Harriet Walker: A personal column like this is tomorrow's fish-and-chip wrapper. So the fact that people care is humbling

 

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I was once offered a free grief-counselling session off the back of this column, you know. And a marriage proposal.

This swag will no doubt impress even the most seasoned of cynical journalists, knee-deep in the gratis cupcakes, cotton tote bags and "all new" products that somehow never make it to your supermarket but which are regularly sent to newspapers in the hope they'll make it on to page.

Also in the offing: a silk dressing-gown with my initials on the pocket. I'd written that week about being too scared to buy a new one in case it was so cosy I never took it off again and had to wear it to work. Oh, and the time I used a squirrel hoarding nuts as a metaphor, I ended up receiving my body weight in the dry, salted variety as part of an over-zealous branding campaign two days later. I ate so many of them, I almost gave myself an allergy.

There were more offerings besides, of course, many notable for their sentiment more than their subtext: the man who emailed me to tell me I was but a tadpole and that life begins at 50; the woman who took the time to compare my hair in two different photos from the paper and explain why she thought the most recent cut was a great success.

Then there are the people on Twitter who make me laugh on a weekly basis. Latterly – now they know that I specialise in a rather awkward sort of public mortification followed by swift and unrelenting interior questioning and an overwhelming sense of guilt – they have supplied their own experiences as fodder. Thanks guys. You get me.

There's always the worry, when writing a personal column – writing anything, in fact, that is meant to be shared – that those it is shared with will just find it tiresome, weird – or worse, beneath their regard. People who elect to write columns have to tackle this fear head-on. Traditionally they did this by taking in, with dumb glee, their first byline photo while trying to radiate an "oh this?" vibe to bystanders. More recently, they just put the link on Facebook with an off-the-cuff "wrote this", as if they care as little as you do. As if!

Of all the columns I have written for this slot over the past four years, the ones that have garnered most response have been the negative ones. The ones about feeling sad, lonely, uncertain, stressed, increasingly mad and borderline psychotic. That isn't a fact that is negative in itself; rather, it's that you are a feeling lot with a capacity to care for someone who spouts drivel at a distance. That means a lot in an age of anonymous trolling.

That people cared enough not only to read but read to the end is, all things considered, staggering, not least at a time when people click links as readily as they breathe, only to close the window two seconds later. Online, these columns are an acorn in the stream, a grain of sand on a beach, unillustrious words in an empty cosmos of shifting interest bounded by porn and cats. And for those still reading in analogue, they're tomorrow's fish-and-chip wrappers.

So the fact that people cared enough to get in touch is the sort of humbling practice that makes you sigh with relief that Neanderthal man and Neanderthal woman invited each other up for coffee and set us all in motion.

"Your column's really great at the moment," someone once said to me about the words I write here. "It's almost like, now your life's really shit, they're a much better read. Now you haven't got everything you want. Yeah, I'm enjoying them a lot more now things aren't going your way."

That has rung in my ears ever since. Life has picked up since – a while ago, actually. But I've tried to summon the shitness for you, the drubbing, frustrating everyday of the human condition where possible, even if it's just recounting having flu or carrying too many bags on the bus. Because that's what we all need to hear and to know: that we are not angry in Sainsbury's alone.

But, as someone who ate nearly four kilos of free nuts, I recognise all good things come to an end. And I have everything I want now. So I will say goodbye. And thank you. Thank you for being the people who heard the proverbial tree fall in the forest and made it exist. Thanks for caring.

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