This Thing Called Modesty
I started blogging in 2008, mostly short, tentative, stuttering posts. In 2010ish, blessed with some free time away from work, I was encouraged to write, so I sat me down and began.
The lesson was swift and cruel. I found I had no idea how to write. Most of these trials and tribulations have already been chronicled right here in this blog. At the bottom, I will provide a link.
Thus, many different blogs, came to be, as I tried different voices and styles, using different avatars/pseudonyms to develop a style that suited me and one that I could use with ease. I expected to use social media to enhance my reach, and thus, receive feedback that would help guide me through the process. I wasn’t looking for fame or fortune, just a level of user feedback that I could use to develop.
I remain dissatisfied with the level of feedback, engagement and outcomes.
I’ve since narrowed the focus down to SloWord, for general purpose writing, and LeggieLefty, a relic of the past, who is focused on the game of cricket. The posts are no longer short, as some have complained….
I’ve always had a hard time processing praise. There, I said it. If you go back to my previous post about Curiosity, you will get an inkling of why and the thoughts running through my head. Why did they say that? What specifically did they like? Are they currying favour or simply trying to do the courteous thing?
A pattern I see is, praise, some of it very fulsome, does not translate into shares or word of mouth development. I see people sharing the work of their friends, but, there is a barrier of some sort that holds them back from sharing my work, the work they just praised.
It leaves me with even more questions to add to the ones above. Curiosity, they say killed the cat, and I think they were on to something, whoever they are. For my curiosity kills any joy from the praise.
And, so we come to the problem.
Yes, that thing which influential people in my life have told me I should tone down. Many, if not most, people do not understand humour (humor, if American), especially as a vehicle for telling tales, teaching lessons or making a point.
I’ve always believed that humour has innate cruelty built right into it. Self-deprecation, thus, became a way to counter that. If I’m making fun of myself, the story goes, then I’m being cruel only to myself. I’m opening up and laying bare my own frailties and foibles, if that’s the correct word.
I’m being, yep, you got it, modest.
Usually, at this point I would usually add a note about my terrible vocabulary – tested many times in those online tests and found wanting. Usually, this self-deprecation is met with scoffs. How can you say that when you write so well, they say.
And, they’re correct. I write fairly well. (!)
I often say that commas know me, and I know commas, and we are able, between us, to concoct sentences of length, breadth, width and complexity, with ease and comfort, even as we move smoothly between tangents of thought, weaving a complex picture of the thoughts running through my head, the motor impulses running through the muscles of my fingers on the keyboard and the end result that makes its way onto the essay, for the end result may not actually be what was going through my head.
MS Word, where I drafted this is complaining about that sentence there. It says “Long sentence (consider revising)”.
Somewhere in my youth or childhood, I must have considered self-deprecation the perfect solution to “a public display of modesty”. Along the way I joked about the fact that my middle initial is “B”. Many have asked what it stood for. I’ve steadfastly refused to divulge this not at all guarded secret. Instead, I told people it stood for “Blaise”, as in Modesty Blaise.
I’ve played up that “modesty” schtick, and it has, predictably, gone two ways. Those who know me, get the joke. Those who don’t know me, and those who don’t get humour and/or self-deprecation, think I’m a most immodest man, at worst, or a most peculiar man, at best.
Just last month, I sent the preface to the second (print) edition of my one and only book, the greatest and only play written in the west end, of my basement, to two different readers in two different countries. Both said the same thing….. I came across as apologising for inflicting the beastly thing on the populace. In other words, I was being modest or self-deprecatory and to a fault.
Actually, I had another person tell me that my published short stories lacked the scintillating prose of my work here at SloWord. I wonder, is my fiction that different from the writing here? Is this blog actually deterring people from attempting the fiction? See style above – I don’t think this modesty schtick as it plays in my head is working as intended.
Modesty (and self-deprecation) is why people post their written work, paintings, performing dance, singing or playing musical instruments with the words “Here’s my humble offering. Please excuse errors”.
I don’t do that. And that, my friends, is where, I think, they think that I’m not being modest. It is expected that I would offer that disclaimer. I never remember to.
Do you know what stops me from doing that?
Yep, you guessed it.
My “offerings” are usually essays, articles, travelogues or recipes. I “offer” them up into the world. The world can choose to ignore it, read it and then ignore it, like it, love it, hate it, adore it, share it with friends or, if they really, really hated it, with their enemies.
None of that, their reaction, their feelings or sensations, is in my control. I write, they react, or not.
One reader of my book said, I see that you’re not reacting to a review that has some criticism. They liked that I did not react.
It’s not for me to react. I read the review. It wasn’t particularly critical, it provided a feeling, from the reader’s perspective. I’ve had other reviews, most of them private, that said things to the effect, that if they had been the character they would not have reacted this way or that way and so they believed it to be a weak part of the story.
These are their feelings and feelings are never invalid. What you do after that is what counts. You are entitled to feel whatever it is you are feeling or felt. It’s pointless for me to sit down and explain myself. Something like “You are wrong in seeing the character that way because of the context of the story”, would be not just completely pointless, but an act of immodesty. I also read about authors who stalk their critics and try to bludgeon them to death, or have flaming rows over social media with them. That is utter, criminal immodesty.
The whole point of the exercise of art, and writing, or so I am led to believe, is one of the arts, is to generate a sensation in the receiver.
You may like modern art, I may like whatever the thing is that Monet was a proponent of. You make like endless rooms with paintings of the Madonna and Child, I may get restless after room 6, and will be definitely in need of fresh air by room 10.
Are you more right than me?
It is subjective. You view the thing, whatever the thing is, sculpture, painting, music, story, theatre (theater, if American), movie and you have your feelings. I may see the exact same thing, in the exact same light, or circumstance and have completely opposing feelings.
You’re neither right nor wrong. Neither am I.
And if you’ve stayed and read this far, you’re starting to get the essence of this thing “modesty”.
It’s a personal thing.
It is not about what clothes someone else wears (or not). (Reserving that for future use!)
It’s about boasting or bragging. You should know I do not condone boasting or bragging. I absolutely cannot tolerate that orange ketchup eating man from Florida and his “many people have come to me with tears in their eyes, big, burly men, saying ‘sir, you’re doing amazing things’”.
I also don’t care for gold coated toilets and faucets and general air of glitter. I dislike gold as a colour; I view it as crass and cheap. I dislike gold as an ornament and a precious metal for the hate, wars and cruelty it has unleashed over centuries.
See this chest piece? It is, in my opinion, ghastly and utterly disgusting.
You may not think so. And I will defend your right to waste your money in buying it and wearing it to the next botox infested gala, air kissing everyone, and making self-deprecatory noises. “Oh, this old thing? I picked it up because I thought it was rather cute”.
(And not because I thought it would make you completely, rabidly envious….)
Which brings me back to self-deprecation and its contribution to modesty.
If you’re putting something out there for the public at large, just fucking put it out there! Let them judge! If you didn’t think it was good, you wouldn’t have put it out there, would you?
Humblebrag, I knew there was a word that was eluding me!! Yes, the humblebrag is a feeling that makes the receiver (me, at least) feel like rolling their eyes, raising their eyebrows, taking shallow breaths and clenching their teeth.
We’re on social media with a bunch of strangers. If you’re brave enough to put your creations up there, good for you! Well done! Take a cold shower, have a drink and congratulate yourself!
If the public pukes all over it, too bad! Try again.
If the public ignore it, meh, it was probably not that good. Try again.
If the public shows guarded optimism, you have cause to feel good. Try again.
If the public uproariously congratulates you and tells the world about your work, you’re on the right track! Try again!
If it makes you millions, send me a few, will ya? I absolutely must have that Porsche 911.
I’m re-writing the Preface to the Second Edition and it will likely become shamelessly flamboyant to match the sparkle of the writing on this website.
I did not get into the modesty of clothes thing, deliberately, because I’m a smart man, and I know, because I’m so intelligent, that it requires a separate post and only I shall be able to write it.
There you go.
If you got that last joke, please do comment and tell me. If you didn’t get it, ask someone, or write me a comment and I’ll let you into the secret!
Be modest, whatever the hell it means. I think it means no bragging. And everyone can see through your humble brag, so don’t bother!
And finally, I want you to know that SloWord is the greatest blog produced in my basement office. It carries shamelessly flamboyant prose, fabulous recipes, strangely entertaining travelogues and other tales, real and imagined.
You should read it. I recommend it for bedtime reading, because, some studies have shown it to be a remarkable cure for insomnia.