From the Dept of I Should Be Working, But...
Meager though the attempt and impact may be, I sometimes feel no choice but to rant and rave. A thought blossoms, a feeling arises, and I gotta spill it.
I'm a writer.
And today, I'm a pissed off writer.
Now, writers aren't the only fools who can't hoard their interiors well. All creative types are similarly cursed, whether their expression is visual, auditory, or written. And while I refer to the condition as a curse, the rest of the world looks on and thinks romantic thoughts about how glorious it must be.
I guess I do indeed feel very lucky to be a writer. How many people do you know who actually do what they wanted to do when they were a kid? I take care not to break hearts too hard with my first response to folks' queries:
Them: "Oh! You're a writer! What do you write?"
Me: "Nothing romantic or exciting."
It's funny. That response doesn't stop them. Their blinking eyes stare straight into mine, waiting for the punchline. There is no punchline.
When I think about the glorious-ness of being a writer, I remember my first author interview. I was calling up as pre-arranged to talk with a co-author of one of those early fertility treatment books. An author! Wow! I was excited. I felt unworthy. How could I, barely able to call myself a writer after having been published only in grants and press materials for social service agencies and in the early online communities for moms, possibly have credentials enough to interview an author?
She answered the phone while vacuuming.
I felt better.
Today, I heard from a good friend who also gets consumed with the need to vent through her fingertips that her writings have been plagiarized. Not in the garden variety type of copycatting, like I experienced recently on Facebook as a different friend ran amok with Status Theft for grins. And not the kind of word-borrowing by uninformed non-profit consumer-helping groups who can't pay for bandwith, much less content -- that type of "theft" is often kindly ignored. No, this author friend of mine (I am far from the days of being starry-eyed about authors -- sorry, Ang, you shoulda knew me when...) is seeing whole sections of her published book being spread like sweet jelly on ether toast by a large, for-profit entity.
I told her to just say the word and I'm all about hollering. She hasn't, so I haven't. This doesn't count.
Then, same morning, I wander over to yet another "online magazine" to see if there's something I can do for them. Note: I do not write for altruistic reasons. I am no saint or even philosopher. I write not for your response, but for my own needs. I know that sounds really mean and selfish, but there you have it. Some folks shove stuff up their noses and into their veins. I trickle and gush all over the Internet. (I think I win in the Rather Benign Addictions category.) So when I tell you I'm checking out a venue where I might be welcomed to write, you should know that the first thing I do after glancing (and I mean a swiftly exacting blow) over their general appearance and tone is read their About Us. If so far, so good, I next head to their submissions information. That's where the reality lies.
I've watched the Internet go from being a friendly kumbaya kind of community, where we all wrote just to share our stuff with others, to a gradually more professional avenue where writers could actually earn a living. Then, of course, some writers earned a ton more than others, and then it all exploded. A few of us kept at it while the rest went to find income offline. Eventually, the notion of living off of your writing became real again. But the past two years have seen the same slump as any other industry in this country.
Now, apparently we're back to the point of websites thinking they're doing writers a favor by offering them a place to park their words.
Just on the heels of hearing from my friend about her creative work being used illegally and unethically, I peruse an e-zine's site and find these words:
"Live magazine! Stories published daily by writers and readers!"
Okay, that's bad enough, right? I mean, this is exciting enough for exclamation marks? Then I get to this:
"Submit your own stories or blogs free by logging in above!"
They're giving me a chance to work for free?! Holy Slave Labor, sign me up!
I don't frankly have the words to express what this means to me. Yes, I feel speechless. No, I'm not actually, but I know that there are many others out there who've already said it better than I can. But here's my stab at it:
Folks, the words that come out of my head and through either my fingertips or mouth are as unique as any other part of me. If I hadn't uttered them, they wouldn't have been uttered. Sure, you can give me a load of garbage about how we're all influenced and infected by others, and so how our perspectives are filtered through prisms carved by our interactions, and so we're All One, and so we should/must share the beauty of our creations as if they belong to the Whole Interdependent Web...
You can exhale that mind-changing smoke now, kids.
If I painted a picture and sold it, would you hang it in your livingroom and tell visitors that it's your work?
At the potluck dinner, do you tell folks that you made the dish that gets eaten fastest, even if all you brought was the unopened bag of chips?
If you bring your neighbor's kid along with yours to the grocery store, do you pass him off as blood-kin when onlookers brag on their behavior?
Do you tell acquaintances that you live in the house next-door because it's in better shape than your own shack?
It's not like when someone glibly compliments your hair and then asks if you mind if they copy the style, or when someone comes right out and says "I like your shoes! Can I have them?" and means it.
At first even the most sharing version of us is taken aback, but we may concede. After all, it's only flattering, right?
My words are far more than my outward appearance. They have more value in the big picture of my life than anything else about me. My only other better and more important creation is and always will be my child. Just as my child is in some ways a walking embodiment of my interior, so are my words. You can't get anything more out of any human being than their thoughts and feelings, and I send mine out via words.
When you use my words, you are using me. If I agree to let you do so, then go for it. If you haven't asked yet, then do so (and I may decline you.) If you still choose to use my words without asking, then know in advance that you are choosing whatever consequences come your way.
In my author friend's case, the consequences may likely be legal. That's how it goes, folks. But what about those countless words by myriad writers who are growing like weeds all over the Internet? (I use the term 'weeds' very deliberately, because I'm the woman who lets whatever I want grow in my garden, whether I planted it or not. Weeds aren't inherently bad, to me.) And note that I refer to the writers as weeds, not the words. Am I implying that I'm a better writer than you? Nope. That's the point. I am the *only* writer who is me, just as you are the only you. Bloom where you are planted, but make your own damned flower.
My flowers come from the blood, sweat, and tears of my entire life's experiences. I won't steal your crop. Don't steal mine. And if you want me to bring a bouquet to grace your table, then offer something in return, unless I don't need to put food on my own or I'm just on an altruistic bender, in which case, I'll let you know.
There's already been tons of discussion at much higher levels than this about the Internet and its powerful impact on this existence of ours. What I'm talking about in this blogspot is a teeny blip on the screen, if that. But it's a blip that needs talking about today, because it got under my skin in a direct way. Again.
Because I'm a writer.
What are you?