Don’t get me wrong, I don’t spend much time on it, but every now and then I have a curious glance and it’s usually so disturbing that I don’t look again for a few weeks (and then the urge strikes me and I can’t help myself. A bit like the urge to take the dressing off every now and then to peek at the festering wound.)
The search terms are illuminating. ‘When did the poet Ros Barber die?’ was a bit of a shock at first. And then I figured that, coming from someone without much connection to the fairground goldfish stall of living poets, it was logical:
- she’s a poet
- I’ve heard of her
- the only other poets I’ve heard of are dead
- ergo, she is dead.
Maybe without the ergo bit, as I assume the searcher was young and without Latin. It seems the idea that I’m dead is reasonably widespread, because certain other search terms are in the past tense: ‘how many children did Ros Barber have?’ and ‘did Ros Barber have children?’. The children question comes up in the present tense too. Why are my child-bearing activities relevant, I wonder. Do people ask this question of Simon Armitage or Roger McGough?
I particularly liked ‘is Ros Barber creative?’ Presumably anyone asking a question about me has knocked into poem or two. Yet they had to ask. I guess it’s a subjective thing.
And I end up asking my own questions. Why would three people search for ‘information about ros barber’, but two of them leave instantly and one stay only seven seconds? Did they not see the About or Books or Public Art or Research links? Am I not the Ros Barber they’re looking for? (Could be. There’s a mathematician in Warwick and a photographer in Coalville).
Someone wants to know if I have Aspergers. (No, I don’t). Did I win any awards (when I was alive). What was my childhood like? Am I Scottish? (No, that’ll be Ross Barber, the other photographer). What is my goal in life? (I’m alive. Hooray! But can I have more than one goal, please?)
‘What are Ros Barber’s poems about’? No idea. Read a few and find out?
Then we have ‘ros barber personal life’, ‘ros barber family background’, ‘who is ros barber’s husband’, ”names of ros barber’s children’, ”ros barber phone number brighton’ and ‘what is ros barber’s address’. Okay, I’m calling the police. Only kidding. But people, can you be a little bit less …. creepy?
‘What does Ros Barber do today’? / ‘What is Ros Barber currently doing’ – Generally, see Twitter and Facebook. Specifically, I’m reflecting on the fact that, though I adore the internet and everything it can bring me, it remains a bizarre, nosey, and occasionally rude-seeming place. I have very mixed feelings about being open here: I shut down the original Shallowlands blogs because I felt over-exposed and bombarded. My fault, I know. I was over-sharing. There was a time I’d tell my life story to a stranger at a bus stop.
It’s an age-old story: the writer who wants to put their writing out into the world, the public who wants to know all the sordid personal details behind the writing. Previous generations of writers – before the internet – could be a lot more oblivious to the curiosity of strangers. Of course, I could choose not to have a website, but the fact is I’m happy to engage with people who like what I’m doing (or what I’ve done). I don’t mind interacting a bit (so long as it doesn’t turn disturbing or time-consuming). But odd search activity has definitely hotted up in recent weeks and part of me is thinking of retreating to the burrow and pulling the shutters down. I’ve already deleted a few posts.
So play nicely, people. When this writer does die – should you still be interested then (and aren’t dead poets the bomb?) – you can pick over the bones at your leisure. Until then, I hope you’ll simply enjoy what I write.