A few weeks ago I received some comments on the 'French Connection' series. The reader stated that he wasn't "convinced" by my approach and that I had wandered off from "real world" carpentry by making a bend in the beams of the three-legged bench. He then said he was not a trained carpenter nor "a skilled and knowledgeable joiner" but that "surely" the solution to the leg-beam join issue was to "simply reduce the width of the legs."
I came to this message after having come back from the shop where things were not looking especially good with my SCM planer and I was worried I might have to spend a bunch of money I didn't have. So, with that squatting on my mind, I didn't exactly take the comment in a spirit of expansiveness, rather as a bit abrasive and confrontational, and implying that I was stupid for not considering such a "simple" solution to the bench problem.
I posted his comment and then replied to it with a point-by-point rebuttal of his contentions. I then suggested he might want to consider that after the extensive study and drawing I have done on this piece over the past several years, along with other examples from the Mazerolle book, that he might want to consider that fact before posting. Yes, I probably would have been better off leaving that bit out. I also said I didn't much like the tone of his comment as I perceived it.
A couple of days later, came the return from the same fellow, which stated that while he enjoyed my blog and admired my work, he suspected I was desperate for approval and admiration, which was demonstrated clearly because I posted pictures of 'dial gauge readouts'. He concluded with a remark that he would continue to visit my blog, then tossed in some name-calling and dared me to post his comment.
This reminded me of the sort of situation where you are walking down a hallway and see someone coming the other way who is clearly walking so as to be a little bit in your path - deliberately so. Male territoriality, that sort of thing. Though you don't know who this person is you decide to hold your ground as you pass and shoulders are bumped. Kinda like a scene out of junior high school I guess. Then, next thing you know, the guy you bumped rapidly and surprisingly escalates from his posturing to actual attack and you find yourself the recipient of a pummeling. Some people are seemingly set off like rabid dogs with the slightest of provocations, and I can only wonder what sort of unfortunate life experiences they may have had to lead them to such a pattern of behavior. That hair-trigger temper thing - I don't really understand it.
The commenter certainly knew how to craft his words to be hurtful, as if he'd had practice with that sort of thing. And they were hurtful. Some things are like water off a duck's back for me, but other things can cause me to toss and turn at night.
While there is some grain of truth in the comments - I certainly do like recognition for my work. It's a motivation, but only one of several that keep me going. I also like taking on new challenges and learning, then sharing with others about the process. I feel validated when others share their enthusiasm for the same things I am into. I do think at times I can be judgmental, patronizing and sarcastic. I own that those are unfortunate personality traits - and that I can work on them - and it is helpful sometimes if they are pointed out for me. Perhaps not pointed out in quite the blunt-instrument manner chosen by the commenter though.
I did post the comment. Then, talking with my wife later on in the day, she asked me if that was the sort of thing I wanted a client - or readers in general for that matter - to read, and that it is my blog after all and that I got to choose what I wanted posted here. I realized that it would be best to scrub the exchange from 'the record'. A bit of a difficult choice to make, as I have no interest in censoring people, and certainly am open to criticism, however I also recognized that the exchange added nothing of constructive value to my blog.
What aggrieved me the most about the exchange though was the very anonymity of the commenter, and if someone is going to accuse me of things, or attack me, I think I have a right to know who that person is. But boy, how easy it is in this medium to remain hidden and make jabs at someone!
This anonymity issue is a recognized problem with the web. Politicians have proposal bills to curb it. When people can be anonymous some might say things they would never dare to say face-to-face. The anonymity allows a coward to take their potshots, and behave maliciously without any chance of being held accountable for their remarks. It's just like a digital version of the comments one can see written on a bathroom wall. Like the whispering campaign. Like the subversive manipulation of others to bring them around to a dislike of a third party. All are forms of bullying, and all bullies are driven by fear. Many places on the web now are chock-full of these sorts of shit-disturbers, and they are generally referred to as 'trolls', dragging their words along the bottom and kicking up muck, trying to snag the discussion off into the tangent they prefer. I have learned to steer clear of the comments section on a great number of places now, like Huffington Post, BBC news, etc. as I find just glancing at a few of the comments put forth by these sorts of people can cast a pall on my entire day and give me a darker vision of mankind than I would prefer to carry around in my head. I'm not interested in developing a thicker skin than I've already accrued at this stage in life.
I've been blogging for 4 years now and have received many wonderful comments and questions from readers over the years. Some comments have even led to entire posts devoted just to the issues raised by the commenter, a process that I have much enjoyed, and it would appear the same has gone for the respective commenter. I have also had a few negative and nasty comments along the way. Very few really - like three. The interesting thing though is that each of the attack comments - and I remember them well - was left by someone who preferred to remain anonymous. Tells you something right there.
Anyway, the purposely nasty comment received last week left me feeling a bit uninspired, as far as this blog goes. I was asking myself if there was any real point in continuing this blog at all when you have to deal with jerky comments from the shadows, not to mention the spam that arrives several times per week by folks who hope you might not be reading closely and will miss the commercial link they have inserted. Funny thing is, when you go to those spammer's homepages they have the commenting disabled and no email address listed. Hmm. some would say that if you put yourself out there in public, this comes as part of the package, and maybe that is true.
I also considered removing the option of commenting from the blog. For years I've asked that people leave their full name, even while commenting under 'anonymous', however that request often ignored or unread it would seem and I end up deleting a few fine comments as a result. I do understand why people may wish to remain somewhat anonymous, and so when 'Joe' or 'Adam', or 'Steve' comment, I generally post their comment regardless even though I may have no idea who they are or even if they are using their real names.
Then this morning a received a very nice comment and question on my Japanese gate typology series from a woman who told me she had enjoyed the read and had learned about gates she had never heard of previously, and that reminded me of why it can be so nice to receive comments. And it's got nothing to do with some sort of ego stroke or seeking for approval - those gates after all were not my accomplishments. Nor is my writing likely to garner any literary prizes. I am primarily interested in sharing my passion for traditional carpentry practice, particularly from Japan, and if my efforts lead someone to read my content and come away with a positive impression and appreciation for the depth of the carpentry work I admire and seek to emulate, if maybe they have learned something new, if they are a bit inspired, then I feel successful in what I do as far as blogging is concerned. I don't think there is anything wrong with that.
So, I think I'll leave commenting functionality in place here on the Carpentry Way, however I am going to have to be stricter in which comments I allow. Full name only from now on, and I'll look at the settings to see what other options I might have. If somebody is uncomfortable posting with their real name in a public setting, then the option is always there for them to send me an email.
And you know, I don't post up pictures of my 'dial gauge readouts' because I'm desperate for approval. I do it because a picture demonstrates the point clearly. It shows that it is possible for woodworking to be done accurately, for at least some woodworking equipment to create accurate results. And I like precision in woodwork, find it satisfying to accomplish it in my work, and in fact find the topic of metrology inherently interesting in and of itself. I do know that it - precision in woodwork I mean - rubs some people the wrong way. That in itself is curious. I well realize that some think that because wood moves it is some massive waste of time to try and be accurate (I don't agree!). There are lots of blogs and forums out there and all sorts of perspectives, and mine is but one of those.
I'll continue to share my thoughts and enthusiasms for woodwork by way of this blog, the two study groups I'm involved with, and by the work I do. I'm not going to let those who wish to dampen that down, or put me down, to stop me.
Thanks for coming by - I'll return to posting in the next few days. Suddenly I have a lot of work on the plate and time is at a premium, so I suspect posting will be less frequent for the next while.