Thursday 17 October 2002

Redeemed through blogging

Given the paltry stipend one receives as a tenured faculty member of the University of Blogaria, the professoriate’s ongoing fascination with the Blogging for Dollars controversy should hardly come as a surprise. AKMA, The Happy Tutor, Steve Himmer, Tom Matrullo, Mark Pilgrim, Shelley Powers, Dorothea Salo, Jeneane Sessum, Halley Suitt, and David Weinberger have all weighed in to the debate.

A couple of sentences of Dorothea’s resonated with me:

Small lies corrode the soul. Bigger and bigger lies get by. In time, the system manufactures another soulless PR flack.

Are you strong enough to resist such corrosion? I’m not.

Actually, I discovered that it can work the other way.

But first, a quote from Murakami Haruki’s Dance, Dance, Dance:

Well, somebody’s got to write these things. And the same can be said for collecting garbage and shoveling snow. It doesn’t matter whether you like it or not—a job’s a job.

For three and a half years, I’d been making this kind of contribution to society. Shoveling snow. You know, cultural snow…

It takes no great effort to find work in the giant anthill of an advanced capitalist society. That is, of course, so long as you’re not asking the impossible.

When I still had my office, I did my share of editing and writing, and I’d gotten to know a few professionals in the field. So as I embarked on a free-lance career, there was no major retooling required. I didn’t need much to live on anyway.

I pulled out my address book and made some calls. I asked if there was work available. I said I’d been laying back but was ready to take stuff on. Almost immediately jobs came my way. Though not particularly interesting jobs, mostly filler for PR newsletters and company brochures. Speaking conservatively, I’d say half the material I wrote was meaningless, of no conceivable use to anyone. A waste of pulp and ink. But I did the work, mechanically, without thinking. At first, the load wasn’t much, maybe a couple hours a day. The rest of the time I’d be out walking or seeing a movie. I saw a lot of movies. For three months, I had an easy time of it. I was slowly getting back in touch.

Then, in early autumn, things began to change. Work orders increased dramatically. The phone rang nonstop, my mailbox was overflowing. I met people in the business and had lunch with them. They promised me more work.

The reason was simple. I was never choosy about the jobs I did. I was willing to do anything, I met my deadlines, I never complained, I wrote legibly. And I was thorough. Where others slacked off, I did an honest write. I was never snide, even when the pay was low. If I got a call at two-thirty in the morning asking for twenty pages of text (about, say, the advantages of non-digital clocks or the appeal of women in their forties or the most beautiful spots in Helsinki, where, needless to say, I’d never been) by six A.M., I’d have it done by five-thirty. And if they called back for a rewrite, I had it to them by six. You bet I had a good reputation.

The same as for shoveling snow.

Let it snow and I’d show you a thing or two about efficient roadwork.

Murakami’s protagonist and I were kindred spirits. For me, shoveling cultural snow was undemanding, relatively well paid work that I’d done successfully for years. Then, a few months after I started blogging, the strangest thing happened: I found I couldn’t do it anymore. My last assignment was a disaster. I got sick, the person I was supposed to interview went away on holiday, and then the writing—which had always flowed effortlessly—turned into a protracted struggle. I finally turned in the copy more than a week late and never heard from the marketing manager again.

A month or so later someone else contacted me by email to ask if I’d be interested in doing a series of projects. I replied to the email and left a voicemail message but somehow never followed it up. I realized then that my days of shoveling snow were over. Day by day, writing post after post to this weblog, I discovered my own voice. Or, to be more accurate, I gained a clearer sense of how it might develop—given time, commitment, and practice. But, as my own voice grew louder and more distinct, I could no longer write using the vocabulary of marketing and public relations. From a distance I can see that my illness was largely psychosomatic. And that I’ll have to replace the page describing the services offered by a former me.

Mark Pilgrim is right: there is “money to be made from blogging, but indirectly.” Warts and all.” I’ve already got a couple of gigs as a result of people reading my weblog. Dorothea Salo got it right too, when she wrote: “Hire me, hire my blog—that’s how it works.

So there it is, a kind of I was redeemed through blogging story…

There remains, however, one thing to make perfectly clear. Despite the fact that Daniel Neumann from Easy-do has contacted me via my comments, I have never received any consideration (financial or otherwise) for my enthusiastic endorsement of the Dishmatique product line. If Easy-do wants to fly me first-class to London and put me up at The Savoy in return for my giving the keynote at an International Dishwashing Technology Conference, I promise to disclose the offer here before boarding the plane.

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Ah, I am relieved to hear that you are clean in that dirty dishwashing business. Although I am not convinced that it is a harmless hobby, I detect a faint whiff of sex in the whole business.

Posted by Michael Webb on 17 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Jonathon, can I say that I'm glad you're no longer shoveling sh--now? And Michael, that whiff of sex is because Jonathon's part of the Sudsy Men of Weblogging. And you know what they say about Them.

Seriously, very nice story. A definite threat to the birth canal.

Posted by Burningbird on 18 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Shows me right up, Jonathon; this is what I was trying, in my prosy and didactic kind of way, to point toward. Though I suppose that payment may corrupt some snow-shovelers, too.

I am worried about your facile adherence to the Easy-Do platform. Are they planning a series of “Switcher” ads? Will you be the Ellen Feiss of dishwashing technology? And if you won't, is there any chance they'd be interested in me (or, more likely Si)?

Posted by AKMA on 20 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

Whoops! I didn’t realize Easy-Do manufactured the Dishmatique. Of course, I’d still be available for a Switcher ad, since I used to use an inferior American Dishmatique knock-off.

In fact, now that I've gotten the idea, I'm wondering about borrowing a DV camera and putting together a dishwashing Switcher ad. . . .

Posted by AKMA on 20 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

AKMA, if the Easy-Do gig comes through, I'd like to engage you as my speechwriter and voice coach. And if Si sends along his resume, I'm sure I'll be able to find a constructive role for him too. (Will there be any problem with his getting leave of absence from school?)

Posted by Jonathon Delacour on 20 October 2002 (Comment Permalink)

This discussion is now closed. My thanks to everyone who contributed.

© Copyright 2007 Jonathon Delacour