Caretakers Rather Than Editors? Thinking Out Loud With Some Metaphors

This is a longish post. It contains some fruit of my reflections on last Friday's conversation about the structure of The Kindling.

I'm laying the fruit out there so that:

  1. People can see that this is being thought about, and the subject is not lying fallow.
  2. People can contribute their own thoughts, if they wish to do so.

If it's too long for you to read in its entirety, then read the section headings and jump down to the conclusion.

The Freedom and Responsibility of the Writers

Freedom

The idea behind The Kindling is that the writers are free to write what they want. I've expressed it this way: if you're Catholic, if you live in Phoenix, and if it's on your mind, then it's a suitable subject for a post.

Responsibility

And the writers are ultimately responsible for what they write. There are no fact checkers ensuring that each statement is accurate and evidence-based.

Proofreaders check a writer's post to ensure minimum levels of legibility and intelligibility. Proofreaders aren't responsible for making a post the best version of itself. The writer must do that.

If the Writers are Responsible, Are Editors Even Necessary?

The idea behind The Kindling also contains a role that I first called "editor." The idea actually calls for multiple "editors"; there is no single, over-arching "editor" in the original idea.

But I suspect now that the word "editor" may not be the best word to express the idea.

Why? I think that the word "editor" suggests someone:

  • reviewing a post with an eye toward improving it;
  • checking to see if the post fits within the general trend of the publishing enterprise; and
  • perhaps imposing on the post a house style (e.g., the mandatory serial comma, a maximum sentence length, compulsory section headings).

That's not what an "editor" at The Kindling would be doing, at least not in my idea. Why? Well, the it's the writer who improves his or her post; the "general trend" of The Kindling is very broad (you're Catholic, you're in Phoenix, and it's on your mind); and there is no house style (unless you count as a "house style" the typographical constraints of posting in a Squarespace theme).

Perhaps "Curator" Is a Better Term than "Editor"?

So what word expresses my idea better than "editor"?

I thought that maybe "curator" might do it. But "curator" suggests selection: the curator of an art museum picks what pieces come in, and which pieces stay out, based on a cultivated taste and for the sake of creating a focused collection.

But The Kindling is not a focused collection like an art museum. And what comes in and what stays out of the exhibit depends on the writers and what they happen to have on their minds. So I don't think "curator" works.

Curator's Cousin: Caretaker

But the word "curator" has a cousin that seems to me to be well-suited for what I have in mind: "caretaker."

I like the word's Anglo-Saxon literalness: a caretaker is someone who takes care of something.

Taking Care of Something

"To take care of" is an expression with at least two senses. If someone has a problem or a task, I can take care of that for him — I can do what needs to be done; I can get it done. That's a utilitarian sense.

But I can also "take care of" something in this sense: I care for it and I attend to it. Or I care about it and I tend it.

That sense of "taking care of" and "caretaker" makes me think of two things:

  • a person taking care of a child and tending to its needs
  • a person taking care of a garden or the grounds of a large estate with growing things on it

These metaphors are imperfect, and even potentially misleading in some ways (for example, by talking about caring for a child I do not mean to suggest there should be a paternalistic role with respect to writers). But they help me unfold some of my thinking.

Caretaker and Child

What is the caretaker of a child doing and not doing?

The caretaker does not control the child, as a person controls a remote-control car or a warden controls prisoners.

The caretaker provides the child with what the child needs: food, shelter, education, room to play.

But the wise caretaker recognizes that the child has an inner vitality and independence proper to the child. The wise caretaker does not interfere or meddle with the child's inner life or its development. The child gets to be the unique person that the child is supposed to be.

The caretaker is respectful. But the caretaker also knows that, at certain times and in certain conditions, the caretaker may need to say: No, that's not what we do here.

I would note that, with respect to God our Father, we are all children, regardless of our age or any attainment.

Caretaker and Growing Things

What is the caretaker of growing things doing?

The caretaker of a garden or a large estate does not need to own the growing things, or the ground on which they grow, in order to care for them.

A caretaker does not need to have planted everything that is growing under his or her care.

And conceivably, a caretaker would not need to literally "care" about the things that he or she is taking care of. But the best caretaker would actually care about the things that are growing. The caring would make the caretaker a better caretaker: the caring would give him or her an eye for what's healthy, how it's all growing together, and what might introduce sickness into that living, thriving, exuberant "system" that we call a garden.

Conclusion: Community Garden as Apt Metaphor

Maybe a community garden is an apt metaphor.

The writers show up eagerly with their seeds and tools. The writers cultivate their little plots of soil assigned to them by the garden's administrator.

The caretakers, who are actively gardening little plots themselves, volunteer to keep an eye on what's coming into the garden:

  • Is someone growing an illegal substance that gets us all busted?
  • Is someone wheeling in a pesticide?
  • Is someone's plot of land developing an unhealthy pool of water, attracting mosquitos?
  • Is someone about to plant what looks like kudzu?

The caretakers consult the gardeners and the other caretakers about these questions, with an eye on the health of the garden which all enjoy.

The caretakers do not need to be master gardeners. They just need to care about the garden, ask questions about its health, and take necessary steps with others to keep it healthy for all.

What are the "necessary steps"? I don't know exactly — not yet.

But have you ever seen those flame-thrower attachments you can get for a propane tank (not the little, brown, Coleman-lantern tanks, but the big, white, run-a-grill propane tanks)? They're badass. You can torch weeds in your yard military style.

Well, I think it's safe to say that nobody wants a community garden in which a single person, or even a group of people, without talking to the gardener or community, can step into someone's plot of land and torch what has been planted because it "looked like a weed."

Something less drastic would be more appropriate.

More on that to follow.

What that is: I'm pondering.