The list of things at which I am completely crap is depressingly long. Budgeting, running, remembering, cooking, tending to plants, returning phonecalls, buying skirts, turning off hair straighteners, letting spots run their natural course, keeping a straight face when appropriate… and that’s even before I’ve got onto my notoriously appalling timekeeping. But right up there with my inability to be guided by an alarm clock or eat curry without spilling it down my front is my consistent failure to take a compliment gracefully.
‘You look pretty,’ said a visually-challenged girl in the office recently.
‘Eh? Nooo,’ I replied, as though she’d just asked whether I’d be staying late to clean the men’s toilets.
‘You do; that’s a nice dress,’ she said.
‘This?’ I said, tugging at its hem. ‘God, nah, it’s just ASOS. Sale. It was, like, seven quid or something. And it’s ancient, anyway. I’m sure it’s got a bloody great hole in the seam.’ That told her.
‘You do, though,’ she insisted. ‘And the clip in your hair. It’s pretty.’
‘It’s cheap,’ I corrected, before blowing upwards at my fringe. ‘But it’s keeping this mop out of my face, at least.’
She laughed artificially as I made a hasty exit into the loo.
‘Why,’ I thought, mid-wee, ‘couldn’t I just say “thank you, that’s kind” and move on? Why did I have to bring out the old compliment-refuting schtick that invariably makes me look like an awkward, ungrateful twonk?’
‘Because that would have meant that you agreed with her,’ reasoned the other voice in my head. (Not that there is another voice, of course. I meant ‘my conscience’, obviously. Yeah, conscience. Phew.)
‘But disagreeing with her is like suggesting that her opinion means nothing,’ replied Conscience #1.
‘But that’s exactly the point,’ said #2. ‘You disagree. So you can’t just let it go with a nod and a thanks.’ Conscience #2 often wins these debates.
‘How’s it going with you anyway, lovely?’ I said, forcing a more pleasant version of myself to appear as I passed her on the way back to my desk. It was the same logic that assumes that changing an uncomfortable subject erases all knowledge of the topic you were trying to move on from. Which, I suppose, is a bit like believing that your ex-boyfriends simply disappear into the ether the moment your relationship is over. But, hey, these are the disillusions I live by.
In a horrible departure from good post structure, I’m now going to switch subjects entirely (see what I did there?) and show you something I just came across by searching the word ‘compliment’ in this blog.
MONDAY, 18 AUGUST 2008
‘And speaking of my looks, despite always taking pride in my appearance, I’ve spent a lifetime thinking I've always looked just average. Maybe occasionally even good. An 'almost-would' in bloke terms (if hopefully not a '10-to-2-er'). And what a massive waste that is. Because it's not until you're wiping the hair off your pillow, off your sofa, out of your food (hell, even out of your microwave) and then looking in the mirror at a tired, balding woman you just do not recognise that you realise how good you've looked in the past, and never given yourself credit for it. So way down the line, when all of this is over, if you pay me a compliment on how I look, I'm damn well going to take it, thank you very much.’
Hm. Apparently I ought to add ‘coming good on promises’ to that list at the top there, as well.
All of this preamble, however, (and you know how I love a good preamble) brings me to a realisation I had this week: it ain’t just the way I look that I’m incapable of taking a compliment about – it’s the way I write, too.
I believe I’ve mentioned before just how much the comments on this blog mean to me. (And by ‘me’ of course, I mean my family and friends, too, all of whom are in on the how-many-comments-are-you-up-to game.) I check my email roughly twelve million times a day (including the instant I open my eyes) in the hope of finding a new comment to moderate, then sit back and smirk as I wait to see which of my parents will win the who-saw-it-first contest.
See, I tend to view comments – at least the comments on Alright Tit – as sort of special, internet-specific compliments which, happily, it isn’t necessary to awkwardly shoot down. The people delivering the remarks aren’t there when you read them, which makes comments unlike emails or texts in that the folk writing them aren’t then expecting an immediate reply. And so you press ‘publish’, smile to yourself and accept the comment with a grace you’d never be able to manage if the same person stopped you on the street to tell you how much they liked your shoes. No response necessary. No ‘but they were three quid from Primark’. No ‘but they’re not even real leather’. No uncomfortable shuffling and chiding yourself while you wee. Just ‘publish comment’, ‘your comment has been published’ and that’s it. Done.
But that doesn’t stop me from wanting to find a comeback to each one. (Once a gobby lass…) And so, as soon as I’ve published – or sometimes rejected, in the case of spam – each comment, I sit for a few minutes, drafting the perfect humbled, bashful, self-effacing response in my head. They very rarely ever get posted, of course, and so I instead leave them floating about in the atmosphere, keeping my fingers crossed that the recipient is a dab-hand at telepathy.
Last week was no different. I wrote a preamble-tastic post about the virtual friends I’ve ‘met’ through writing this blog, and how they’re as responsible for helping me through The Bullshit as anyone else. And, as usual, it got a lovely response in the comments section. Lovelier than usual, even. So lovely, in fact, that I didn’t just blush when I read them, but occasionally even cringed. Not because people were being overly gushing or sickly-sweet, but because – much like the ‘you look pretty’ comment – I simply couldn’t agree on one recurring opinion: that what I’m doing here, by writing about what’s going on in my life, somehow makes me an ‘inspiration’.
I’m embarrassed even typing that. I cringed as I hit that full stop, sinking my head right down into my shoulders like a hibernating turtle. Because all I’ve done – all I’m doing – on this blog is simply telling the truth about what’s going on. And, when you think about it, calling that ‘inspirational’ is like saying the same for a newsreader or a court judge or the speaking clock. To my mind, I’m no more inspirational now than I was as a tequila-tanked 16-year-old, dancing to the Spice Girls on a wine-bar table. (Which I never did, of course. That’s just poetic license. Ain’t that right, Conscience #2?) Getting The Bullshit didn’t make me inspirational. Not even coping with treatment for The Bullshit made me inspirational. The idealist in you might want to argue that point, but I’m very insistent that any one of you would have coped just the same. Like I said back around the time of the post I quoted above: ‘There is no ‘how’ here. I’m just coping. There is no good or bad way to do it. You’d cope too.’
I do appreciate, of course, that whether or not this blog is indeed an ‘inspiration’ (and yes, I am going to insist on repeatedly putting that in inverted commas) isn’t for me to judge. Because, I suppose, it’s possible to be inspired by anything. You can be inspired by nail varnish or Hollyoaks or a cheese sandwich. And, I guess, if the likes of the Dalai Lama or Mother Theresa or Richard Hammond (haha, gotcha) had the monopoly on inspiration, well, they wouldn’t be inspiring at all. (Speaking of which, I live in abject fear of turning into someone like Richard Hammond or Gail Porter or Heather Mills, notorious only because of a health condition. ‘He pisses me right off,’ I once said to Tills. ‘People only know him because of that sodding accident. And now here he is selling stories about it and getting books out of it and… oh.’)
But back to the point. What I’m trying to say is that – more than simply how difficult it is for me to accept people’s kind assertions – when somebody tells me that I’m an ‘inspiration’ or says that this blog has helped them in some way, it makes me sound a lot more virtuous than I actually am. Because none of those things, I’m afraid to say, were ever done on purpose. I started this blog for selfish reasons – because it gave me something to do, because it answered questions on my behalf, because it helped me – not you.
And so there’s more to my squirming at people’s compliments than simply not wanting to appear cocky or arrogant. There’s the fact that, cancer-conqueror I may be, but things didn’t exactly work out that way because of anything I did. That was just luck. The same kind of luck that got you reading this blog instead of someone else’s. And so I’m no ‘inspiration’. I just calls it like I sees it.