Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Amateurs and Professionals

A few weeks ago I posted "Destinations," about immigration in America, and someone calling himself "rick reddy" bothered to comment on it. After a few unsolicited insults, he wrote:

"You are just another manifestation of blogger pollution--yet one more curse the Internet has brought upon us.

Will people like you ever stop? There is a reason writers used to have to go through a vetting process: editors, readers, copy editors, etc. YOU and bloggers like you are the reason."

Allowing for a difference of political allegiances, which is what probably provoked his pointed comment, it seems to me that Mr. reddy doesn't understand the function of either blogs or bloggers. A blog is not a place for journalism, fiction-writing, or even for scholarship - although it can contain these and a great deal more. I've found it to be a personal, semi-diaristic (and interactive) platform for sharing written material, photographs, music, videos, and anything else a blogger chooses to share. A blog's content isn't something to be "vetted" (a new and noxious piece of jargon). I've discovered, however, that it does require some proofreading, since I often don't have time to correct little spelling or grammatical errors.

I've submitted material to editors in the past, and been lucky enough to have most of it accepted for publication. I've published here most of the material I've published elsewhere, and I've even taken pieces I wrote here and submitted them for publication on other (film) websites. I wouldn't dream of submitting most of what I post here to an editor, simply because it's unsolicited by someone else and I haven't tailored it to someone else's design.

In one of his Notebooks (which weren't intended for publication) Samuel Butler outlined, at least a century before the appearance of the word "blog," what I have found to be the most sound advice for anyone starting a blog:

"Amateurs and Professionals

There is no excuse for amateur work being bad. Amateurs often excuse their shortcomings on the ground that they are not professionals, the professional could plead with greater justice that he is not an amateur. The professional has not, he might well say, the leisure and freedom from money anxieties which will let him devote himself to his art in singleness of heart, telling of things as he sees them without fear of what man shall say unto him; he must think not of what appears to him right and loveable but of what his patrons will think and of what the critics will tell his patrons to say they think; he has got to square everyone all round and will assuredly fail to make his way unless he does this; if, then, he betrays his trust he does so under temptation. Whereas the amateur who works with no higher aim than that of immediate recognition betrays it from the vanity and wantonness of his spirit. The one is naughty because he is needy, the other from natural depravity. Besides, the amateur can keep his work to himself, whereas the professional man must exhibit or starve.

The question is what is the amateur an amateur of? What is he really in love with? Is he in love with other people, thinking he sees something which he would like to show them, which he feels sure they would enjoy if they could only see it as he does, which he is therefore trying as best he can to put before the few nice people whom he knows? If this is his position he can do no wrong, the spirit in which he works will ensure that his defects will be only as bad spelling or bad grammar in some pretty saying of a child. If, on the other hand, he is playing for social success and to get a reputation for being clever, then no matter how dexterous his work may be, it is but another mode of the speaking with the tongues of men and angels without charity; it is as sounding brass or a tinkling cymbal, full of sound and fury signifying nothing."

I won't pretend to be immune to vanity or "wantonness," but the history of this blog has taught me that the people who visit here do so either incidentally, following links from other sites or from a search engine, or because they're friends of mine. And it's for them that I write. Some old friends have actually found me through this blog, so I'm satisfied that it's been good for something. I didn't find much use for my blog until late in 2008, after I realized that I'd got myself stuck in the Philippines. I began to publish things every so many days instead of weeks or even months. One thing I've discovered when keeping a diary is that when my life is full, when I find myself living as on the crest of the wave, I have very little time to stop, reflect, and put down my thoughts and feelings in words. When I was in the Navy and living in Okinawa, which I look back on now as the time of my life, the journal I kept was riddled with great ellipses, huge gaps of days and weeks in which I was too caught up with living to bother annotating it.

Since late 2008, I published a hundred or more posts per year for four years. Spending most of my time alone on a poor island has caused me to fall back on myself, on my own resources, my conscious reactions to my strange and often hostile surroundings. My blog became a way of engaging with my life and my environment. And it has become a means of making peace with it, making sense of it, and, in a way that will be finalized when I leave this island, saying goodbye to it. After 2012, there has been a rupture, a pulling back from engagement with the world, because of a sense of alarm that overtook me when I began to realize that I may never get out of here, if I shall ever go back home to my family and friends and my life. So the number of my posts fell off dramatically.

For the past seven years, this blog has told my life story. Calling someone a "fool" merely for telling his story is proof of being a genuine buffoon, not to mention a schmuck.

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