I met Betty Herbert in the virtual world, several years ago now when she was able to help me answer some questions I had about the world of vajazzling. A long story, but Betty had written a very successful blog, which went on to be a best selling book: ‘The 52 Seductions’, in which she chronicled her and her husband Herbert’s attempts to put the passion back into their marriage. If you haven’t read it, you really should. It’s funny and clever and touching and insightful and a bit rude. All of which is excellent.
Since then Betty has moved on to other projects like bringing her and Herbert’s son into the world, delving into what makes social media tick, and lately starting a PhD project called All I Know.
I have been incredibly intrigued by All I Know ever since Betty first started talking about it, as it combines two of my favourite things, mucking about on social media, and story telling. If only biscuits were in there too.
As it is, Betty kindly agreed to let me interview her for this blog so I could tell you about All I Know, and hopefully get you involved somewhere along the way.
Nothing focuses the mind on how much space you have to exist in like having a child. Children are so small when they start out, but it is my theory that this is because they need so much other STUFF to help them grow they have to be small or you would never find a way to fit in all the sterilisers and muslins, slings and push chairs that clutter your entire house for about five years. Fitting in all the stuff you need for your child makes you take a long hard look at all the THINGS you have in your house, and, if you are clever, start a purge which won’t entirely finish until they leave home and get a place of their own.
Betty was taking refuge from all the baby paraphernalia in her study one day, and started looking seriously at all the books she has. As she looked, she realised that she had been accumulating books all her life and never really getting rid of them, even if they were things like the Haynes Manual for the Ford Cortina 1972, which she didn’t even actually know why she had, and suspected may have been planted there by a guest who was intent on decluttering their own house in a guerrilla way.
Each book, even the Haynes manual, told a story about Betty – who she was at the time of her life that she acquired the book, who she thought she wanted to be, the kinds of things she was thinking about or doing, or interested in, the kind of person she wanted people who came into her study to think she was when they looked at the shelves.
She decided that the books had to be rationalised in some way. That the ones which no longer applied to her life, or she would never read again, would be culled.
That’s when the idea for All I Know was born.
As Betty started to research how to sell her books on EBay she became fascinated by the way people list the things they sell, the stories they tell about the things they are getting rid of, the little snatches of biography, or their hopes, dreams, desires etc that spilled out into what should really be simple, prosaic descriptions of things. Stuff like:
An 8×4 garden shed (buyer to collect), used in 1997 to start the Cult of Bob. A committed cadre of people dedicated to following the precepts known as Bobism. The shed was used for weekly meetings from July 1997 to June 2000 when Bob’s wife Sandra forced him to move out of their marital home due to the fact that she could no longer tolerate the constant chanting and the wear to the tufted Wilton. Bob now resides in a 12×6 shed in Swindon. Proceeds from the old shed will be used to print The Word of Bob. The shed is in particularly good condition given the number of followers it has housed over the years. Freshly creosoted year on year, and comes with a guaranteed blessing from Bob himself. Worth £25 of anyone’s money.
If only they printed item descriptions like this in Home Base.
Here’s one of my own EBay stories, about a bowl, of all things.
Betty was fascinated by these partial snippets of story, by the human need to turn anything and everything into a narrative.
Her PhD will explore how story telling in social media is fundamental to our lives and what it does to us as a society and our brains as individuals.
The interactive part of the PhD, which you can get involved in, is to help Betty by bidding on and winning one of the books she is selling on EBay under the banner of All I Know. Each book she has chosen, will have in it somewhere, a love story, written by Betty, about what the book meant/means to her and what part of her life it affected, symbolised.
Buy a book, read it. Find the letter, and contact Betty either in the EBay feedback or through her blog or on Twitter. Start a dialogue, Begin another story, become part of a massive, interactive narrative.
Please help Betty do this. It’s the sort of thing I’d love to do myself were I not far too lazy, and if you help her, I get to live vicariously through her success, so you know, it’s like a double win.