This site does not get very many visitors, but there are enough for me to believe that the effort of writing is worthwhile.
There is a small group of regular readers who visit at their leisure, and when I link a new post at the FaceBook’s mountain climbing pages, the site stats reveal peaks of activity. There are many statistics generated by WordPress software, the most interesting of these is average number of views per visitor. Obviously generated by dividing the number of page views by the number of visitors, it can never be less than one; usually here it lies between one and two, sometimes it gets higher, but it rarely reaches more than three. It plain terms, it is an indication of when one or more visitors read more than just one page. It always pleases me to see when somebody has been trawling through the links and spending time reading through more than just a couple of pages, rather than visiting just one page and then leaving.
Last week I received a link from a friend to an article at the BBC website about the results of a survey undertaken by Macmillan (I believe) about the languages and metaphors we use to talk about or describe cancer. Not surprisingly, metaphors of struggle, warfare and heroism are not popular; it is a relief to have it confirmed that I am not the only one who is absolutely not struggling against cancer, not at war with it, and who is just getting on with life as best I can rather than doing anything heroic. Just like the rest of humanity I am simply doing what is necessary at any moment within the limits set by my existence, which in my case include those created by cancer, but there is no difference in principle – if those of us with cancer are heroes, then so too is everybody else.
I was inspired to send an email to the BBC, thanking the writer for the article and sharing my experience, adding that in contrast to the results of the survey I do not have a problem with being an inspiration, because if I inspire others, their positive responses inspire me to continue – it feels like a kind of paying it forward. In response to this email, I received a phone call from a friendly and sympathetic BBC producer, who had been taken by my story and who was interested in telling it at the BBC website. I had already pointed her in the direction of this blog, for context and for a more complete picture of the circumstances of my diagnosis and what followed, warning her that there was a political undercurrent that is not to everybody’s taste, but that usually does not prevent visitors from reading with an open mind.
We talked for about half an hour on the phone, during which I emphasised that I did not want to talk politics in any case, that my only input would have to do with cancer, the languages we use to talk about it and the project of demystifying it. She sent me an email too with specific questions; these I answered honestly and in good faith. She was enthusiastic about getting my story out there, sympathetic to my desire to demystify cancer, to turn it from a great big scary thing always haunting the mental environment, a possible threat to every daily life that will disrupt things forever, bring with it unknown pain and suffering, and lead inevitably to a horrible death. My own journey has been a living deconstruction of ideas such as this, a demonstration that it is much more important to be alive now than to waste time worrying about the future or creating resentment by churning over past mistakes, stupidities and bad behaviour.
For a couple of days during the course of this exchange, the number of views per visitor rose dramatically from normal levels to respectively 4 and 3.43, and on the day after our final conversation it rose to 11.6! This is unprecedented; it seemed to me a clear indication that somebody at the BBC was examining the content of this site in great detail.
So I waited. From time to time, I looked at the BBC website. No sign or word of any article from the BBC about my story. To be honest, I was already surprised that the BBC was interested at all, I have once or twice already talked to BBC radio researchers about my condition and nothing ever came of it. Then yesterday a phone call from the same woman I had spoken with. Most apologetic. No room for the story. Other things getting in the way. Nothing really to be done about it. I told her that I was not at all bothered, that it had not been a waste of my time at all, that I had enjoyed our conversation for it had brought things to light, clarified ideas that would otherwise have remained obscure. She wished me well and said that she had enjoyed reading my blog, to which I replied that I had noticed from the stats that one or two more visitors than usual had, on one particular day, read through a great deal of my blog, and that I had assumed that this was BBC researchers making sure it was a place to which the BBC felt comfortable publishing a link.
The pause before her reaction spoke volumes. Clearly my frankness was already a little disarming to her; however this specific, if implicit, recognition on my part that I understood perfectly well that the BBC is never going to publicise the likes of me, that my politics is just too much for the British Broadcasting Corporation, too confrontational, too critical of too much, too unwilling to adhere to establishment reality, that I bear her personally no grudge at all, that I understand she was able to read the blog with an open mind, but that her employer has an agenda to maintain.
The same morning I checked my bank account. The first of my PIP payments has arrived. This is a state benefit given to everybody whose medical condition falls within the category terminal. It is not much, but it will help, and it is a sign that despite the evils of so called austerity, the delusions of neoliberal nutters, and all of the other forces that conspire to reproduce levels of poverty in this country that make me ashamed to be human, the Welfare State somewhere still exists, that the promise to be cared for from cradle to grave has not yet been betrayed completely, that the state will pay me to be in the final throes of life. So there is hope.
The establishment media may have excluded my story form public consciousness, prevented the positivity this blog generates from reaching a wider audience, closed down another chance to pay it forward, but I am getting a pittance every week to contribute to my maintenance during the time I have left, which at the same time serves to reinforce a crucial element of British propaganda in the mind of the particular individual receiving it, that this is after all a caring society, which looks after those who are no longer able to work or look after themselves. My latest encounter with the BBC has of course also further reinforced the idea that the established media is not in the slightest bit interested in reporting anything happening in Scotland that departs from what Ruth Davidson and David Mundell tell the Tory Party.
I do not wish to be ungrateful, but the PIP is a pittance, and were it not for the fact that I do not have to pay rent and live a frugal life, shared with my wife, it would certainly not be enough to sustain me – I imagine that for somebody with access to a pension, sick pay or other benefits, the amount would be enough to cover extra costs associated with the inconvenience of being terminally ill. So this particular individual is not persuaded that this society operates in the interest of anything but the establishment, and that benefits to the vulnerable and needy are grudgingly given, probably only to prevent civil unrest, sedition and revolutionary sentiment.
As for missing out on a bunch of free publicity? I would rather have a small posse of regular readers who are prepared to read with an open mind, than have this blog torn apart discourteously by those indoctrinated by establishment values, or, heaven forbid, idiots who believe what they are told by the tabloid press. Some of my readers tell me that frankly they do not understand some of the more philosophical and dense sections of my prose – this I can particularly understand having reread the pieces I wrote while lying in hospital, delirious from the cocktail of medication I was being given to manage the pain. Nevertheless they persevere and do not judge, they continue to read, to enjoy and to take what they can from the bits they do understand. This is the kind of reader I want and if they are fewer in number than might otherwise be the case, then so be it.
It is true though, I would be very happy if more people read this blog. I would be extremely satisfied if the ideas herein expressed were more widely discussed. I would become almost ecstatic if social conditions were to be such that this blog is not such a challenge to so many people. Language is losing its intelligence; it has become trapped in devices, controlled by autocorrect algorithms and standardised grammar, stage-managed in soundbites and memes that are expected to function as thoughts, corralled into assorted conventional narratives that maintain established power while pedalling the illusion that democracy is an active force, that society cares.
In this mechanistic world, where everything has to be controlled and managed, where even leisure is an allotted timespace, easily melding into consumption, where spontaneity and fun are permitted only under certain conditions, language is hardly allowed to be alive, to be an actual expression of a life, of the raw experience of being alive. Surely this is its most natural and basic function, to share with each other what it is to be alive. A BBC journalist recognised this in my blog and wanted to tell the story more widely. And yet she was not able. My speculations about why this happened are entirely that, speculation based on circumstantial evidence, but I have been able to write a nice wee story about it to entertain my readers, and ventilate more feelings and ideas that (apparently) challenge established ways of thinking. Thank you dear reader for reading, for allowing the places where established ways of thinking have affected you to be challenged.
Love and peace.
Love and thanks to Shona for thinking through this post together.