Sunday, December 29, 2013

I Don’t Want a Niche

By Marion Aldridge

Current wisdom for writers and for many other professions is to find a niche market and focus. You can’t just write about travel. You have to write about gay travel or traveling as a handicapped person or travel in the Florida Keys or travel by dugout canoe. If you choose to specialize in travel by dugout canoes, you need to decide whether your canoe will be dug out of maple or cedar. Niche marketing.

My trouble is that I am curious about everything. Don’t limit me. I see a bumper sticker that says, “Eat Bertha’s Mussels,” and I wonder what that’s about. Who is Bertha? Where is Bertha? Can I get to Bertha’s by suppertime?

The world has always had a love/hate relationship with generalists. One of the first words I remember being taught in a classroom is the word “dilettante.” It describes, I was told, someone who is “a jack of all trades and master of none.” Apparently, to be labeled a dilettante is to be insulted. I prefer to think my interests are eclectic. I may read the biography of a baseball player one day, a financial analysis of “Tulip Mania” the next, a science fiction novel the next, a book about Buddhism the next and a Civil War history the next.

“Where the Pavement Ends” has been my attempt at writing a travel blog in the year since my retirement. I have written about New York City, Shreveport and Machu Picchu, but I have also written about football, colors, grief, friendship, patriotism, race relations and alternative medicines. Travel, it turns out, is too narrow a topic for my interests.

I admire people who have specific, marketable skills, who are expert in a particular area, those who can craft fine furniture, who can wire a house for electricity, who can play the flute, who can teach children in a classroom, who can perform surgery. Some people are brain surgeons, play the flute and make fine furniture. I am not one of them, but I am happy the world has people who cross disciplines. Too narrow a focus makes us less than we might be.

An old joke tells of St. Peter giving new residents a tour of heaven. As they pass certain sections, he shushes the recent arrivals, motioning for them to be quiet. Later someone asked, “Why did we need to be quiet back there?’

St. Peter responded, “Oh, that’s where the Baptists stay and they still think they’re the only ones here.”  

Retirement has been good for me because it freed me from many of the restrictions of my life that were employment based. Being restrained by others and limiting myself drives me nuts, but it is somewhat inevitable in the workaday world. Nowadays, every morning, I drink coffee from a cup that is inscribed, “Never affirm self-limitations.” When I begin my morning and the sun is rising, I want my ears sensitive to all that is happening around me and I want my eyes wide open. I want to see, taste, touch, hear and smell it all. Bring it on. No limits.


Leigh Stevenson said...

I couldn't agree more. Not to slam niche writers, but limiting yourself can be stifling.

I think your teacher got it wrong. Dilettante often has a negative connotation. One definition: "a person who takes up an art, activity, or subject merely for amusement, especially in a desultory or superficial way; dabbler."

A curious person is a person who is constantly learning. No limits. Yes!

Sarah Herlong said...

Hey I know that joke! I told it to my mother....she's Baptist. For some reason she didn't think it was that funny.

Anonymous said...

I like your travel blog, especially the pictures. The piece about your parents was good. The fact that you ate a patty melt when you met with your father at the Holiday Inn reminded me of selling Christmas trees with my father.

pengobatan darah tinggi said...

nice post yess no niche