Thursday 25 February 2010

This old thing?

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.


‘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.


Megan said...

Yup, there's really nothing more depressing than never getting comments on a blog post. You just sit there and think 'Ehh... Where'd I go wrong?'.

Not that you even have this problem! Clearly a lot of people who read your blog feel compelled to comment on it's (and your) awesome-ness Xx

Kath said...

can I just say, like, what a total inspiration you are?

gotcha x x

Lisa Lynch said...

No you can't. Now bugger off. x

alhi said...

Maybe you're right, maybe any of us readers would cope in the same way that you have, but the difference is that we haven't had to. I hope I manage to cope like you have if I'm ever in the same situation.
Incidentally, could you publish a photo of the slightly longer hair? I was a big fan of it short.

Helen said...

I can't take compliments to save my life. Someone said I looked thinner earlier, I told them I was just wearing a flattering top.




RJMJ:Jennifer said...

Why so many of us ladies can't take a compliment and just let it put a smile on our faces is beyond me but what you say is so true...again! When someone compliments me I look at them like they've just asked me if I've farted not like they've told me my hair looks nice today.

The way you articulate these things is really insp...clever xXx

Anonymous said...

No, the bullshit didn't make you an inspiration. You already were, because you are the Lovely Lisa Lynch who has skill, determination and grace in equal measure. If I knew your secret I would make it mine. Now 'publish comment'. X

MBNAD woman said...

You made me smile again, as usual.

When someone said my hair looked good, I had to tell them that I was a one-woman tribute to the British chemical industry. I could never just smile and say thank you, either.

Then one day someone said "You look really nice; I didn't recognise you". Yup, let's replay that one. You didn't recognise me BECAUSE I looked nice. Omigod. That must have meant that the other 99.99% of time I must look like a bag lady.

I was so wounded. So now when someone says "You look good" (a rare enough occurence when you get to my age), I smile and say "I know!!!"

Inspiring - of course you are. That's why I'm reading your blog instead of getting on with work.

Mad x

Paula said...

Another 'inspirational' blog - well done.

Gotta go - another appointment with my breast surgeon - and I am going to be late .... again!

P x

Anonymous said...

The 'inspiration' is due to the fact you share your talent for writing, helping others struggling with the bullshit, or, in the case of me, just providing people with engaging, amusing and touching reading material. xx

Kirses said...

Kate Atkinson's book on Being English (required reading when you finally go to get citizenship in the UK) states that the english regard accepting a compliment as big headed, so they have to deflect instead. Whereas us Kiwis are taught from an early age that the only correct response is 'thanks' and that any other response is ungracious rather than modest...

I'll never fit in here....

Doesn't Sweat Much For A Fat Lass said...

I'm not going to take away the 'inspiration' comment, because you are. Whether it's intenmtional or not. I know what you mean though, folk have given me that tag (occasionally). And I just say 'thanks but whats the alternative'. Well I don't always say it, because it makes some folk squirm.

Caroline xx

Freudus said...

It's a sad fact that, although you have full control over what you write in this blog, you have absolutely no say in how it is received. That's also largely true of your appearance, but I do think blogs are a special case: the vast, anonymous internet strips away the social niceties surrounding compliments and leaves them standing on their own.

Remember, no one is forced to read your words; no one is forced to like them; and no one is forced to tell you they like them. If people describe you as 'inspirational' (embarrassing though that may be) that's probably because you are.

Nice dress, by the way.

Anonymous said...

I used to be rubbish at accepting compliments, but I think I've cracked it without giving up any Englishness. I don't think I'm being unduly immodest if I say Thanks but with an air of surprise. "Oh! Thank you."

I try to go for the same reaction as I'd give "you've got sellotape stuck to your sleeve", except without the necessity to adjust anything.

And I don't want to get all gushy or anything, but you're way more entertaining than the speaking clock.

Anonymous said...

I never thought that you were an inspiration; more that your writing cheered me up when I was going through the worst possible situation myself. You wrote with truth and clarity; charm and humour.

When a friend of mine got breast cancer and had to have a double masectomy, I pointed her in this direction.

Is it acceptable to call you a empathetic distraction instead?
(She thought so, too.)

Caimbrian said...

The thing I find most off-putting is when friends of mine quote bits from my blog when we're hanging out or meet for coffee - not only are they reading the darn thing they're remembering it! Heck I don't remember half the turns of phrase I use and I write the darn thing! To compliments I have learned to say "Thanks" and just have the inner voice do the discounting. ;o)
I find your blog quite amusing and very human - thanks for sharing.

Millennium Housewife said...

Oh bugger. I can't say anything now can I?

Anonymous said...

As someone who is still wearing a wig post chemo I get comments about how great my hair looks from friends and I tell them to "shut up!". They say "have you done something different???" and then I tend to use a bit more abusive language!! Am never sure whether its a genuine compliment or whether they're just trying to make me feel better.

Not sure I'll know for sure until I get my real hair back and then I'll ask my friends "were you being serious when you were complimenting my wig styling?" I I have no doubt they will respond "umm yes at the time but you're hair now is a definite improvement!"

By the way that was one of my favourite blogs of yours! Keep up the good work x

Anonymous said...

You're probably right about the just coping and not trying to be an inspiration. But what keeps me and probably a lot of other readers coming back here, is the mere fact that you have the talent to write like you do. YES, I'm complimenting your writing and I'm doing it with full intention. It's entertaining and human and insightful and I wish I could write about my health issues as 'inspiring' as you do.

Mariken said...

I would argue that, precisely because you do not aim at being a self-help guru for your readers, you ARE inspirational. And not just to people dealing with 'the bullshit'. Your grace under fire has inspired me, and I'm just an interested follower of the blog. Sorry chica, you're just going to have to deal!
With compliments I believe that it's just people's Imposter Syndrome kicking in. You know, the notion that any moment you will be found out for the silly, talentless, pittiful sap that you are, so you try beating people to the punch by devaluating their compliments for them (or is it just me, doing that?). Accepting them is just un-easy business.
Mind you being an inspiration does not mean you are required to grow old gracefully in sensible shoes. Rather the opposite, I think. See: there is a light at the end of the inspirational tunnel!

Anonymous said...

Hi Lisa,

I have been reading your blog for a few months now. I am 34 and I have recently finished 8 months of treatment for BC. I had my first wig free day yesterday after having my (very short!)hair cut and coloured on Thurs! I feel like things are starting to get back to some sort of normality and like everyone who has been through this crap, I am hoping with everything crossed that I'll be ok forever.

I just wanted to get in tocuh to say that so much of what you write, articulates how I feel. We are simialr ages and some of our other circumstances sound pretty similar too. It helps me to read the thoughts of someone who has been through the same things as I have and who thinks about it all in a similar way too.

Sorry for rambling!! But thanks...

C x

Unknown said...

Oh Lisa, I am exactly the same with compliments. After an encounter with very bad driver mounting the pavement when I was 11, several months in hospital, 6 operations, spending my teens on crutches and having to learn to walk, you'd think I'd be proud of my legs and show them off at every available opportunity but NO WAY!

So from one complimentphobe to another - your writing is brilliant and completely inspirational.