Thursday 3 February 2011

Notebook: responsibility and writing

Hello, the blog. It’s been a very strange few months. Things have been moving fast and, due to an auspicious combination of luck, class privilege, working twelve-hour days and being in the right place when things were happening, I’m now a journalist who people have heard of and stuff. I’ve had a big think about the consequences of that this week, and this is my post about it, which will probably come across as massively wanky and self-indulgent, particularly when so many really important things are happening in the world. I’m mostly writing this so I can get it all out and get it down and concentrate on those more important things. If it helps, you’ll get the basic sense of this post from just skipping to the penultimate paragraph now.

So, I'm experiencing a bit of vertigo. Nine months ago I had just over a thousand Twitter followers; now it’s nearly thirteen thousand. Nine months ago it was a huge nerve-wracking fiasco for me to talk on a regional radio driveshow; last month I was a panellist on Any Questions. Nine months ago I was a blogger in the process of trying to improve my writing in the hopes of someday, maybe, being a ‘proper’ commentator’; I’m now a columnist for the country’s foremost leftwing magazine, earning a living as a full-time comment-and-features journo, and have written opinion pieces for the Guardian, the Evening Standard, the Independent and others. I got to talk at the Fabian Society conference! People from the BBC sometimes ring me up and ask what I think about things!

I’d be an idiot to pretend it's not all very exciting. Even when it’s terrifying and intimidating, which is most of the time, I remember that it makes my parents proud, and that’s always something to be glad about, because frankly my mum and dad have put up with quite enough crap from me over the years. I’m not trying to bitch and whine: manifestly, I’ve been handed a pair of golden slippers, and it would be ugly and ungrateful to complain that they pinch.

It does raise issues, though – because despite what some people inevitably believe, my writing is not a self-promotion exercise. Far from it. I care passionately about the politics and the movements I am engaged with, and I am having to learn very fast, by trial and error, how I can best behave in order to be useful to those movements. I’m having to anticipate what I might do or say that might damage or cause divisions within the causes with which I am associated. There is, bluntly, a lot more I can do now to fuck stuff up.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not under some delusion of being ever so terribly famous – it's not like I get recognised in the street. I have been recognised on two separate occasions at the same bus stop in Bethnal Green, but since I estimate that about half the people who read my blogs and articles probably live within shouting distance of E9 and have a tendency to wander down the Old Ford Road at midnight on a Thursday eating chips, that’s no huge surprise. I do, however, have a more powerful platform than I’d ever anticipated - at least not, in my nuttiest dreams, until I was in my mid thirties - and that’s daunting.

It’s daunting, because I’m in my early twenties and still learning the rules. The whole way I relate to my work and to my friends on the internet (and most of my friends are on the internet!) needs to change, now. This week I’ve finally knuckled under and accepted that.

It means accepting a certain level of responsibility. It means no longer posting quite so many profanities and details of my favourite bedroom activities in my Facebook profile. It means absolute integrity, being more mature and less impulsive. It means that the ripple effects of things I write and say are no longer small and friendly: if I call a fellow activist a cunt, it’s not just playful snark, it’s a big deal. If I tweet momentary disillusion with a protest movement, it might actively dishearten a few hundred people involved, and that matters. The way I choose to tell a story - romantic and human-centred, like this week's New Statesman cover story on the student movement, or theoretical and dispassionate, as some would have preferred? - matters to people. And I can no longer behave as though it doesn't.

All of this also means receiving a great deal more criticism – some of it good and constructive, and a whole lot of it frightening, horrible, threatening and nasty. I now receive rape threats and death threats on a daily basis; I am the subject of various spiteful right-wing hate campaigns and have my very own following of Tory and libertarian trolls. Haters gonna hate, and that's par for the course; but I can no longer respond to every criticism individually, as I used to make a point of doing. I have to block some of this petty shit out, or I’d go barmy.

I guess what all of this is leading up to is: please bear with me. This stuff is all new and vertiginous, but I’m not making the same mistakes twice. The biggest mistake, the one I regret the most actually, is neglecting my share of the housework with all the work and chores and running around I've been doing, with the result that it now probably seems, to my lovely and long-suffering housemates, like I suddenly think I'm too good for the washing up.

From now on, it's time to properly accept that what I write matters to people, time to step up to the responsibility I've been handed and do a lot more to earn it. It's time to behave like a proper commentator, not a terrified kid- even if in my head I’m still a weird schoolgirl who hides in the bin reading comics and has panic attacks when people speak to her without warning.

I anticipate that soon the fuss will die down, things will be less frazzled and I’ll have space to take stock. Probably not for another few months, though, cause I have a book coming out and another one on the way and I’m doing more things on the telly. Meanwhile, I’m gradually learning how to handle all the pressure without being a total dickhead.

That’s about it, really. Thanks for reading, if you’ve made it this far – I appreciate that your time is limited and that there are several revolutions on at the moment. If I ever lose perspective, or start praising George Osborne, or just turn into a massive wanker, I’m counting on the people whose opinions I’ve always valued to take me to task. I've relied on the advice and support of several very good friends and some wise strangers to get me through these past few months, and it's been invaluable. You know who you are. Thank you, I love you. Solidarity.