they know that you are really saying “I am sorry my love, but I must leave you now. I know that you will miss me, but my adoring public awaits. I have a follower in New Zealand, and thirty people read my last post. Thirty! These people are relying on me. I cannot let them down.”

So here goes. My first proper “Where the hell I’ve been” post:

I’m sorry (particularly to that guy in New Zealand-I know you had an earthquake recently, and it pains me to add to your misery) but I haven’t been posting very much recently. I do have a good excuse though.

Don’t worry; I’m not suddenly too important- the New York Times still isn’t returning my calls. My ankle is just fine, as is my head, and my keyboard remains relatively unsullied by giant, semi-aquatic rodents.

For the last fifteen years I have been a bookseller. It has been a wonderful thing to be. But the world has shifted, and, for me, it hasn’t of late been a wonderful thing to be any more. So now, as of Thursday last week, I am not one any more. I have resigned. I have found this process to be a little distracting.

Now it’s all over, and I’m back.

All around me, people are something. There are doctors, and lawyers, and cleaners, and cooks. There are swimming coaches, jewellers, shoe salesmen and chiropractors. And I am not anything.

Although maybe that’s not true. Maybe what I am right now is a blogger. Not the world’s most lucrative thing to be, but a thing no less. And I do like that it means something to that guy in New Zealand.

Any idea of writers block is more than taken care of for the foreseeable future. I can tell you about the magic of being a proper bookseller, and the tragedy of seeing that eroded. I can tell you what it’s like working for a company that values and trusts you, and I can tell you what it’s like working for one that holds you in contempt. I can tell you where I hope to be going, and where I’m actually going (I’m big enough and ugly enough to know that those are never the same thing.)

And, because proper blogging is always a two-way street, you can tell me things too. You can tell me where to find the most comfortable slippers. You can tell me how best to explain in my resume that I left my last job because I didn’t like the people I worked for any more. Mostly, you can tell me where to get some money without doing anything illegal.

But those are all issues for the future. Right now, I’m just writing a quick post. I have to. My adoring public awaits. I have a follower in New Zealand, and thirty people read my last post. Thirty! These people are relying on me. I cannot let them down.

The rest of the world can wait, but this guy, right here, is relying on me.

The rest of the world can wait, but this guy, right here, is relying on me.

83 thoughts on “Where the hell I’ve been.

  1. Please pardon all the typos in my comment further up the line. I am now officially in hate with touch-screen phones, the only connection I have with the outside world when I’m away at work. I nearly drove myself mad trying to correct it on my tiny screen, then it posted itself.

    On behalf of New Zealand, I welcome your wife to our fair isles. I hope she has a fabulous time. Tell her she MUST visit the South Island while she’s here. It’s so ridiculously beautiful it’s like walking through a postcard.

    Challenges she may like to take up: Eating Marmite (cruelly looks like chocolate but is actually a salt-laden concoction that makes most people that are not Kiwis screw up their faces upon the first mouthful), scoffing Pineapple Lumps – apparently what Kiwis received when we were late on Creation day when God was handing out the good stuff, mince/steak and cheese pies, bungy jumping, jet-boat riding (Hamilton Jets were invented here) and bush-walking. No snakes, no lions, no scorpions, no monkeys. It’s so safe here that you could do it in bare feet. Although, for an extra little added edge, she could try doing it in the Coromandel area where the dope growers lay cute little ambushes with things like razor wire and gintraps for the unwary…

    • 23thorns says:

      I think she’s visiting both islands. But she’s not the jet-boating sort.

      We have both Bovril and Marmite here. Bovril is for people who are good and honest and true. Marmite is for weirdos like Mrs 23thorns.

  2. disperser says:

    OK, you might (or might not) have noticed I “liked” 4 post in quick succession. Long posts. Well written and entertaining long post.

    How could I have read them all in such a short time? I didn’t. I read them over a few days, but delayed hitting “Like” until I caught up with your latest (they had been building in my in-box).

    Very nice writing, and wish you luck on your monetizing endeavor . . . What? Contribute? Me? . . . er . . . uhmm . . . ah . . . look at the time. My lunch is nearly over. Bye.

    • 23thorns says:

      I did! I thought you were just looking at the pictures. I used to read National Geographics like that.
      As for the money thing, it’s not looking like a viable economic alternative. I suppose I’ll just have to find myself a real job then.

      • disperser says:

        That’s why I’m working . . . it’s funny (not really), but one of my hobbies is photography. Lots of people tell me I should sell my photos, and make some money from them.

        My first question is “Do you want to buy one?”

        That’s where I got the “What? Me? . . . er . . . uhmm . . . ah . . . look at the time. My lunch is nearly over. Bye.” from.

        There are some who, through luck, hard work, and talent do manage to make money as such things. But it is not easy; in fact, it’s incredibly difficult, as there is more competition, from more diverse sources, and from more talented individuals, than ever before in the history of mankind. The odds are simply not good.

        Even then, authors, photographers, etc. who do manage to make some money often have to hold down a regular job.

        So, again . . . I wish you luck. And yes, I would look into that regular job thing.

  3. shaddicus says:

    For me, it’s the follower in Turkey who I feel I’m failing. The rest of you can all go to hell.

  4. Amanda White says:

    United Kingdom here. Full points! I don’t care when you blog, how often you blog…as long as you do blog. Thank you.

  5. argylesock says:

    How you make me laugh!

  6. Jim Morrison says:

    Canadian here, sorry about that. Thanks for identifying the extra blog genres, might have to use them as categories on my posts. Best wishes from Vancouver Island, Jim

  7. Jenn says:

    I see your apology and raise you a Canadian.

    Looking forward to the next posts – you know, as time permits. No pressure.

  8. narf77 says:

    So I have this to look forwards to?!!! What’s all this talk about N.Z. eh? Don’t forget your Aussie readers over the sea from N.Z. (there are at least 2 of us 😉 ). There is an entire Wikipedia entry (my go-to research site 😉 ) dedicated to “No Apologies” I think that none are in order. Extracting yourself from the toxicities of idiots should be seen as a victory along the lines of the Boer wars and any resulting unemployment should be worn as a bolshie badge of courage (until the bills start coming in when you can weep shamelessly into your sleeve whilst maintaining your fist of rage publically…). Time to “write” that book rather than sell it man! “Those who can…do…those who can’t…sell” call it a bastardisation of a mixed metaphor (I just did) but it contains a degree of truth. You have a natural born writing talent. Time to cross the terrifying line and go get some of those 30 followers to support you in your new career! I dare say I could run to a book…my friend Jess who reads your book on the mainland is a pretty soft touch as well…she would buy one and that guy from N.Z. can’t do anything BUT buy one after all the hullabaloo about how special he is! 😉 That’s 3 books you have already sold and you didn’t even know you were writing one! How can you fail? 😉 Welcome to the realms of the great unwashed unemployed and good luck avoiding the free childcare duty that you are just about to embark on 😉

    • Soft touch am I Fran? 😉 Soft touch or not, I’d buy one for sure. (soft touch indeed *humph*) and if you get your timing right, the Christmas rush will see your book propped up in the main display cabinet, front window and right beside the counter as the local writer who’s the New York Times best seller. 🙂 Never hurts to dream big. 😀 I agree though, get scribing and good luck with that childcare issue too.

    • 23thorns says:

      I’m sorry to focus on New Zealand guy, but it’s just that he has nothing else to do. You guys lead rich and full lives, every day an intricate dance with painful, toxic death at the hands of your continent’s curiously bloodthirsty wildlife.
      He has sheep.

      • *SNORK* Not sure whether the typical NZ jokes would be appropriate here… Waddaya think Fran? 😉

      • narf77 says:

        I guess when you put it like that…

      • *ahem!* We, the people of New Zealand, object to that remark. You’ve obviously never had to herd a bunch of sheep. Imagine, for instance, trying to a shoal of goldfish through the inside of a toilet roll while wearing oven mitts, the goldfish having the collective intelligence of a barrel full of steel bolts and the cunning of several male labradors wjho’ve just smelled a bitch on heat a block away, and you’ll come somewhere near understanding the skills required to manage the damned beasties, so please have a modicum of respect when referring to Nw Zealand sheep farmers whose job is not to be envied at the best of times.

      • 23thorns says:

        We have a sheep or two of our own. in fact half the country is covered in them. But I must confess never to have tried herding them.
        My wife is coming out to your fair isles next week, to meet her long-lost family. She will bring back an accurate and unbiased report, and put paid to any sheep-based prejudice in the 23thorns household.
        Until you knock us out of the next rugby world cup. Then we’re back to square one again!

  9. Henk says:

    Fort Lauderdale checking in. Good luck with the new chapter…

  10. Morgan Ross says:

    I agree with everyone above that your post is brilliant. You very accurately captured the different archetypes of the blogging ego. And you have my sincerest sympathies that you are no longer “something.” …Welcome to the nobody club.

  11. R says:

    You may not be a bookseller, but you’re still a genius!…and still unveil the heart, which I believe is what booksellers are supposed to do.

  12. javaj240 says:

    Oops…*happens, not appends.

  13. javaj240 says:

    You managed to work your apology for not posting into a very funny post.

    I don’t know that I feel a responsibility to my readers, as much as I feel a responsibility to those who write the blogs that I love to read. I have found that if I have no time to write then I have no time to read.

    I’m sorry that your life as a bookseller ended. It’s difficult to come to the end of those particular roads, even when we know it’s necessary. I am finding myself contemplating taking the same path, not because my industry has changed in any profound way, as yours sadly did, but because I am beginning to feel the physicality of what I do in some not so subtle ways. Whatever appends, I’m sure I’ll survive it. So will you.

    • 23thorns says:

      And now I am intrigued. What is it you do? Rodeo clown? Pole dancer? Cliff diver?
      Most of us have such sedentary working lives that it’s easy to forget that there are still people out there who make things, and carry things, and spend their days on their feet.

      • javaj240 says:

        I make things, carry things, and spend my days on my feet. I’m a bartender/server. Sadly I never had the chops to be a cliff diver, the body to be a pole dancer, or the affinity for livestock one would imagine would be necessary for a career in rodeo.

      • javaj240 says:

        Sadly I never had the chops to be a cliff diver, the body to be a pole dancer, or the affinity for livestock that one would imagine to be necessary for a career in rodeo.

        I make things, carry things, and spend my days on my feet. I’m a bartender and a server.

  14. ksashia says:

    Well, well, well. Now I don’t feel so bad. Here I am contemplating how to best dress the excuse of why I took a much needed respite. As usual, you took the words right out of my jumbled head. As much as I would like to think that my thoughts bring a bit of insight to others, their original purpose was to brush away the pollution of the world around me. Your followers heartily welcome you back and I personally look forward to more fantastic tales!

  15. Beautifully said. Apology accepted.

  16. You had better be sorry, and apology accepted. Welcome back.

    i think everyone has quit a job because they could not longer stand coworkers or management (or both), I know it is my number one reason to leave a job. When asked by potential employers why I left I usually take the “personal growth” line.

    • 23thorns says:

      Sadly I loved my coworkers. I was even mildly fond of management. All it took was a change at the very top, and it all went to hell. Or rather I started growing. Personally.

  17. No apologies. Just glad to have you back. And we Aussies do our fair share of apologising too except when it really counts and then it takes politicians decades to apologise for their deeds.

  18. I regret that I’m merely an amateur apologist – but I am pretty good at beating myself up about that which is another great and related trait.
    As well as saying sorry, you have to realise that other things that you didn’t know were your fault are, actually, your fault. “I’m sorry that the traffic was so bad”, or “I’m so sorry you had a dreadul day” – that sort of thing…
    I look forward to your next post, but apologies if I’m late reading it.

  19. It’s nice to have you back again, but sorry (oh, there I go using the s word) that the reason you have more time to blog is that you have resigned. It’s such a shame what’s been happening in the book selling world – the internet has a lot to answer for!

  20. Rhonda Shore says:

    Very entertaining post. You really were quite perceptive about the ‘sorry’ thing. It’s humbling (but also beneficial) to realize how unimportant we are to the rest of the world. I don’t have any ‘bon mots’ in my mind just now so I’ll just wish you well.

  21. lylekrahn says:

    I see 23thorns in the reader and already start to smile – this is going to be good. Your mockery of the apology hit all the best notes. I have read so many ridiculous apologies, I think it has cured me of any temptation. The highest praise I can give is that you made me laugh. I hope you find some employment that fits better. Being on the same journey, I have some sense of that. Blogging helps.

    • 23thorns says:

      Come over to the dark side, Lyle. Give in to the temptation. It is your patriotic duty. There was a fellow Canuck on here earlier claiming that you Canadians are even more apologetic than the English, and now you’re just making here look bad.

  22. warmginger says:

    You could call yourself a resigner.
    Best career advice I ever received was from my husband: “At some point you have to tell your boss to f**k off!”.
    Very good to have you back.

  23. dustandsoul says:

    Oh, and snaps for being a disillusioned bookseller.

  24. dustandsoul says:

    Oh dear… I just posted an entry that was both self-pitying and self-important. Does that mean I’ve “made it”? 😉 Either way, this was a brilliant post. Much enjoyed. Great writing. You rule. Etc.

  25. Nil says:

    Just what I needed after a week of fighting my computer…
    Or should I just say ‘Guilty as charged’? 😉

  26. Kami Tilby says:

    We few fans have missed your wit and wisdom and are looking forward, unapologetically, to reading your blog more often. I could use more laughter in my life. So write on! (Sorry for your limbo land of joblessness.)

  27. Mary Southon says:

    Here’s a follower from Round Rock, TX, USA (home of Dell Computers). I am retired so I understand the feeling of not “being” anything anymore. It’s a demoralizing little voice in the back of your head that makes you question your worth or even your right to suck air. (“And what do you do, dear? Retired? How quaint. I suppose you get to play with your computer and watch TV all day with no goals other than your daily shower. Aren’t you the lucky one?”). And apologies? Please. I was raised Irish Catholic Democrat. Apologies and guilt are the bread and butter in all my relationships, and after all that training, I can craft a phony apology that will fool anyone…not that I do, of course. And spot a bullshit apology? Ha! After 60+ years of Catholic guilt and 30 years of marriage to a narcissist, there’s no one better qualified that I. Your apology rang true.

    But I digress. The point of this is to let you know that you are read and appreciated and anticipated here in Texas. I missed you. Welcome back.

  28. Another British reader here. Sorry. Just generally, sorry. That is all.

  29. James Corner says:

    Us Brits have a group of people who say sorry for no other reason than someone asked them where they live! For some reason they spell it Surrey which has always puzzled me.

  30. Anne Camille says:

    In addition to that guy in NZ, there’s a woman in Indiana – boring flat land in Flyover, USA, too far north to be in the South, too far south to be in the Great Lakes region or a Chicago suburb, in a city in the midst of soybeans and genetically engineered corn — who follows you and started her morning by spurting coffee through her nose while reading this. I’ve left 2 or 3 jobs because I didn’t like the people. I have no advice regarding the CV. Most HR screeners, who tend to be a rather dour lot, seem to see themselves in comments like: “they were a$$ hats.”

  31. menomama3 says:

    You’re nothing short of brilliant. The bookseller’s loss is our gain – me and that guy in New Zealand and 28 others. And as for the apology thang we Canucks excel in this department too. Oops. Sorry, I didn’t mean to usurp you in the apology game.

  32. beverlyq says:

    Reading this put a smile on my face, so it’s never about how often you post or how often you don’t. It’s always about the smiling people, whether in New Zealand or Narnia. 🙂

  33. Maybe you’re not a bookseller, but you’re all right in my book! Oh God, did I just write that? Never mind. Glad you’re back, and now it’s legit to call yourself a “retired bookseller.” That has an aura of world-weary gentility, don’t you think?

  34. cateberlin says:

    Aha! Scientific American. I saw that. You know I’m right. Connect up with the guy at tylerdewitt.org. He did a great TedTalks on bad science writing. He wants it to stop. He thinks scientists can change it, but I think the industry could use your experience. And don’t go away like that anymore. With you gone, all that’s left is a web full of cats.

  35. Pia says:

    I “try” to remember what Huch MacLeod says: …neither should you fret too much about “writer’s block”…. If you have something to say, say it. If not, enjoy the silence while it lasts.

    • 23thorns says:

      I come from a large family who viewed conversation as a contact sport. The rule there was “if you have nothing to say, say it louder than everyone else. That way you can be the winner at talking.” Perhaps it’s time to return to my roots.

  36. Marcia says:

    Wait. What? No capybaras? No cures for the lefties? No twisted ankle or headache? Just UNEMPLOYMENT? What the hell kind of excuse is THAT? Over here, that’s a way of LIFE, you know!

    You need to MAN UP, buddy. Your public (all 30 of them) DEMAND it. And we deserve it. *going off muttering to self, now.* “If you can’t trust 23 Thorns to brighten your mornings, what can you trust in this sad, sad world? OH, woe is me, and alas and alack, and other pitiful lamentations!”

    Well…glad you are at least posting about why you aren’t posting, anyway. Welcome back!

    • 23thorns says:

      Be careful what you wish for. With all this time on my hands, by the end of the week I’ll be posting reviews of breakfast cereal, and pictures of the creatures I find trapped in the bath.

      • Marcia says:

        Ooooh, says she, rubbing hands together gleefully! I can’t WAIT. Can we skip the breakfast cereals and go straight to bath creatures? I’ll bet you have really interesting ones over there. Unless, of course, you just mean rubber duckies and the like, in which case, please go back to the breakfast cereal. But whatever you do, don’t be going off and leaving us to our own devices any more. We can’t be trusted!

  37. Well you can count on another follower over here in Godalming, UK, who’s relying on you to brighten up my morning cup of tea and slice of procrastination with a dose of very well written humour! My mother, mad ol’ hippy that she is, would tell you that your parting of ways with your erstwhile employer is the universe’s way of giving you more time to entertain your adoring public with your wit and unique world-view. One door closes… and all that.

  38. Joanna says:

    Bristol UK fan checking in! Are you sure you are not English, we are big on the apology thing too. Blog on, apologise, explain – do whatever takes your fancy – as the people (they know who they are) who lured me into blogging say, ‘it is your blog’ do what you want! It is a bonus that you make me laugh so much, so selfishly I am glad you might have more time to blog.

    • 23thorns says:

      I am a white, English-speaking South African. We are the world champions of being sorry. Quite apart from its normal “sorry I drove into your car while texting” meaning, we also say “sorry” instead of “I beg your pardon” when we don’t hear each other. We say “sorry” instead of “excuse me” when we want to get someones attention. We have even picked up the habit of saying “sorry” when someone else hurts themselves without our help.

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