Voicing my dissatisfaction

This is one of those posts that I sometimes feel like writing but seldom do, partly because they seem unfeasibly self-obsessed, and partly because I have no idea what the conclusion will look like and I don’t often enjoy sailing out into uncharted musings. So this isn’t the long-promised final post about Creationism (about which I have, frankly, only just remembered); nor is it a post that is currently under construction with a Texan guest blogger on the pros and cons of private gun ownership: this is a post on the idea of finding one’s voice.

Which is, in itself, a fairly highbrow way of saying ‘figuring out who you want to sound like’. Actually, that’s only the first stage. The real trick is managing to sound like yourself. This, I think, I have more-or-less achieved, insofar as I am happy that if you hear me speaking in conversation and read this blog you would be able to see both as the product of the same linguistic stylings. My problem is, I sometimes wish I didn’t sound like me.

I know that on the list of world problems it’s at the bottom. To be honest, it’s near the bottom of the list of things that I personally ought to be concerned about in my own life too. Nevertheless, it niggles sometimes, like a nagging suspicion that perhaps you left the house with the tap still dripping – no big deal, but annoying all the same.

This is a question of style. (Yes, all former students of English, we’re going to try and pin down that notorious mythical beast). My style, I acknowledge, is fairly formal, sometimes quite arch, and with a tendency toward the mandarin (and the facetious). There’s a reason why I find the Screwtape Letters easy to imitate stylistically (though the theology requires a lot more thought!). There’s a reason why the Heckler articles in the Gaudie were readily identifiable as being written by me, and why the editor felt the need to issue a blanket ban on anyone else using the term ‘Dear Readers’. You can, I think, tell it’s me when I’m writing to you.

However, there are other people whose writing style appeals to me much more readily than my own. Neil Gaiman is a prime example of this. I love his blog. Perhaps I am not being fair to myself when I complain that my blogging is not of the same standard as that of a world-famous bestselling author. But this isn’t about quality, or not exactly: this is about (I now coin the word) addressmanship. The ability to relax and informally imply that you and the person to whom you are writing are actually having a private conversation that’s every bit as relaxed and happy as conversations between friends ought to be.

My favourite Twitterer, and for the same reason, is Nathan Fillion. He’s funny and warm and talks to you exactly like that good friend of yours who drops you a text to let you know they’ve found something cool that you will enjoy.

This kind of thing crops up in some fairly unexpected places. A while ago, a Google search on something entirely unrelated to anything salacious left me on the Tumblr blog of, as it subequently turned out, a porn actress. And in it she was funny and nice and when there then came a picture of her with no clothes on the disconnect was all the more pronounced, because you were forcibly reminded that this was a nice person, not merely a nice body, and I for one felt desperately uncomfortable. (This kind of thing is referred to on one of my favourite websites, TVtropes, as ‘Mood Whiplash‘.)

There are newspaper columnists whose columns I like for the same reason. Victoria Coren (Giles Coren’s sister and Alan Coren’s daughter) is a highly educated and witty individual whose columns – particularly the one in which she described her experience meeting the Archbishop of Canterbury – can, on occasion, make me laugh out loud and grab the person nearest to me and read out the funniest bits for their edification too.

This kind of personable blogging/tweeting has echoes closer to home too. Tom’s blog is an endless source of cheerful distraction; Jo’s blog (though more sporadic even than mine) makes me happy too.

I don’t want to make this into a moan or a whine or a whinge or a rant. (This is partly why I have been eager to accentuate the positive in the examples I’ve cited, and why other blogs/columns I enjoy a great deal – such as Charlie Brooker’s – aren’t mentioned above, as they rant far better than I do). I just wonder why it is the case that I’m not very good at being as cheerfully informal as the people I speak of above. If you have any ideas or suggestions, answers please on a postcard, or in the comments below.


Your moment of Zen for today:

A small, formal figure


About Gavin

I am a 32-year-old PhD student in Aberdeen, Scotland. I work in QC at an e-learning company. I'm originally Northern Irish, though I've lived here in Aberdeen for several years. I am, essentially, somebody who is very normal, yet to whom very strange things keep happening...
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8 Responses to Voicing my dissatisfaction

  1. Tom says:

    Thanks for the compliment mate. It’s funny I always hold your blog up as an example of the longer form writing I wish I did more of.

  2. Eruntane says:

    Thank you! I’m glad you enjoy my very intermittent posts. I’m not going to say I’ll try and write more of them because I know I won’t.

    In the spirit of ‘the grass is always greener’, though, I have to confess that I’d swap any ability I have to write a nice, chatty blog post for your ability to spin out a complex, multi-stranded plot and bring all the threads back together in a coherent fashion, with a lot of very cool dialogue along the way! I can also add that in reading your blog, I’ve never thought that anything was wanting.

    [PS. Are you coming on Saturday?]

  3. Kayden Kross says:

    Well you told me to check out the blog on tumblr, and I’m glad I did. Good stuff sir.

  4. Mike says:

    My experience with Kayden Kross very closely mirrored yours. I’m pointedly curious why hers is the only blog you mention that’s not linked, though. Her paragraph links to tvtropes instead? egads

    • starlingford says:

      Hi Mike. The simple reason for not linking to her blog was that in addition to its literary merits it also contains explicit material, which I wasn’t happy about connecting this blog to. Cheers, Gavin.

  5. The first of Orwell’s “four great motives for writing” was Sheer Egoism. I think that this stems from the most basic social force, the human need for validation. At the very least, people have a need to be told that we do in fact exist.

    As for the question of style and trying to work out what “voice” you have, I don’t necessarily see why you need to write with a pen dipped in Saccharin. Jaques in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” mentions that:
    “I can suck melancholy out of a song, as a weasel sucks eggs”

    Melancholy and Pragmatism are both qualities which the world needs. A lot of the world is looking for all of the sweetness they can get, and then cry foul when they don’t; pragmatists see the world closer to how it is and get closer to approaching truth.

    • starlingford says:

      Hi Andrew. Your first point reminds me of a line in the film ‘Shadowlands’, where Anthony Hopkins, as CS Lewis, is conducting a tutorial and he theorises that ‘we read to know we are not alone’. This is an invention of the scriptwriter, not (so far as I know) anything Lewis said, but it strikes me as true. We read to know we are not alone. And certain blogs are better are reminding us of that than others, because they address us and not some notional idea of what we ought to be, at least in the mind of the author.

      What any of this has to do with saccharine, I’m not at all sure. There is nothing saccharine about straightforwardness. There is nothing sickly about informality. There is nothing simpering about directness. Saccharine seems to me mostly a description of content, not style. The same argument applies to melancholia, and pragmatism. If you read this blog long enough you will see far more of those attributes than any saccharin-ity. (I imagine now a whole gallery of raised eyebrows amongst my friends as they consider me and saccharine in the same sentence).

      I am, however, curious. The words ‘warm’, ‘funny’, ‘nice’, ‘witty’ and ‘happy’ all appear in the blog above: ‘saccharine’, which bears no relation to any of them, is your own addition to the list, having nothing to do with what I was talking about. So I’m curious as to where it came from, and why?


  6. Pingback: The Fascination of What’s Difficult | Starlingford Chronicles

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