Archive for March 16th, 2007

If you know me at all, you’re probably wondering what I’m doing here. In the past, I’ve never had much use for blogging. Bloggers, I’ve said loudly, are either trendy narcissists or amateur journalists. I’ve never had patience with trendies of any kind, and, being a professional journalist for sites like Linux.com and Linux Journal, why would I want to be an amateur one? I don’t quite agree with Samuel Johnson’s comment that “No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money,” but part of me thinks that publishing without running a gauntlet of editors is a bit like using the cheat codes in a video game. You can do it, but where’s the satisfaction?

Yet here I am — and that needs a bit of explanation.

I could say that my resistance has been lowered by writing what is loosely called a blog for the Linux Journal site twice a month. Yet despite what the software calls my efforts, they are really articles. I admit, though, that I take a perverse delight in telling hardcore bloggers that I get paid for blogging.

A truer reason is, having met a few more bloggers at places like Barcamp Vancouver, I have to admit that I’ve over-generalized about them. As I should have known, had I bothered reacting to anything except the mainstream media’s presentation (and we all know how reliable that can be on any topic), people blog for all sorts of reasons: as a hobby, as a way to keep friends informed, and, as a way to start discussions. As an ex-instructor of university English, who practically used to plead for students to find ways to make writing part of their lives, how can I continue to disapprove of something that makes them do just that?

But the reason I’ve started a blog myself is even simpler: Because I’m a writer now.

When I attended my first high school reunion in October 2006, the people I had known decades ago were unsurprised to hear that I was earning my living as a journalist. To them, journalism seemed an obvious choice of careers for me. Yet for years, it wasn’t obvious.

For most of my life, I was a wannabe. Ever since I was fourteen, I had published the occasional poem or short story, but I didn’t know how to make a living as a writer. I could only edge around the idea, gradually circling closer as I grew older. I became a university instructor, then a technical writer, and detoured into business as a product manager and marketing and communications director during the dot-com boom. I like to think that I was good at most of these types of employment, and even excelled at one or two of them, but eventually after a year or two, I would feel myself wanting to move on, never knowing why.

That changed in the fall of 2004. Towards the end of October, I was walking along the Coal Harbor seawall in Vancouver, when I had a revelation. I’d had two massively non-challenging consulting contracts in a row. Even more importantly, having been part of the core team at two startups had spoiled my patience for the vagaries of upper management; I felt I could do their jobs better than they could. And besides, was meeting an artificial deadline really worth long hours of overtime that kept you from the last dregs of summer?

As I strolled in the sun, suddenly I knew that I would not be renewing my contract when it came due for renewal in a couple of weeks. In fact, if possible, I would never be working in an office again.

Over the previous year, I’d been doing occasional articles for NewsForge and Linux.com to compensate for the dullness of my contracts. Now, desperate but determined, I asked the senior editor Robin Miller, one of the inventors of online journalism, if I could write full-time for the two sites. He took pity on me, but, even so, it took a year before I had the confidence and discipline to manage a full-time writing schedule, and another eight months before I had developed other markets and started bringing my income up to the level it had been when I had been a marketing and communications consultant. But whatever else I could say of the experience, I’ve never been bored and never wanted to do something else.

Busy with learning to be a journalist, I never noticed the change that was occurring until I started a brief email correspondence with a high school friend after our reunion. Like me, she had been a wannabe in high school. Now, although a successful business woman and the writer of several books, she characterized herself as “not a communicator” and wistfully expressed admiration for “creative people.”

I felt sorry she had a poor self-image, but her comments made me realize that I was no longer a wannabe. Somehow, without noticing, I had actually become a writer. Maybe I wasn’t the fiction writer I always wanted to be, but I was still doing pieces to which I was proud to sign my name.

And the thing about writers is that they write. The fact that they can do it for money is gratifying, and frees them from other distractions, but they also do it — if they’re being honest — because they get a kick out of the performance, out of knowing that people are reading what they have to say and praising or damning it. Yes, they’re expressing themselves, but, as satisfying as self-expression can be, the real kick is expressing yourself and having people listen.

That joy in performance explains this blog. My professional writing is mostly about GNU/Linux and free software, two important topics of which I don’t ever expect to tire. They’re varied, they represent a good cause, and they are championed by smart, talented people whom I am proud to know — and still awed, at times, to be accepted by.

Yet, at the end of the day, like the musician who can’t resist picking out a tune or two on the piano while the roadies break down the set, I find that I still want to perform, and often riffing topics that I don’t cover in my professional life. So, with that selfish (but, I hope, very human motivation), I’m starting this blog.

I don’t know how often I’ll perform here, or how big my audience will be. But for me the point of a blog is that it contains the possibility of an audience in a way that a private journal doesn’t. And for me, it’s one thing to write hopefully as a wannabe and quite another to do so as a writer. With so many wannabes everywhere I turn, I never wanted to be counted among them. I was nervous about being denounced as pretentious, and worried that if I spent time talking about writing, I’d never actually do it. Now, those concerns no longer apply, and I can write freely and put aside my misgivings.

But remember: what I’m doing is performing. I may mention personal details, but they will be ordered details, selected to reinforce whatever point I may have at the time, and given a significance that they may not have had by themselves or at the time I experienced them.

Nor am I proselytizing or reporting with strict accuracy. And I’m definitely not telling great truths as I see them. From time to time, I may claim, implicitly or explicitly, to be doing all of these things, but the truth is

(I’m a liar; trust me)

that what I’m really doing is enjoying myself. Any readers who come along won’t get to know me any more than I know them (although they may have an illusion of knowing me). But they will, I hope, find their own brief amusement in the performance and in their response to it.

Really, that’s what writing is all about, and blogging is no exception. Only my own insecurities kept me from seeing that before.

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