Monday, March 31, 2008

Six Word Biography

Diddums tagged me with this one at the weekend. The idea is to sum up your life in just six words. JackP also did this some weeks ago. So here's mine:
Reads, writes, ruminates; loves, laughs, alliterates.

Profound, huh? And yes, I do consider alliteration one of the six pillars of my identity - or should that be, one of the six principle pillars of my particular personality.

If you fancy having a go, consider yourself tagged.

I've also blogged about Incapacity Benefit reform over at BBC Ouch!.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Compared to what?

An odd week, much sleep, and this is just musing on several posts by other people.

First off, both Andrea M. and Sage have been writing about the way we compare ourselves with others when considering our own body image. Sage has written about the different aesthetic ideals she and her teenage daughter have selected, whilst Andrea, who ought to write a book about her Internet Dating experiences, has written about how we select the "relevant others" to whom we compare ourselves, concentrating on the game of sex and romance

Earlier in the month, Ruth wrote about a cosmetic surgery which corrected the appearance of people with Down Syndrome, such that they no longer looked like they had Down Syndrome. My reaction to this was one of stomach-churning disgust, mostly because this was done to a child who had no say in the matter. However, would it be fair to be disgusted if this was an adult making the choice? After all, I don't have Down Syndrome and people with Down Syndrome are one group whose faces provide a visual clue to an impairment which meets with a great deal of discrimination, mockery and fear. Obviously, I would much much rather live in a world where a person was not judged by the ...contours of their eyelids but the content of their character, but still.

Then there was the story of Natasha Wood, covered by both Wheelchair Dancer and Disability Bitch. Natasha Wood is a disabled actress who has had breast enlargements and lipo-suction and features in an appalling article on the BBC News website. Now Ms Wood didn't have anything done which disguised her impairment; she's still a wheelchair user, but apparently now more shapely than nature intended. The lady hasn't had anything done which other women haven't had done before her, and one presumes that her motives are much the same as those non-disabled women who make the same choices. In many ways, disability is of limited relevance to her story, except if that were acknowledged there would be no story. Instead there is an article, which ought to win some sort of prize, celebrating the fact that, as Wheelchair Dancer puts it,
"Ms. Wood is too weak to even lift "a pint of milk." And yet... couldn't you just hear it coming? So weak, so disabled, but even this woman wants a sexy body."
My response was pre-empted in the comments to WD's post, where Gaina said (a little more harshly than I would);
"Well, it's nice to see disabled women [...] can be equally as vacuous as able-bodied ones when it comes to image."
I suppose I do naively imagine that people with physical impairments would generally care less about the body beautiful. I don't imagine we care any less about presentation, but having had to come to terms with the physical limitations of our bodies, we might accept the our own aesthetic limitations a lot easier.

But our self-assessments of beauty are all about comparisons, as Andrea and Sage's posts point out. I've written about this before and the importance of our choice of object, most recently about The Grotesque Old Woman. However, I do wonder whether people with physical impairments use the same objects as others. Are we comparing ourselves to mainstream images of masculinity and femininity or are these ridiculous ideals just a little too ridiculous for us lot? Do we instead compare ourselves to other beautiful people with impairments?

I have no disfigurement, no twisted spine or spastic limb, but I am sat down almost all of the time. In aesthetic terms, sitting down seems a greater disadvantage than, for example, walking with a stick. However, I never think that (well I just did, but only just there) because if I were to compare myself to other disabled people, aesthetics simple wouldn't feature. I want the more comfortable, less restrictive impairment, not the prettier one.

I do envy other disabled people who are more beautiful than I am, but this is almost always muddled up with impairment. Wheelchair Dancer is a hot crip, but then I'd love to be able to self-propel a wheelchair, let alone dance as she does. Which isn't to compare our lots - I really don't mean to do that - point is that I can't really differentiate between wishing I looked like that and wishing I could do that.

And of course, I would like no impairment at all, so I could be more comfortable and have the capacity to do a great deal more with my time on Earth, not so that I could look better - although I undoubtedly would.

I imagine the rationale is similar for many of us, perhaps especially those of us with chronic pain and fatigue, progressive and life-threatening conditions and those of us who have experienced the ordeal of surgery in circumstances where there was no choice at all. The question of if I could change one thing about my body has a very different answer and vanity seems a preposterous indulgence.

And yet, as Wheelchair Dancer says;
"I have, like many other women and, in particular, women of difference, felt the pressure to change my body. There have been many times in my life when I have wished to be slimmer, whiter, less curvy, more curvy, less disabled, etc. In fact, I often think that the primary thing stopping from actually doing something surgically is the opinion of people around me."
Personally, I've never begun to contemplate surgery, but I've certainly felt wretched about some supposed flaw or other, despite everything I've learnt. So do we have an advantage in this? Or will the article about Natasha Wood's surgery inspire all number of disabled women to address their self-esteem issues with surgery?

On the subject of surgery of a far less frivolous nature, Sara has returned to blogging with a big kickass scar. Which is officially the best news since... when Alexander was born. Not the scar, but the fact that Sara no longer has a brain tumour.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I'm dreaming of a white...

It snowedNow I do tend to get disorientated with the passage of time, rarely certain what day of the week it is, or what time of day. So today, is today the one with the fluffy bunnies and spring flowers or is it the one with the holy and the ivy? Because we haven't had any snow this winter, not before today.

Happy Easter everyone! I'm out today with the family, I know I owe lots of e-mail and there are many blogposts I mean to comment on. This week I've either been not around or else here but not all there, as it were.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A working class hero is something to be

Here is a little poll. I shall put it at the top of the post so that you can participate in this vital research even if you can't be bothered to read the entire post. Thanks to Domino for reminding me about Pollhost.

What class do you identify yourself as belonging to?
Criminal Underclass
Working Class
Petit Borgeois
Middle Class
Upper Middle Class
Free polls from

When I was a child, I asked my Mum what social class we belonged to. She considered this for a moment and stated, quite seriously,

"I'd say we're basically a lower middle class family, who have fallen on hard times."

I have always been interested in the different ways that people identify themselves and class is a particularly weird area. Whilst I imagine most of us are rather uncertain on the matter, some people remain passionate about it - often people who wish to place themselves in a category where they don't really belong.

My parents hadn't fallen on hard times; they'd always been more or less hard-up, but not for lack of trying. Since then, my Dad has acquired a degree and taken management-level jobs and they're now very comfortable (not so it's worth kidnapping me or anything, but they're thinking of buying a dishwasher). They don't seem particularly chuffed with their hard-won success because they're now surrounded by people who had an easier ride and are thus better off than they are. However, they always aspired to be middle-class, even when Dad was unemployed and Mum was working in the hospital canteen.

Bonjour Monsieur Courbet by Gustave CourbetThen you meet those folks for whom working-class is a romantic identity that they have latched onto regardless of their life experience. Sometimes it's a family thing, sometimes to do with a place. Most often, I imagine, it is to do with an ethic, a perception of working-class morality, all about honesty, hard graft and a lack of pretension. Also it's the only cool class to be in; you can't be a middle-class rockstar.

Anyway, the BBC are having a White Season of television programmes about working-class white people. This whole enterprise seems highly suspicious to me for various reasons but despite a widely publicised survey in which they found that working class white people felt that they had no voice, nowhere on the BBC website, including a news article which asks Who are the white working-class? does it suggest exactly how this group of people have been defined for the purposes of that survey or this season of programmes. Working class white people undoubtedly exist, but nobody (at the BBC at least) is sure who they are. Only that they're defined by race and racism, apparently.

Throughout my lifetime, the old-fashioned class divisions have been largely redundant. Previously, there were a group of people who did predominantly manual, often unskilled and insecure work who were low paid, and another group of people who tended to work in offices or in the "professions", tended to be better educated and were better paid. Thus the working and middle class. All this has been long since been muddled up - more in some places and with some people than with others - but we don't have a new language to described genuine inequalities that still exist. It is no good saying, "We're all middle-class now," when, for example, there is a ten year difference in life-expectancy between Kensington and Glasgow.

A very obvious example I witnessed was with higher education. When I was eighteen, most of those of my peers I was in contact with aspired to go to university. However, if and how this happened depended on class. I shall label the two sides of the divide X and Y.

The X group got better A-Level results, for a kick off. Very few of the X group knew what they wanted to do with their lives, but most of them went to university at eighteen. The few exceptions who took a year out spent that year having an adventure; teaching English as a foreign language or traveling about the world trying to stop world hunger, AIDS and various conflicts in the world (I'm not sure any of my friends were wholly successful at this). Few of them had jobs during term time at university, but they did work during the summer; mostly clerical or research jobs, often things that had been arranged by their parents or family friends. Some of them even had time for voluntary work of various kinds.

For the Y group, not having a game plan was a major problem; parents were reluctant to help put them through university if they did not know exactly what they were doing it for. Most of them took a year out of education at eighteen to raise money for their studies, almost exclusively working in shops, fast-food restaurants and factories. All of them had term-time jobs to support their studies.

Some of the Y group dropped out of university altogether. None of the X group did. None of the Y group went further than graduation; no masters, no doctorates, no PGCEs.

It can't be all to do with money and even it was, that doesn't make it fair; the Y group inherited their situation, didn't and won't have the money-making opportunities that the X group enjoyed and their kids are likely to be in the same situation.

What's more, money wouldn't explain why I wasn't friends with anyone my age who had no interest in university? I had significantly friends older than myself who didn't go to university, but New Labour were already in power and wanting half of all eighteen year olds to go to university eventually. I believe that at the time it was only about a third, perhaps half of my generation who even stayed on for A-Levels. Most of my cousins didn't and my parents hadn't. But my parents were extremely aspirational, as I've said.

Anyway, I don't actually have an profound conclusions on this matter. I basically think we should own up to the fact that class does exist, but we need to find new language to talk about a far more nuanced state of affairs.

The best quote I can think of about class was by Jeremy Hardy (from memory, could be wrong); "When I was born, my parents lived on a council estate. But as soon as they'd named me Jeremy, we were forced to move."

Friday, March 14, 2008

The Goldfish Guide to Stress-Management #2

I did a post on the BBC Ouch Blog if anyone wants to read something completely different. Otherwise I shall press on with this.

A bit about feelings

Stress-management does not benefit a great deal from naval-gazing, but it can benefit from a little applied self-knowledge. One's reaction to any given situation is unique. It always amuses me when there are surveys in the news about the most stressful job - the last one suggested was librarian of all things - when whether or not work is stressful depends on much more than the job description. The thing that probably makes most difference to stress levels in the workplace are the people you have to work with and under. But then there's pay and conditions and all sorts of subtle stuff about the meaning or futility of what you have to do, the systems you're working with and up against.

All that, and then how you react to it. We all have strengths and weaknesses with this stuff; a person might be really run into the ground by her job in the library, but when she finds herself in a train crash, she is the person who calms everyone down and rallies her fellow passengers to rescue the wounded and escape the wreckage. People who end up really suffering with situational stress are not less hardy than anyone else; they merely found a situation which they are particularly ill-equipped for.

I have a close friend who has the same condition as me, to a worse degree, but who always seems to cope much better with the ups and downs. Initially, this made me feel very guilty; clearly, I was a wimp. Not only was I a duffer, but a completely pathetic one.

Later, this became quite useful; if my friend could cope, and I hadn't noticed the halo, then it wasn't necessarily for me to go through what I was going through every time I got a little worse. There must be reasons, other than my "weakness" that made it so difficult for me. Some of those reasons I managed to identify. Nothing to do with anything you might call damage, but stuff to do with lessons I had learnt and ideas I had about myself and my place in the world which became problematic in that situation. The obvious example being the importance of education; wouldn't have done me any harm at all had I not been sick, but as it was I thought that without education I was nothing, and I now found myself out of education.

Even having sorted this and other issues out, my friend still seems to cope better than I do. And I don't suppose anybody could go what we go through entirely unaffected by the sudden loss and uncertainty that relapse entails. But I cope much better than I did because I have a better understanding of how I tick and what knocks my pendulum off kilter.

Probably the most valuable piece of information to dig up is what you actually afraid of; stress is basically about an ongoing state of fear, after all. And the answer isn't about a scary event, but an emotional consequence of whatever events you are afraid of. Guilt, shame, loneliness, worthlessness; that sort of thing. Sometimes simply working out what your big fear is can be enough to realise it is unfounded.

So to more practical steps;


One cannot expect to live a hassel-free existence, so when one is in the thick of a crises, one needs to control those things which make life much more difficult. Everyone has slightly different triggers, but often people don't identify them or attempt to control them. This is all part of life, they think, stuff you have to just deal with. Not necessarily so.

Controlling triggers requires discipline; anything which involves patience when you are in a state of anxiety can be terrifically difficult. But it can be learnt and you can get better at it. Once again, it is all about the choices we make.

There are three sorts of stress triggers:

(a) Triggers you cannot avoid.

These are things you pretty much have to go through (having made certain choices). These cannot be avoided, but they can often be controlled. For example, one can take little holidays from the crisis. You can't pretend a problem doesn't exist, but you can leave dealing with that problem alone for a period of time. Have days when you don't talk about it, when you don't do any research, make any phonecalls, don't do anything which concerns the crisis. You can't choose not to think about it, but you can reason that there's no point thinking about it now because you're not going to act on any of those thoughts.

(b) Triggers that you can avoid and should avoid.

I think this is probably the set that folks think about the least. I would break this one into people and activities.

I have known so many adults who have someone, usually a parent, sometimes a sibling or even a friend who is a persistent source of stress in their life. They either dump all their troubles on your shoulders like it is all your doing, or they blunder into your troubles as if they are the world's authority on everything. No individual has to be endured, unless you brought them into the world yourself. If you don't want to dump them altogether, manage your contact with them and avoid it altogether when you're in crisis.

As for activities, well stressed-out people are often drawn to activities that wind them up. It's transference again; the wind-up is an emotional distraction, but it can only make things worse. For example, when I'm stressed-out I am drawn to news stories which I would positively avoid any other time; the sort of stuff that just outrages you, but which you can do nothing about. I know other people who are just spoiling for a fight when they are under stress and start an argument about the slightest thing. But none of this stuff is an effective vent and usually we feel worse than when we started.

It's like a big itch you feel compelled to scratch, but knowing that's exactly what's going on is a big step towards resisting the temptation.

(c) Triggers that you can avoid but shouldn't avoid.

The classic example is the person who, in tremendous debt, avoids looking at their credit card bills or doing their book-keeping. Or the couple who are barely talking in an attempt to avoid the ooh-nasty conversation they really ought to have.

The trick with this stuff is to approach the matter as coldly as possible. Set time aside as soon as possible and sort out the paperwork, have that conversation, go to the doctor about the funny lump and so on. Enlisting the assistance of a friend or family member can help a lot, because meeting up your ally involves a schedule you are committed to.

You can choose to run away from the problem, but hiding in the bushes in the hope it'll go away is generally a bad idea.

Over-stimulation and the empty hole.

An obvious remedy for stress is relaxation, but there is a good reason that folks struggle with this.

A person gets used to a certain level of external stimulation, such that when the world goes, the brain will get compensate for the "silence". The inability to sit quietly without falling asleep

If a child lives in an environment where there is always noise and flickering light from television or computer games, often with conversations competing with the technology, then their brains will get used to a very high level of external stimulation. This makes it nigh on impossible to sit in a classroom and pay attention to a teacher - as an individual they'd probably have a better chance if the teacher was competing with a television programme. However, they'd be even better off if their little brains weren't under so much strain in the first place.

Adults get like this too via a different route. When we're stressed, boredom is a real problem state. As soon as we're not occupied by some activity or other, all the worries and nonsense get aniggling. It becomes a constant battle to avoid boredom and to avoid silence. Stressed people frequently need to have the radio or television on in order to go to sleep. Unsurprisingly, such people then find themselves falling asleep in all manner of inappropriate places where stimulation levels have dropped below a certain point - like when you're having a conversation in a quiet room and the other person has paused for thought.

The only solution is to seriously work at reducing the levels of stimulation in our lives. Try to do only one thing at a time. Learn to spend time in silence, to be comfortable in that state. Set aside just five minutes in a day to sit and do nothing but watch the clock. Initially, the worries and nonsense will come in a wave, but if you just let it be, it probably won't last even the whole five minutes.

Another good tip is to set aside worry time; a period at the same time every day where you allow yourself to cogitate over all the things troubling you. When they come to mind elsewhere in the day, you don't simply try not to think of them, but you take note and schedule your concern for later in the day. Generally, by the time worry time comes around, most of the things that were bothering you earlier have either resolved themselves or seem insignificant.

I haven't quite finished, but I might post about something different next time in any case.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The Goldfish Guide to Stress-Management #1

It is a while since I've written more than one on the same subject; I hope you'll forgive the tedium. Here I am talking here about situational stress, and on the milder end of the scale. Not so much stress beyond the point where it is an illness which incapacitates and kills people. But it seems to me than just now, several of my kith and kin are struggling to enjoy life because situations are overwhelming them. Situations which, for the most part, ought to have limited bearing on their happiness. That's what this is about.

The Goldfish Guide to Stress-Management #1

Acknowledge the option of quitting.

The most stressful situation is one which you don't feel able to escape. Fortunately, most people are perfectly capable of escaping the source of their stress. It may take something radical, but it can almost always be done; one can walk away from any job, any course of education, any relationship - including those we were born into. One can move house, one can declare oneself bankrupt or dynamically adjust one's lifestyle. There is always something else which can be done other than facing the problem head-on. In a few cases, running away might actually be the best idea.

People are often in denial about this, which not only a denial of responsibility, it makes life very much more stressful than it needs to be. Of course, people who are stressed out usually feel that they have lots of responsibility on their shoulders, but rarely is anyone's life or happiness depending on their success. This is not to denigrate the troubles people have; if something is important to you, it is important to you. Your choices are legitimate, but entirely your own - that's the point.

Usually, a person does not want to quit whatever situation is causing them stress, but once you acknowledge that you have chosen the course you are on, you realise that you have a great deal of control. And generally, you'll feel better; this is about your own desire, rather than any sort of cosmic compulsion.

Suicide is, of course, the only way to completely escape chronic illness or impending death. People may find it a shocking subject, but making the positive choice to live is an enormous liberation; one is forced to become conscious of the reasons why one is carrying on, why one is prepared to endure what one must endure in order to live. And it helps one to start shaping one's life around that. Whilst white-bearded types may ponder why we are here in the first place, people with chronic illness frequently have a clear idea about why we are here now. Why we have chosen to be here and what that means about the sort of life we want to live.

No problem is too big to be run away from. Doesn't mean that you don't have a problem, but chances are it is a problem you have chosen to address.

Acknowledge stress as an independent problem.

Because stress arises from life events, the stress and its cause can become inexplicable in one's mind. Your current project is very stressful, but you know you'll feel much better when that's over so you carry on regardless. Unfortunately, stress inhibits your ability to work, making the project even more difficult. In the meantime, it makes you a more difficult person to be around so you start having relationship problems. You get more minor infections which last much longer than usual. And you spend more money than you can afford to. All of which, in turn, makes you very much more anxious and unhappy.

Stress is not the same as hard work or resilience or any such thing. Nor need it be a fact of life; difficulties and frustrations abound, but we don't have to be made miserable or unwell by them - not usually. Wherever possible, we need to separate stress out as a problem in itself.

I think this differentiation is particularly important when the source of stress is any kind of relationship trouble. If you are being subject to abuse the solution is almost certainly escape, but if you are merely locked in conflict with a loved-one or colleague, you really must be careful to differentiate the stress of the conflict and the relationship itself - even if the other party is acting unreasonably. If you get to feeling that another person is the source of all these emotions, then you're going to struggle to communicate with them at all and you're certainly going to struggle to be objective and constructive about the conflict that exists.

On which subject...

Beware the dangers of transference!

Stress arises from a significant problem which is not simply dealt with. Perhaps it can't be dealt with, and you have chosen to endure it. Or if it can be dealt with, it's going to take time and work. Sometimes, it seems so overwhelming that you don't want to have to think about it at all. So what we are inclined to do is shift the focus of our distress onto a more accessible target.

We've all had conversations with our friends and family where someone launches into an extraordinary tirade about what seems to be an extremely trivial matter; the service they received at the post office, a delayed journey, a broken-down washing machine or something like this. We let them rave on about their outrageous misfortune before we ask, just as soon as they've stopped for breath, "So what's really bothering you?"

This is a very dangerous way to deal with stress. The first issue is that you really don't need to look far to find things which will irritate you. Attempt to travel anywhere and you'll experience delays and crowds. Use man-made technology and sooner or later it will let you down in some way. Pick up a newspaper and you will be presented with a selection of stories designed to rattle your cage. Interact with other people and someone is bound to put a word wrong.

If you don't want to address an underlying problem, then you can quite happily accumulate all manner of extra grievances before the day is through. You can get angry with the world, or you can begin to feel that everything you touch turns to poo.

The second and more serious issue is that down this path, you can end up taking out your problems on other people. Some grumpiness is to be forgiven, but some people can become plain nasty under stress. You can end up causing a great deal of hurt if not permanent damage to your most treasured relationships. Whereas I would argue that a cornerstone of stress management is to

Look after those you love.

If you look after the people you love, they will generally look after you. Even if not a lot of looking after is required and even if there are no deep heart-to-heart conversations to be had on the matter, maintaining good relationships with your loved-ones is paramount. People very close to you are likely to be feeling pretty lousy on your behalf; it is far better to reach out to them than try to protect them with silence or avoid others altogether for fear of bringing them down. By all means avoid people who seem to make matters worse, but if you have a choice whether or not to face your troubles alone, don't.

Monday, March 10, 2008

It's either the English language or my mortal soul

This could be many things, including bad translation or interpretation on the part of the BBC, but the Vatican has issued seven modern Mortal Sins to sit beside the traditional sins of lust, gluttony, avarice, envy, pride, sloth and wrath. You know, to bring matters of eternity bang up to date.

According to the BBC news article, these new sins are suitably vague tenets about inflicting harm on the environment, genetics and drug-trafficking and;

"Morally debatable experiments."

Eh? How can you possibly have a mortal sin, as it one that guarantees a one-way ticket to the land of red-hot pokers, with a phrase like morally debatable in it? We are truly done-for. Not just me, but everybody really. I've seen Internet messageboards, I'm not sure that there's anything which someone can't strike up a moral debate about. And since none of us have ever done exactly what we're doing under these exact circumstances before, I tend to regard life as experimental by its very nature.

Oh well, at least we won't get cold.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Painted ladies

I'm still struggling to write at the moment. If only I'd have a three day stretch where my energy levels were similar - or even three separate days, at regular intervals, which were roughly the same. Anyway, whilst I've not been writing, I have been continuing with this portrait-painting.

My GranI have painted my two grandmothers and don't really know how to feel about these paintings. Here is my maternal grandmother. The thing is, this is the most cheerful expression I could coax her into (she does smile sometimes, but this was her photoface, as it were). Also, this is someone who laments the ravages of time on her looks and is of a generally sensitive disposition, so I guess I also approached the subject more nervously. It does look like my Gran, but it isn't a particularly nice picture.

Granny KellyThis is the famous Granny Kelly. I'm much happier with this painting, but don't really know what it was that I did which makes this so much better than the other one. Or perhaps that's entirely my perception? I don't know.

Shortly, I'm hoping to get fed up of painting portraits at the same time as having the mental capacity to go back to my book. If not then I will probably have painted every living blood relative by Christmas.

I have also been sorting out shopping bags. Plastic-bags are an enormous red-herring in discussions of waste and recycling. For every plastic bag you use at the supermarket, you are probably purchasing two or three times as much waste plastic wrapped around your food and household products. Of course excessive packaging provides advertising space, so the financially interested parties concentrate on plastic bags, and this of course places the ultimate onus on the consumer.

A cotton bag with colourful rectangles on itA cotton bag with leaves painted on itHowever, these is an alternative you can design yourself; the cotton bags cost 90p each from Fred Aldous and the fabric paint was free on account of my friend Vic giving me all of hers (but you can also get fabric paint from Aldous). Really, I should not use fabric paint at all because I spill every fluid that comes within three feet of me and, well, it dyes stuff. So there are always drops and smudges where there weren't supposed to be. But they fold up real small and fit into a pocket. Not a jeans pocket, but a decent sized pocket you might have on your coat.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

I thought I was someone else, someone good.

or A long-winded explanation of why I'm not on Facebook.

A person can not be all things to all people, but we make an effort to be different things to different people. This starts as a child when you adopt a different persona - usually a different dialect - when in the company of your peers to the one you use in the company of your parents, with further adjustments made for teachers, siblings, grandparents and so on. It's not that you are pretending to be someone you are not (although you might do that as well). Instead you are, quite genuinely, more than one person.

I thoroughly reject the idea of a single authentic self. Not that all selves are equal. Some are extremely hard work, others so uncomfortable it hardly seems worth the effort and still others can be terribly treacherous. However, it strikes me as a cornerstone of self-knowledge to recognise this stuff. We need to know who we are before we can be who we want to be, as it were. And nobody is the same individual in the office as in the bedroom as behind the wheel of a car. If they are, they might have a problem...

Anyone who has a written identity should know this. Anyone who writes informal letters or e-mails, who posts on forums and messageboards, and certainly anyone who keeps a blog or diary, even a private diary that nobody else gets to see.

I remember the shock of reading through my diaries age 12-14 years old. I recalled that I wrote down my inner thoughts and recorded events for no eyes but my own. I could remember shaming aspects of the diaries like my acne-maps, where I charted the progress of spots on my face like constellations. However, the whole style of my writing was mortifying. Even in that most private of universes, I was trying to be a particular sort of somebody. Cooler perhaps, or cleverer than I could carry off. And for whom?

Now when I blog, I know that I am writing as a particular sort of somebody. Difference is that I am she. It is not the same I or she as exists elsewhere; clearly I am more articulate here than I am in speech, there are certain subjects that I am more honest about here, and other subjects I feel able to talk about with more passion than I might elsewhere. That having said, the Goldfish is far less considerate to her audience than I am in real life, since you all have the freedom to come and go without offending any social norm; if I am sat beside you on a park bench, I'm not going to enter into a lecture about whatever happens to be on my mind today, since you might not feel able to leave if you're not interested.

One issue that has recently come up is that my Granny Kelly is getting on-line. Granny and I have a very close relationship and she knows me very well but in twenty-seven years, I have never sworn in her company, never said as much as a bloody or an arse. And of course I swear here, in writing, sometimes quite a bit. Without having lied to anyone, or pretended to be something that I'm not, I am still threatened by the clash of two identities. Of course, Granny might not be nearly so naive as I imagine, but I did struggle to write an entire post on cats without a single pussy joke.

Anyway, the issue with Facebook is the great variety of people who use it. There'd be no point being the Goldfish on Facebook because I am the Goldfish here. So I'd have to carve out yet another identity, one which is acceptable to family members on Facebook, various real friends (as in people who are really my friends as opposed to all the people who get called "friend" in these circumstances) as well as various people who know me somehow or did know me at some point. Given the variety of people who have talked about Facebook, this would be an all things to all people role - unless I had several accounts.

And that's of course the big problem with Facebook; if you use your real name and allow others to find you, then you don't only have to take into account a much greater variety of your acquaintances than you usually have to deal with, but also anyone who knows your name in any context and wishes to learn something about you. Both Jack and Andrea have recently written great posts on this issue. The issue isn't to do with personal security, but losing control of which version of you you wish to present.

That and the fact that I'm struggling to write one or two nonsense blogs a week and keep up with e-mail; last thing I need is another identity to uphold.

Cat People Survey Update
As of today, two thirds of you claim to be cat-people. Although I realise my survey had a major flaw (impurrfect, you might say), being placed at the bottom of a post all about cats, which some non-cat-people may not have bothered scrolling down. But still, it is rather odd.