A funny thing happened today. One of my red mare stories went viral.
I should be delighted. First of all, I was addressing an important subject. (It wasn’t just the usual noodling and doodling and oh, look, she did the Standing Still Olympics.) Second of all, if I reach more people on social media then I might get more readers for my books and I will be able to pay the hay bill.
And yet, I feel oddly vulnerable.
This is the push-me pull-you nature of the introvert’s experience of the internet.
I adore the fact that I can reach people all over the world. I love it that my Facebook and Twitter crews give me glimpses into fascinating, entrancing and sometimes humbling lives that I would never otherwise see.
There are people who inspire me to try harder. There are people who remind me of my own good luck, and who make me determined never to take anything for granted. There are people who encourage me and who make me laugh.
But my little corner of the internet is, well, little. I keep telling myself that I should figure out ways to press the buttons and beat the algorithms and give the punters what they want, but my heart is not in it. Of course I need to expand my readership, but I really just want to be myself and tell my red mare stories and stay in my kind, generous group of devoted readers.
Like my mare, I like to feel safe.
When something goes off like a rocket, way beyond my usual reach, I feel intensely vulnerable. I suspect that a natural extrovert might regard all the thousands of new people as a glorious kind of party. But I was never any good at parties. I love standing in the field and watching the horses and having a damn good chat about the meaning of life with one or two trusted companions.
The other aspect of this particular post is that it was written in a state of high emotion. I was upset about something, and I needed to express that and process that, and I turned to words, as I always do. It was so raw that I almost did not press publish. I wrote a little author’s note, explaining that it was a bit of a muddle. It was not my finest, most polished, most coherent prose. That makes me feel a little vulnerable too. The one piece of writing that started galloping around the internet was definitely not ready for Prime Time.
So I sit, in my quiet Scottish room, with the Christmas fairy lights still twinkling, because I thought they’d cheer me up in the dour dark of January, and allow myself to feel afraid.
I think: what is the fear? Is it the terror of exposure? Is it just too many new people? Is it that I’d got so used to my comfort zone, and now I am out in the open spaces, and I fear that I won’t find my way home?
I love being got. I think most humans yearn to be got. That sweet feeling of being understood is balm to the soul. The big-hearted, humane, thoughtful group who somehow gathered around the red mare have been with me for years. They’ve been there through all my deaths - my mum, my mare, my stepfather, my friend. They know that sometimes I go a bit wobbly. They kindly accept that I wear strange hats and regularly look as if I got dressed in the dark. They go, empathetically, with some of my more flaky ideas. They don’t seem to mind that I have a habit of laughing at my own jokes.
When I reach outside that precious bubble, I suddenly have no context. The new readers don’t know the red mare’s origin story, or who I am, or what my intentions are, or how my mind works. That feels alarming to me.
But that, I suddenly realise, feeling my shoulders come down and my heart-rate start to slow, is the writer’s life. Part of my work on my writing mind is to build resilience. I can’t always stay in my quiet backwater, where everyone knows what I’m talking about. I have to allow other humans not to get me. I have to give them permission to disagree, or to challenge, or simply not to like what I have written. That is not the end of the world. That is part of being a grown-up. Which, ironically, was one of the central thrusts of what I wrote this morning.
I sometimes wish that being a grown-up wasn’t such hard work. I have to practise it every day, and I don’t always succeed.
But then, the things in life that are worth it are hard work. My red mare taught me that. She was not easy, and because of that, I had to rise. She took me from the foothills to the higher ground. And sometimes that journey scared the shit out of me.
Perhaps that, in the end, is the point. The easy stuff doesn’t teach me anything, and I love to learn. Maybe sometimes it’s not only OK to be afraid, it is absolutely necessary.