It happened, again. Someone of my acquaintance figured that I had unlimited resources and that I was willing to share them just for the asking. I have finite resources and I share them according to very mindful heuristics. In short, anyone asking me to peruse, without payment, a manuscript, whether brief, or, as in the aforementioned case, book-length, will receive a polite “no.” Just like everyone else, my days are twenty-four hours long and I need to use a goodly portion of those hours earning money. Writers pay bills, too.
To wit, I am resurrecting a favorite essay of mine, a jotting that addresses why creative folks can’t say “yes” to every friend’s child, former student, contest participant, or corporate executive (audacity seemingly has no demographic confines) who asks for professional work at no charge. The same folks, who expect me and my ilk to read/review/critique/what-have-you, gratis, would never dream of asking their dentist for a root canal without payment, their grocer for a cart of produce at no cost, or their local law enforcement agent for a free-of-charge evening of chaperoning a teen party.
I wanna be a model! Not really, but that rant does sound good. Actually, though, such an outburst comes across as boring, even commonplace, when compared to the impassioned rhetoric to which I’ve recently been subjected. In our entitlement-based, consumer-driven society, regularly, when someone covets something, they act as if they have obtained the rights to the object of their desires.
To wit, lately, when I’ve been asked to acquiesce on matters of writing, of editing, or of teaching writing or editing, and I’ve stood by my limits, I’ve been nudged, less than gently, by the bottom portion of peoples’ shoes. As a result, I’ve become ever so slightly hostile when confronted, again and again, by such balderdash outlooks.
A long time ago, I played oboe. When participating in a marching band, I played glockenspiel.
Namely, most weeks, I’m electronically summoned by many would-be writers. Sometimes, I get pinged by folks who think that their poems, essays, stories, or other bits, which they poofed out of nothing, should be immediately incorporated into well-paying slots. Sometimes, I get emails from folks who think a response from me, to their emotive assemblages, i.e. to their hacked arrangements of words, takes priority over all of my other responsibilities. Sometimes, I get phone calls from passersby who presume I’ll permit them to hang with my established students. After I receive the offspring of those aforementioned persons’ unicorns, pegasai, and chimeras, I’ll entertain such notions.
Even though I’ve given up profitable career paths and turned my back on social climbing in order to pursue my trade, ladies and gents lush with multiple cars, tony zip codes, and garments needing no patches, have no qualms asking me to jump as they instruct. In their esteem, their endowed passage through life empowers them to command the likes of me.
I have one sibling. Since we live thousands of miles apart from each other, we rely on convergent media to stay connected.
Those petitioners expect me to be so suitably excited about their dreams that daily I will open up their emails to laud their updates. In truth, such requests rock my socks so much that I can barely wait for the right variables to line up with the moon’s seventh house; I’m not wagering, any time soon, that those other smarties will move from conceptualizing to actually putting words on paper. That those unassuming aesthetes plan to fashion a blog, sometime in the next bunch of years, from which to espouse their wisdom, arouses me to the extent that I repeatedly slap myself silly.
Surely, my uneven skills, built over decades, and my questionable professional sagacity, which has been gleaned from life's disconcerting experiences are incomparable, relative to those belonging to such creative visionaries, for whose promised work I’m expected to be salivating. Bring on those tweets and instant messages; I have unlimited temporal resources with which to deal with their potential communications. Not only am I willing to give up my heart’s joy, writing, for them, but I can put aside my minimum wage employment, too, in order to applaud their bombarding me with their fancies.
I used to be a human companion to dogs and then cats. I’ve also championed lizards, fish and turtles.
Concurrently, I am directed to stay posted on those seekers’ future stories. Whether those noble others plan to send me, unwanted, lightning flashes, novellas, or something of middling length, especially in the form of palpably rough drafts that are written when sleep deprived, inebriated, or elsewise one off, reading such items continues to be the most important expenditure of my energy. It is far less vital for me to check galley proofs for my books in progress, to review offered contracts for my new books, or to buckle down and retool my incomplete books than it is for me to open myself to such petitions.
Fortunately, I’m good with the word “no.” Years ago, I used that response when I reviewed peers’ works for academic journals. I use that phrase these days, too, when I edit for periodicals devoted to literature. I still dare say, “no, a narrative must have a plot, characters, and others of the usual repertoire of literary elements to be considered for publication,” and I still go so far as to not kowtow to individuals who randomly send their fabrications to me.
I love reading. Readily, I’ll devour everything from Greek plays to modern, steampunk fiction.
To boot, when choosing and arranging material for the establishment, I defy cultural norms. I make statements, which include, “deadlines apply to all comers, no exceptions” and “your idea is not original, your descriptive language is flat, and your use of dialogue is two-dimensional.” What’s more, when receiving uncalled-for texts, via my personal inbox, amazingly, I have the courage to send them back unread.
Somewhere, in the back of my mind, it occurs to me that my life partner, and my sons and daughters, deserve my attention whereas strangers who come unbidden into my realm do not. I’m audacious that way.
I find enough guts to answer self-professed authors, who try to feel me up for free consults that “I DO charge and charge lots to correct, condense, or otherwise modify work, on the rare occasions when I make time for such projects.” I’m willing to risk my popularity by claiming “my time, too, has value and is not given away unless I elect to do so.” “Doing so,” for me, is usually limited to my supporting the internationally emerging writers I’ve chosen to mentor, and to shipping extra batches of encouragement to paying students who are slip sliding, a bit, en route to future success. Thus, it can be boldly pronounced that I have sufficient nerve to hold in contempt strangers who ask for hours of my time, gratis.
Even though I’ve hit midlife, I like to eat cooked meals and to exercise regularly. Both endeavors require my energy.
As such, I’m glad that people, with whom I’ve had no prior contact, trust my credibility enough to believe I will and can get their names on tables of contents. Naturally, they expect me to help position them in top tier magazines or to connect them to the big boys and girls, whom I’ve finally reached, through equal measures of good fortune and unrelenting effort, at mid-sized publishers. As per my contacts at the grandest of North American book houses, those unfamiliar men and women, who solicit my resources, shout at me that it’s their unequivocally due to use me to further their networks.
Sometimes, I take a few hours off of work to paint or to build clay vessels. I’ve been known to volunteer my time for community charities, too.
I understand that spontaneous claimants’ ill-considered jottings are not crackpot, but impulsive. When those upstarts insist on sharing their files with me, they’re not narcissistic, but generous. I’m to be faulted, not them, since I’m the one who fails to grovel five minutes before and after their missives get to me. Moreover, it’s key for me to crow about dull, unoriginal stream of consciousness blather, and morally questionable for me to set aside that work when it lacks a half-baked attempt to abide by mechanical conventions.
I’m a bit squeamish about rescuing dumpster cats. However, I’m okay pulling earthworms out of puddles.
Then there is the public that just “wants to sit in and observe” the workshops, which I lead, and which are populated by students who have studied with me for handfuls of years. If reading is so simple, relative to getting through traffic bottlenecks, or relative to correctly making buttermilk pancakes, it follows, in those individuals’ least mindful equations, that writing, too, is the stuff of simpletons. Accordingly, it ought to be of no inconvenience if enthusiasts want to shadow my group.
Interestingly, interrupting other folks’ skill building doesn’t seem to bother privileged sorts. Likewise, that writing might actually be a craft, mastered, perhaps, if at all, after long periods of intense exertion, never occurs to those thinkers. They’re more than flabbergast that I’d deign deny them entrance into my humble pedagogical kingdom. After all, they yearn to addend the appellation of “writer” to their sense of self. It’s abhorrent that Yours Truly, a former academic, and established word player, would shoo away anyone desirous of inflating their status.
I’ve lead weed walks. I’ve taught basket weaving. For years, I was a participant in a community-based agriculture undertaking.
I think my problem, nevertheless, is that I wanna be a model. Sure, I’m fat, middle-aged, habituated to frumpy dress, and allergic to being photographed. So what? It’s immaterial that I refuse to be caught on film in a swimsuit or in some other version of sparse summer clothing in a cold climate. It ought not really to matter that I disdain makeup and won’t consider a pedicure. It’s no one’s business that I: won’t perform on demand, can be possessed of a caustic mind-set, hate attending castings, and insist on wearing flats.
Surely, the industry has been waiting for the likes of me, talent, and work ethic, notwithstanding. Like those souls that wish or pretend to be writers, I’m at liberty, too, to make wild stipulations.
*This posting originally appeared as KJ Hannah Greenberg, “I Wanna be a Model,” “Vortice.” Jul. 2014. 28-31 and then as one of sixty-one essays about writing and the publishing industry assembled in KJ Hannah Greenberg, Tosh: Select Trash and Bosh of Creative Writing (Crooked Cat Books, Toulouse, France. 2018). Support an artist. Buy the book!