on the beauty of scaffolding and the privacy of buildings

For anyone who’s been following, this summer has been a fallow one for this blog.

Not for me – it’s actually been the most fruitful summer I’ve had in years – but for the blogger-me it’s been barren.

I was scratching my head and thinking why I have lost the inclination to post on here and that set me pondering on the whole phenomena of blogging and the blogger. Perhaps it’s my current schooling in psychotherapy, perhaps a seven-year itch, but I felt the need to sit down and sort out my thoughts.

At the time of writing this, Technorati tracks 70 million blogs on line. And they’re clearly part of our long human desire to journal and keep diaries. Diaries have always been a way of marking our trace through time. Marcus Aurelius kept a journal To Myself in the 2nd century AD and the medieval Christian mystics used the tool to turn inward. But it was only in the 19th Century that people (mainly politicians) began to publish diaries. (Peyps and Evelyn never intended their work to be read publically.) This turn of the private to public is an interesting one.

Where the cult of celebrity is nothing new (Proust was singing the Grazia style praises of Parisian aristocrats a hundred years ago) the notion of full-disclosure is. There was no sense that one had to publicize everything. Even Marcus Aurelius polished his Greek prose.

For me the pertinant question becomes: why do I feel the need to let everyone know everything that is going on?

My therapist recently enlightened me into the fact that it’s OK to have secrets. Julia Cameron, of Artists Way fame, also sings praise of the ‘dark cave’ where no one need look.

I keep a journal and I keep a blog. There is a little flow from one to another but essentially the journal is a blood-and-guts spillage for private reference and the blog is a jewel case, full of beautiful things. Polished things. In fact, looking over my blog back catalogue it’s very lapidary. Which pleases me.

Recently when I have posted, I’ve favoured making things over writing. Posting pictures, creating artefacts seemed like a more honest way – or perhaps a less media-ated way of showing what’s going on inside my heart.

And yet on reflection I can see this is where the log-jam arises. Two tendencies get tangled here. Two operating principles are at work simultaneously and they’ve been tripping me up.

The two principles are: blog as full-disclosure and blog as lapidary presentation.

Blogging can be the perfect armature of what D.W.Winnicott called the ‘false self’, the people-pleasing part of us we hone and polish over our life. (I say ‘can be’ because there are of course blogs out there that open straight up to the unpolished heart of their creators). The ‘false self’ is the part of us we put out into the World to get us what we all need: approval, acceptance, admiration. And I think my changing attitude to this aspect of being human lies at the heart of my blog

I have come to realise that it’s OK to have a false self (in fact one of my therapeutic problems with that term is that it rather maligns the perfectly natural desire to impress and present). Human beings have a innate need to relate and to create. We like to dress up, make up, polish up.

Far from seeing this as somehow a ‘falsity’ I have come to appreciate it as a delicious necessity of being human. This blog and its polished, jewel-like surface is a perfect representation of that tendency. “Look at me, look how bright, shiny and interesting I am”.

This also pertains to the job of being a presenter. (I’ve blogged before about the felicitous nature of that title: as a TV journalist, I aim to be a presenter, as a mindfulness teacher I simply try to be presenter.) I have made peace with the fact that TV presenting is a form of polish and desire to create. And i have made peace with my innate human need for that. Presenters present things and this blog is an extension of that.

The other strand – full-disclosure – is, for me, less satisfying in the blog format. Because full disclosure is something that happens in intimacy and one cannot (I venture) be intimate with 70 million people.

And likewise with my job as a presenter: from within my strange profession, I have managed to separate out the profound human need for emotional nurturance. I see that it’s something that I will never get from 2.5 million TV viewers no matter how kindly inclined they are. The fact remains that I do not know them, cannot wake up with them in my bed, cannot sit under a duvet watching Gosford Park with them.

And that’s all well and good. The fact that peacocks have beautiful feathers is not negated by the fact they also fuck.


  1. May

    September 25, 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Oh, Alister,
    I was so glad to see that you had written a blog once more, but on reading it, became more and more afraid of the possible conclusion: “So I have decided to give it all up.” But no, thankfully, that is not what your thoughts lead to.

    I believe you have always presented two sides of yourself: a polished, aesthetic one and a more personal side in which ’emotion’ shone through strongly; but also the first seemed to say a lot about you.
    Even the suave presenter -following a set format, followed by all the others- left room to show who you yourself are. When I started seeing escape you were just one more rather handsome bloke, but your ‘being’ and the way you yourself felt at that stage in your life just kept peeping through in the shows and attracted me to you, that unknown, unfelt ‘man in the box’.

    At EXACTLY the time that you must have been publishing your blog this morning I was pottering about the house, singing a little ‘love song’ to you and realising it was of great, vital, importance to me to meet (my imagined) you in person one day. Now isn’t that strange…
    (not very polished my reply, I’m afraid – so be it.)

    Lovely presenter (présenter), just be yourself.

    I wish you all the best and thanks for your blog!
    A warm Dutch hug,

  2. CT

    October 4, 2010 at 9:47 pm

    On of my short list of comforting things is the knowledge that I can choose one way of being in the world now, but then another later. The world is in flux; I am in flux. This is right and proper, a matter of balance and proportion rather than vagary or inconsistency.

    Enjoy your time now. The rest will follow. It may look similar or different — no matter.

    Another hug, this from the frozen North of Canada.

  3. Annina

    January 29, 2011 at 12:24 am

    dear Alistair,
    my boyfriend Calle and me love to watch “escape to the country” and we always hope that you are the presenter of that evening’s show. most of the time Calle will be in the kitchen cooking (he cooks, i do dishes) and i will turn on the tv and if you are on the show i’m happy and yell over to him “it’s Alistair!”. 🙂
    we love your name and we think you are such a sweet person, of what we see of you in the show (i know that is limited but still).
    we like it when you have a good time with the couple of that evening’s show, when they are nice and when you have times where you laugh together. we also enjoy acting as if you can hear us and when you ask rethorical questions or state things, we answer you. 😉

    finally now i came to “google” you and found your blog, and specifically this post.
    it’s funny, i also keep a diary and have a blog but often feel the same way about my blog as you describe here, that i in one way want to share everything, but more and more i want to polish what i share, and also keep some things to myself. then i will have phases where i don’t post much at all.
    i’m glad you came to the conclusion that it is simply human to want to present nice things, i shall do the same and allow myself to post when i feel like it, and let this pressure i put on myself go.

    hugs from Sweden
    ~Annina and Calle

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