In the world I have created for myself, I rarely have to suffer unwelcome attention. Like the child in sister’s underwear, certain s/he does not wish to be seen by others, in much of my life I do not want to be seen. I need to be able to bear being seen, to go out into the world, and want to understand why I crave attention and seek it out, yet hide away.
I seek attention. I stand before forty people at the HAI weekend and tell a story. I get a few laughs and applause at the end. I know some people are afraid of public speaking, but don’t get why. There can be a difficult audience, but generally people are wanting you to succeed, paying you all their attention, the room is focussed on you. I love it. And blogging, I like attention. On Friday 193 people from 27 countries on six continents looked at my blog, and that pleases me. One from Uganda has made twelve page-views on Saturday, showing sustained interest. It’s probably the same person as the four page views from there the day before. Likes, even follows, are cheap and attention seeking- I’ve looked at you, look at me.
Attention in real life is reciprocal. We need attention. We are a social species. Oddballs may set out to walk across Australia or the Arctic alone, but at University one summer I had three days in a row without a meaningful conversation and at the end I was climbing the walls. Now I have three days like that quite often. Next week I will see a friend for lunch whose company I enjoy, and I will make many spoken and body-language signals of my regard for her. She will do the same for me. It will be delightful. We will make each other think, and provoke feeling, and in a sophisticated, adult way, play together.
Getting over 250 upvotes on a comment in the Guardian- it has to be made early so that it is visible to anyone scrolling the article, and it has to be trenchantly stating a popular view- feels good. Not as good as attention in person but it is my best substitute. Or I shared on a facebook trans group, and people piled on me. I argued back, and would not give the last word, but it was exhausting. I do not like negative attention, but there I was arguing a point I thought was useful and truthful, against a negative and defeatist denial. The negative attention was wearing, but I was right to persist. Facebook is not just a parasite on the human need for attention, but our need to feel worthwhile too.
Work is the way people get to feel valuable, such that some cannot bear to retire. Meaning and purpose in lives needs to be affirmed by other people. At any time in the last five years I might have taken up voluntary work, and been clear that I was doing something worthwhile, generally affirmed by others, but I have not. I am gregarious. I like company. Voluntary work would give me company, and I have considered it but never applied to start.
Here’s Hayley Webster, or Scott, on shyness in the Guardian. She tried to be her perfect self, and hide her real self away. Yes, I get that. And watching herself on video she saw herself, apologetic, well-meaning, softly spoken… shrinking into myself to not inhabit space. I didn’t want to be too loud, too much or too anything. Yeah. Me too. My perfect self had to win all the tribunals, and if not then I was no good. And when I could not win, I could not face trying. Feeling I was not doing something worthwhile, and getting some unpleasant attention, in actual hostility, finally stopped me. I wrote this just before I stopped, and that condensating man in Cumbernauld has been a symbol of why I stopped for me ever since.
It has not made sense to me, so I wrote this. That’s the other reason why I blog. Why can I stand on a stage and yet not bear to go to work? Because of an audience rooting for me, and a man expressing contempt. But I have to! I have to!
People seek negative attention, says Leo Benedictus in the Guardian. It does not work for me. I would say those people are doing something they are particularly committed to, because they think it necessary for themselves, or vindication/revenge, or even the right thing, bolstered by much positive attention from their cell.