I’ve just listened to Clive James talking to Kim Hill. She mentioned the ‘humblebrag’ when he deferentially said ‘I’m a fairly ordinary story’ in response to questions about someone writing his biography. ‘Don’t’ forget, ‘he said, ‘sometimes reputations just melt away overnight.’ With further modesty he claimed that one of his main talents was his ability to concentrate and that he had a knack for a turn of phrase.
All I can do is turn a phrase until it catches the light.
He’s dying and so this conversation was about death and regret and about a poem too, that went viral when published in the New Yorker. It’s called ‘Japanese Maple’ about a tree his daughter gave him that is destined to outlive him – but he’s already survived longer than his poem about himself and the tree predicted.
I was struck by the difference in Clive James in conversation with Kim, and a time when I saw him at the Wellington Writers and Readers festival a few years ago. My first impression was great, because he was interviewed by Kate Camp who was an obvious devotee and she brought out the best in him. They had what I call a ‘love-fest’, where the interviewer as admirer creates what feels like a true and mutual intimacy in conversation. Alas, at the same festival, on a panel, he behaved boorishly and condescendingly and was embarrassing. It was as if he didn’t know how to share the limelight.
And so, I am interested in the humblebrag. It’s a tricky thing to achieve and I think writers in particular are quite adept at it. There’s the gorgeous stuff that only the very young can pull off whereby they claim not to care about fame, but draw attention to themselves all the same with their foxy protestations. Then too, there are blogs about rejection. It can sound like self-pity, or self-promotion. But it can also be superb. I recommend Paula Morris nominated for the prestigious Sunday Times short story competition, and her blog posting ‘Not Real Life‘ about daring to dream she might win.
I recently read somewhere that at age 20, we worry what other people think of us. And then at 40, we don’t give a damn what they think, and then at 60, we realise (thankfully at last) it wasn’t us they were thinking about after all. I like that very much and it’s such a gem of wisdom that you wish it was a vaccination.
Why am I writing this? Because I have a blog, and excitingly I have a new novel coming out in October. I wanted to draw attention to myself and to my writing. I needed a hook. Shamelessly I’ve used Clive James as my lure. It’s my version of the humble-brag.
And so I’ll end with a Clive James quote from his conversation with Kim Hill ‘Life is not a picnic – it’s not all laid out for you.’ But if it were, then where better than at our local beach to spread your picnic. (photo by John).
4 thoughts on “Clive James and the humblebrag”
Thanks Maggie – thought provoking and beautifully written as always, and we are so looking forward to your new novel in October. Fabulous photo too John.
Hello Trish. You’re such a gem to always stop by and read my blog. Yes, great photo from John. XX
That is some achievment, Maggie.No need to be humble – brag to the rooftops! Looking forward to the October launch.
I heard Clive James on Kim Hill the other day. When he is on form he is just brilliant. As for that knack for a turn of phrase, here he is responding to a George Bush speech:
“Every sentence he manages to utter scatters its component parts like pond water from a verb chasing its own tail.”
Hi Peter. I saw your book ‘The Lie that Settles’ in the Art Gallery on the Petone Esplanade this afternoon. Yes, you are right, I should be shouting from the rooftops, considering how long this journey to my third novel has been. (You’ve been on the side-line cheering me along!).
Love the pond water from a verb quote – I have ‘Cultural Amnesia’ by Clive on my bedside table waiting for me to dip back into it.