Am I writing this? I think I’m finally writing this. I think.
This has been on my to-do list for some time. Thank you seems like such a simple phrase, something which hardly deserves a post of it’s own, something that can be easily penned. Yet it hasn’t come easily. Perhaps I felt that thank you wasn’t enough. That simple phrase couldn’t express how thankful I really was, my emotions were more intense than anything those two words could contain. Yet there are no other words, only embellishments, so thank you. Thank you for your help.
But I havent even explained what I’m thanking you for, or why, or whom in particular. Last year I entered a competition because I promised to myself that I would. The prize was an opportunity to spent the summer walking along some of Britains footpaths – from Pilgrim paths hundreds of years old to freshly-trodden footways. For a hiker and nature lover this was a fantastic opportunity. I promised to myself I would enter the competition.
Then I found out that I had to make a video as part of my application…
I’d never made a video before, not one that required editing and talking and things. However, I managed to make one (it took a damn long time) using my phone and some free software and I was prepared to upload it. I remember checking out the site before uploading my video and seeing that others had uploaded theirs. They were so good, too good. I panicked a bit; the pessimist inside of me told me to chuck it up as it was and be done with it. The other half of me wanted to do more – I don’t like doing a job half-arsed. The deadline for the competition was extended, so I found myself with a week to go over everything I’d been working on. At the end of that week I uploaded it, and, well, let’s just say I thought that would be the end of it. So I tried to forget about it and move on to other things. Least I’d tried, right?
I was very very surprised when I received an email informing me I’d been longlisted, but I had no idea that the next stage would open up the video to public votes, and that meant making a concerted effort to get as many votes as possible. Basically, self-promotion. Fuck. I *hate* self-promotion with a passion, it makes me incredibly uncomfortable. There’s a whole lot of narcissism in the world today, a lot of people striving for power, trying to become famous, fighting for their big break, and it’s not a game I’m interested in playing. Just give me a solid pair of boots, a backpack full of camping gear, some pen and paper and let me walk for a year. That’s all I want.
I could understand why they were doing it of course; if you get a lot of public votes then the folks organising the competition can be sure that there’ll be an audience for the blog – that, and you’ve built up an audience before you’ve even begun! Might as well start with a bang, eh? But still, self-promotion? Again, I thought maybe I should just leave it, some of the other folks evidently had better video editing skills than I, were certainly more established than I was. I was just some long-haired unemployed weirdo, and I wasn’t going to get through. I had other things to worry about; work, writing, tangible things with definite outcomes.
Then friends happened. Ahhhh, friends! I was chatting to a few people about the competition and how I figured I’d drop it, let it lie, I didn’t want to go in for the whole promotion thing. They insisted I push for it, and when I didn’t they pushed it themselves. A few days in to the voting craziness I logged on to the website to find I was holding steady in fourth. How? Friends. Then I figured maybe something *could* happen, you know? Maybe I should try, I’d come this far after all, and my friends really really wanted to see me win this thing. Again, I wasn’t sure why, I couldn’t make sense of it. As I said before I don’t think much of myself as a person, and I think most of the things I have done, have achieved, have been achieved at a distance. I’m the guy that hides in the background and organises things whilst the others are out on the street shouting, I don’t want to be seen – I just want to help anonymously.
I started to engage with it. A group was formed. People started pushing it on a daily basis. I got in touch with old colleagues, institutions, employers… and the whole time I’m still feeling fucking awkward as hell. The only way I could do it was if I thought of myelf as someone else – a close friend – and that I was pushing *their* stuff, not mine. Everyone else was doing a fantastic job; my friends, family members, old school mates. Then the weirdest coolest oddest thing happened. People started messaging me from far away places wishing me luck and wanting to connect, to chat about their experiences, and these were people living all over the world. They were friends of friends of friends of friends of friends, or other people that had somehow come across my application through the net. These were people I’d never have met otherwise, there was no way I could bump into them in the street.
Incredible, absolutely incredible. I was so tired at the end of that week, so so tired. When the voting had all finished I went to bed exhausted, and I didn’t want to hear or see my name ever again. Everyone had been so good, kind enough to share my application and encourage others to do the same, to talk me into engaging – into doing something I wanted to do for myself, for once. So I want to say thank you (again), and I’ll say it again; thank you.
I didn’t win – I got enough votes to put me through into the final round in which Robert MacFarlane himself had to pick out a winner, but I got TWO boxloads of books, a limited edition print of ‘The Old Ways’ dust jacket and had a few drinks with all the applicants, Penguin folk and MacFarlane in London a couple of months later. It was great! I had a really good time, and I’m still working my way through all the books they sent me! Too many books, not enough time… I learned a lot through this experience; that it’s very easy to give up before you’ve even lost, that it’s easy to think less of yourself – that you’re incapable, just generally being hard on yourself. Other people don’t see that, they don’t see that internal struggle, don’t hear those pessimistic voices. They see you, understand you by what you say and what you do, and they’ll support you if they’re with you. It’s easy to think yourself alone, when really you’re not alone at all.
So thank you, again again again again, because I can’t thank you all enough. You’re all fucking grand people.