The Sum of All Reasons

1.

I’m 17 years of age on that night of 2007.

A newcomer to Israel’s most popular radio station, I was about to phone one of the few people who would in time decide on my deployment. It’s Dr. K, renowned in Israel as “The father of the Hebrew language”. At the station, his official job title is “linguistic advisor”, but with his vast knowledge and authoritative manners, the Doctor was more of an arbiter. My performance in his class could very well determine if I was to be trusted with a microphone.

I hesitantly tapped on his name from the contact list, only to be sent to the voicemail box after a few rings. Following the beep, I apologized for the late call and proceeded to ask my question.

The next morning, as I was walking to the station, his name showed up on my phone’s screen. The minute words came out of his mouth, you didn’t need to have high doses of emotional intelligence to sense the Doctor wasn’t having a good day.

Was I in trouble for calling late at night? Maybe he was asleep. Am I not supposed to call his personal phone? Did the question imply ignorance?

“This is Dr. K!”

“Doctor, I apologize agai…”

“Look, you are not interrupting. You are never interrupting! People think that Hebrew is my job, and maybe you think that, too. But let me tell you now: Hebrew is not my job, Hebrew is my life!”

“I…Okay.”

“Now what is your query?”

In hindsight, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that the Doctor opposed my eventual appointment to a broadcaster two months later. I don’t know and I don’t know if I want to know. Seven years later, I’m the station’s lead news anchor, and while I still see him as my “master, teacher, and rabbi” when it comes to linguistics, me and the Doctor are also good friends.

Last Wednesday I was hired to host an important ceremony where both the prime minister and the president gave speeches. Even though external events are outside the scope of his responsibilities, I knew Dr. K would gladly rehearse the text with me to make sure I got the pronunciations right.

2.

My first blog was launched in 2004. I use the passive form in the previous sentence, because I wasn’t the one to set it up. At the age of 14, I didn’t know what a blog was, I had never heard of WordPress, and HTML & CSS sounded like things only people with glasses were allowed to deal with. It just occurred that I had recently discovered the magic of Photoshop, and wanted a website millions and millions of people could visit to download my artful wallpapers. I wish I kept some of these to show you how embarrassing they were.

“It’s a blog, basically, but you can use it for downloads too. Just upload the images and add a link to them in posts you publish”. The Taiwanese whiz-kid whom I “met” on an internet forum must have thought that with this explanation, he was finally done with me.

A few weeks later, with a freely hosted blog that resided on a sub-subdomain, I parted ways with my forum acquaintance and thanked him for teaching me the ropes of “blogging”. Now, I felt, I know all about WordPress, ready to embark on my own. It’s ironic that today — after ten years — I feel I know far less about WordPress than what I felt I knew back then. There’s something about that naivety that I miss, too.

But anyway..

With time, my interests started shifting. I discovered that I’d rather write about gadgets than design wallpapers. I started to gain readers, too. Many readers! Over twenty of them visited my weblog every day! So I got my own domain and moved to a paid host. It cost my reluctant father $25 a year, less than the monthly fee of hosting this site.

3.

I was a few months into the foray when I stumbled across a mention of Google Adsense. Unsurprisingly, it was on a site called ProBlogger. The idea that I could make money (let alone a living) doing something I enjoyed anyway sounded too good to be true.

So, of course I signed up.

About one year later I launched another blog. By that time, I had already acquainted myself with the then-prevalent practices and jargon of bloggers. I look down on most of these practices today, but I was around 15 at the time, so not exactly concerned with legacy and long-lasting value. Forgive me father, for I have sinned.

Many hours would be spent on my baby blog every day. It’s hard to forget the countless times when an attempt to change a sidebar item led to an error that brought the whole site down. We had no such thing as widgets back in the day, kids!

My phone rang one night. On the other side of the line was my good friend, Z. Our high-school gang was meeting at a local coffee shop; but as was the case on a daily basis, work on my blog was taking more time than I had anticipated. I couldn’t make it.

“Yeah yeah your blog, keep dreaming man. How much did you make today anyway?”, he asked with friendly belittlement.

“Two dollars and eighty cents?”

“OK, how about this? I’ll give you six dollars! That way you would have made twice the amount and we’d get to see you!”

I didn’t take the generous offer.

But I also remember another moment, several months later. At school, I told my friends to dress up because later that night we’ll be dining at one of the nicest restaurants in the city. “Don’t ask why” I answered, all the while trying to hide a sneaking smile.

After the feast was over, Z pressed harder to know what had prompted the act of generosity on my part. And a teenager never misses a chance to serve his revenge cold: I reached for my back-pocket, pulled a cheque I received earlier that month, and put it on the table, face up. Z almost fell out of his chair. When the commotion finally settled, I explained to him and the others that my oft-ridiculed blogging affair was doing “pretty well”.

On our way back home from the restaurant, Z humorously asked if he can join me as a partner in this “blog business thing”.

“OK, let’s say I agree. What would be your part of the deal?”

“Oh, it’s simple man: For ten percent I’ll dust off your keyboard every morning and be your personal masseur!”

We both laughed.

Z knew the joke was on him this time around.

4.

These seemingly unrelated adventures converged into a revelation after I read Zac Szewczyk’s Community, in which I’m mentioned:

Since then he has surprised me on multiple occasions with generous offerings of time and attention I had previously only seen hugely popular writers elicit of their readers. It amazed me, for instance, that he not only offered a great deal of feedback regarding this site’s latest design as I muddled my way through the process, but that he also served as the single driving force behind making this site cross-browser compatible. Without his input and willingness to seek out dated Windows machines throughout the testing process, Firefox users would still not have a styled page. I owe him a huge debt of gratitude, to put it lightly.

I appreciate Zac’s acknowledgment, but I realize he may be perplexed as to the motives behind my actions.

I often ponder why I endeavor in the labor of writing, and why — assuming the axiom that we write to be read is valid — have I chosen to do it in English? I could, after all, gain a mass of attention a hundred times bigger if I wrote in Hebrew, under my full name.

So why do I write? Why do I spend an inordinate amount of time in front of a screen, fighting with words like a raging typist? When the dice have rolled my way and I can spend my time unwinding after a demanding day at work, or going to the beach, or slacking; why write?

For me, the answer is becoming clearer as time goes by. And so to slightly paraphrase Dr. K: Writing is not, and probably never will be my job again, but it is, to an extent, part of who I am. For the past few years, I’ve mainly followed the developments in the online publishing space from a distance. And today, I’m neither a professional writer, nor wish to be the type of “problogger” I was before. Even if I covet, I don’t know if I’ll venture into this field again anytime soon. I’m fortunate to be presented with other choices that seem more viable, financially rewarding, and sensible. At least for now.

5.

I’m a great believer in the Butterfly Effect. Small events, changes, and acts of goodwill can change profoundly the course of our lives. Who knows where I’d be today, had that forum friend shrugged indifferently when I shared my whim for a website of my own.

The fact of the matter is he didn’t, and two years later I was living a dream I never knew I had.

Social media was supposed to remedy the effects of tribalism and the echo chamber in online publishing. Theoretically, it should have made it easier for unknown writers to break through the barriers, to be found by more readers. But in the grand scheme of things, it didn’t. And so today — as it has always been — it’s up to the human element to take action.

What I want to say is: If you are out there, putting hard work towards something of your own, something genuine, then I’m one of your biggest fans — your own, ever available advocate. And I want to help you no matter who you are, or how many Twitter followers you have. You are not your Twitter followers count, and you are not your page views.

Don’t thank me or feel obliged to. I am neither an altruist nor a philanthropist. I do this for me.

After all, this may not be my job, but it is my life.

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