Editorial License

Rob Hammerton, music educator etc.

Never Answer an Anonymous Letter

Who are you?” “No one of consequence.” “I must know.” “Get used to disappointment.”

William Goldman, The Princess Bride


Within the next couple of days, this blog will celebrate its third birthday. For the past 36 months, with only a couple of lengthy pauses between posts, this online space has been a repository for creative writing the likes of which had only previously been available to me during the third- and fourth-grade. (Thanks, Miss Howe.) The “pages” of Editorial License have served to display my written moments of editorializing, tribute-paying, journalism (of a sort), ruminating, and probably many other activities that can be found in the thesaurus near “writing” also.

Online expression has the capacity to allow people to express themselves willy-nilly, as it were: opportunities to respond to things they’ve read with frightful vitriol, and largely without true repercussions – especially since it’s highly unlikely that they’ll actually come face-to-face with the people they’re critiquing. Sometimes “critiquing” is too highbrow a word for what appears on the virtual pages of the Internets. A friend of mine recently put it this way: “’I was really glad I read the comments section,’ said no one, ever.”

One reason for that: anonymity. If a commenter identifies him- or herself merely with a username rather than a truly given name, no one has any idea who it was that just called another writer a bunch of horrible names. Even if the commenter does use his or her actual name, the statistical likelihood of that commenter actually being personally recognized by the original writer or anyone else is rather small.

So what in the world was I thinking, when I parked my actual real name on the top of my actual real blog?

To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about writing. I was thinking that a WordPress blog affords its owner the convenient added feature of being able to create other pages within the blog-website. In essence, one can create a neat little (albeit not extravagant) personal website. It seemed almost too generous to be true. So in creating this creative writing space, I also had the chance to post a page with my CV, in case I ever needed to quickly point anyone toward it.

Clearly I failed to consider the possible ramifications of that decision.

Frankly I’ve wasted far too much virtual ink on the brief tete-a-tete that I conducted with members of the Short Blonde Pre-Adolescent Pretend-Opera-Singing Sensation Freakish Admiration Society, about nine months into my tenure as blog pontificator. But, my regular readers may recall, not far into the relative torrent of “how can you even hint that perhaps our idol might not be the most perfect singer ever?” commentary that descended upon that blog post … came a suggestion that perhaps someone from that Society should investigate the fellow who wrote those awful things about their hero, maybe see if they could contact the school where he taught, … maybe even get him fired! Clearly he’s an awful teacher and shouldn’t be let anywhere near musical children!

Had the masthead of my blog not contained my actual name, which is not nearly as common a name as some, I would not have been nearly as inspired to research the location of a good lawyer.

When I decided that my name should go toward the top of the Editorial License page, I was not considering what effect that decision might have on my actual writing, either.

I’m a mature person. I can handle it if I write something and someone takes exception to it. We live in ‘Murika, for heaven’s sake … free country, free speech, all that good Constitutional stuff. Making the perhaps foolish and overly optimistic assumption that we’re all mature adults here … in theory, I should be grownup enough to write something, stand behind it, suffer the slings and arrows if necessary, and everybody walks away having said their piece. In practice, the slings and arrows are figurative.

Unless, of course, inside the little blog-website lives the name of the author and some clues about that author’s possible physical location. Then the slings and arrows might have more opportunity to get literal. Whoops.



Setting aside the issue of the online world’s yahoos, trolls and wackos … I have had occasion to examine how that fateful decision may have affected my actual writing, here.

One of the facets of my personality that has (by turns) both enhanced my life and detracted from it is: I’m not big on conflict. I don’t actively seek it out. I enjoy life much more when there is peace and harmony and cheery smiles and hearts and flowers and chirping birds. Rainbows too, where possible. There have been moments where it was important for me to communicate my disappointment with, or disapproval of, someone or something, and I went and did so. Occasionally I’ve done so successfully; but I’ve generally hated it. I am not adept at utilizing the written or verbal equivalent of – as my colleague Jamie Weaver once put it – “the state bird of New Jersey”.

(It probably has not helped that in the moments where the internal swizzle stick has snapped and I have finally spouted off in person about something, I have often received a response along the lines of “–hey, easy, man! No need to get so worked up!” … No no – you have no idea – this worked up moment took a hell of a lot of work. And it was relatively articulate. Can you allow a shy retiring type to ‘ssplode, just once in a great while?)

So, if I can avoid it, I try to write in such a way that at the end of the piece, people will (I hope) be encouraged to smile, or laugh, or think, etc. And maybe to return and read the next thing I post.

Now, I have written passionately about a number of hot-button issues, amongst them musical performance, teaching philosophy, famous persons’ unwise decisions, and my alma mater. And on occasion, I have written passionately from my left-leaning political perspective, and have subsequently heard from friends who don’t approach politics and policy from that same angle. They’ve been polite but firm. But polite. And I have taken those responses and chosen to remember them when I next write about that subject area – I haven’t been deterred from expressing my opinions, but I have tried to write in a way that will encourage more mature debate than it will invite flame wars.

A lot of the people who officially Follow this blog happen to be friends and/or colleagues whom I have known for months or years or decades. I think I know them well enough to know that if they pick up metaphorical pitchforks or torches in response to a thought of mine, they’ll do it in such a way that we’ll still be fast friends afterward. My brush with the Singing Sensation Society made me a touch gun-shy for a few weeks, I’ll certainly agree … but my actual friends’ responses to their responses (“O, the beating I have taken”, went my Facebook status post that week) helped me remember an important thing: as long as I can go back and read my own stuff and come away from it still comfortable that I’ve written respectfully, honorably, and honestly … that’s all I can do, and it’ll be okay in the end.

Without my name on the top of the page, I could spout off very differently. If I were writing as Anonymous, I could conceivably throw out opinions about my workplace, my church gig, my interests, my acquaintances, in a much more swashbuckling way. I could probably be a lot snarkier; arguably a lot funnier; and in some cases, I could say negative (and, it should be noted, also positive) things about people … and all of it could be shared with the world much more freely and less diplomatically than I can now.

But honestly, with this blog being as not-anonymous as it is … I have to take responsibility for it. I’m forced to think, and re-think, and craft my material. And on the rare occasions when I actually get it right … I do get to take credit for it – by name.

On balance, I can be happier about that.


Onward, to Year Four.


P.S. As in a previous post, extra bonus points for anyone who identifies the source I used for the title of this post.  Use of The Google is frowned upon. 🙂


September 1, 2013 - Posted by | blogging, friends, Internet, social media, writing | , , , , , , , , , , , ,

1 Comment »

  1. Happy birthday, Rob’s Blog!
    A) I applaud your temerity in using your actual name.
    B) I write this as a vocal music educator with a masters degree and two decades’ experience: the adults in charge of that vocalist are completely out of hand and are subjecting a child to techniques that are entirely inappropriate – without question – for a developing adolescent voice. They are destroying her voice; she will disappear in a little while and some will wonder why. I will not: she will have been ruined by the adults who claim to support her.
    C) When in doubt about comments made about your opinions: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7IJyRAUxtAQ

    Comment by Craig | September 2, 2013 | Reply

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