Better late than never: my February column for the Visual Thesaurus is all about the loving origins of amateur. I’d submitted it in time for pre-Valentine’s Day publication, but I’m not in charge of the site and [insert Serenity Prayer]. I wrote about amateur hours (capitalized and generic), amateur nights (ditto), amateur athletes, amateur radio, and amateur musicians.
“Be good or be gone”: The long-running Amateur Night at the Apollo Theater in Harlem
Full access is restricted to subscribers; here’s an excerpt:
Outside of athletics and communications, there’s been a quiet but growing movement to reclaim amateur from its sullied status. Lolly Lewis, the founder and director of the San Francisco–based Amateur Music Network, told me she has received pushback about the group’s name: “Even some of my biggest supporters felt that ‘amateur’ would drive people away, that amateur meant ‘no good at’ or ‘less than,’” she said. She took it as a challenge: “I want to champion the amateur by rehabilitating the word. Amateur means we love doing it!”
The journalist Tom Vanderbilt probably agrees. In his new book Beginners, he observes that “the idea of undertaking new pursuits, ones that you may never be very good at, seems perverse in this age of single-minded peak performance.” Despite this — or because of it — he spent a year taking up new pursuits at which he wasn’t very good, including singing and open-water swimming, and came to embrace and endorse amateurism.