Sunday, February 21, 2010

The Heart of the Amateur

You can learn a lot about a society and its attitudes from the origins of certain words. Take villain, for example. In its original French and Latin it meant simply 'feudal serf' or 'farm hand'. Hmmm. . . working class=contemptible class, what a thoroughly barbaric analogy. It's nice to see we've moved past such prejudice in the 21st Century. Of course, it's always better to be rich, and being rich and famous is better still.

That will probably never happen if you're an amateur. Amateurs, by the modern definition, don't get paid for what they do. They haven't monetized (such an elegant word) their skill set, haven't declared themselves open for business (profess, the root of professional). Some, admittedly, can't get paid for what they do because it's nothing anyone would pay for, though the market has proven time and again that people will buy most anything given the right prodding, but there are others, and plenty of them, who don't even give money a thought. Painters. Photographers. Surfers (the only pastime I know where the majority of amateurs look on professionalism with a healthy dose of contempt). Basketball and Baseball players. Writers. They just do what they do, underneath, around, and through the gaps in the corporate structure supporting their professional counterparts, and if the whole damn thing came crashing to the ground they might sigh, might even be a little bit sad to see it go, but the painters would paint, photographers would look to capture fleeting moments of light, waves would be ridden, ballcourts and fields would still host fierce local rivalries, and writers would still struggle in futility to lay their strange visions onto the page. And why? The answer lies in the root of the word amateur: from the Latin amator, lover, from amare, to love. And if it is really true that the desire of money is the root of all evil, then the root of love can only be called the spark of the divine.


  1. I don't know if it's still true, but for many years, the Jockey Club in England was not open to professional jockies. Amateurs only.

  2. I really needed to read this, man. Thanks for the post.

    I constantly question my love for making music that no one else may ever listen to save some obligitory gesture of feigned interest. I find myself comparing the music I make to the music of the accepted masses - what we hear on the radio/pandora or what-have-you.

    People can listen to the music that comes out of me or not, doesn't really matter. I'm in it for the experience - what I can learn, what I can contribute. I'm riding that lonely wave on the sea of oblivion - and will continue to experience it by myself.


  3. Thanks for posting this Reuben.

    I'm beginning to wonder if it's desirable at all (for me) to try to turn my passion, which is writing (and surfing, and that other thing that you know about, shhh!) into a moneymaking enterprise. All I've ever wanted is to write quality stories and have people read them, and I have that now, at a minimal cost to myself. I know for a fact that you love what you do, and a mountain of money and adulation couldn't replace that sort of satisfaction.

  4. Beautifully put, Don.

    I think this issue needs to be part of the larger discussion we're all having about publishing, by which I do not mean simply another discussion about how to exploit the issue monetarily. For a lot of writers that might be a fantasy, but it's not the point of what they're doing.

    What is an amateur? What is a professional? If everybody understood the distinctions implicitly we wouldn't have to sharpen our chisels, but that's clearly not the case. As your post, starting with our linguistic roots might be a good first step.

  5. The question should be, at what point did denotation/definition begin to acquire its derogatory connotation? My guess is that those who were rising from serfdom were the source of the pejorative, as the exact social-legal description became a stigma, not because of the value of wealth, but because of ambition of those who sought to erase the stain from their own origins.

  6. Stop it you poetic bastard! I'm starting to swoon.