Writing and Money (And What Really Matters)

“He only needed a little salary.”

“No man only needs a little salary.”

Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman

I attended a writer’s workshop recently with Detroit Working Writers, where the unspoken theme became money. As in, how do I get paid for my writing? Where can I get paid? I want somebody to show me the money. What sells? Where? How? OMG money money money.

I get it. The keynote speaker got it, even as he took the ol’ Oprah-eque tack: Write for love/joy/whatever, just write, and the money will follow. His talk was better than I’m making it sound.

I want money, too. I’m old enough to know that not only does money not grow on trees, but my actual trees ended up costing a horrendous amount this year. To be cut down. Because they were dying. Do you know how sad and ass backwards it is to shell out big bucks to get rid of something you actually like? Ugg. I tried to complain about this to my brother, but he’s a dentist and extracts teeth that people want in their mouths and money they want in their wallets for a living, so I just got a funny look.

I’d like to get paid for my writing, and here’s the rub: I have. It’s nice. But has it been enough? Made me rich? Constituted an income? These are all different and interesting questions, important ones, even. Wouldn’t we all ideally get our income from something we really enjoy doing, something we find intrinsically a part of ourselves? I think most of us would say “yes.” And then we find reality is something a bit different. More complex and nuanced. Publications have budgets, and then budget cuts, and then die. Online stuff is more confusing, full of penny-scams and never meeting the people who run the show. I’ve said “yes” without asking enough questions. I’ve felt like things are risky when maybe they were not. I’ve been outside my comfort zone with subject matter, which can be both good and unsettling. I’ve had as many times in which I’m not getting paid for my writing than when I have been paid, something that fuels what a friend calls “imposter syndrome”, which I suspect holds me back in some way, along with other stuff, valid and otherwise.

I also think most of us that identify as writers want something other than money. Yeah, I know it wasn’t the unspoken theme, but here’s what I think we really want: We want to know our words matter to someone.

Hell, we even want to know we matter.

Right or wrong, money is a big currency of worth. It’s been established for quite some time as the primary means of exchange, as opposed to beads or beaver furs or bushels of grain. So, duh, writers should get paid, especially if they are going to print and helping someone—a business, some advertisers, an organization—get more business, or money, or contributors (probably of money) or movie-goers or ratings or whatever. Our skills—and ourselves–feel dumbed-down if we are giving the milk away for free, so to speak.

 

Still, money is not the only currency of worth. Money says “Hey, your skills and talent matter and are worth something; they are worth $XXX much.” Yeah! My tree needs that cash. But money doesn’t say “I feel that way, too. You are not alone.” Money doesn’t say “That really made me laugh.” Or “That was great to enjoy on the beach,” or “Those characters really resounded with me”, or “Your writing got me through 4 hours in a hospital waiting room.” Not directly, anyhow.

People say those things.

Lots of people are needy little things, and I think writers are no exception. In some ways, we are the worst. Like other artists—yes, I’m calling us that–we express ourselves best through are craft, and we want to know we are heard. On some level, being heard is our worth. I’ve read intros by authors that invite their readers to reach out to them…once upon a time via mail, now somehow through websites or comments. And while I know that online comments=stats=sponsors=money=worth, I also think that the actual comments themselves matter. We want to connect. We want to know our words matter, that they moved you in some way.

So while yes, I too grapple with the money/getting paid thing, I also grapple with knowing my words matter to people. That they make a connection. That they are important to human existence, even if it’s in some small way. I’m still trying to figure out how and when and where and why I can get some of those words out.

So if this speaks to you, feel free to comment.

Or…you can leave me some cashJ

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2014: A List of Some Things I Did

This is a list. Apparently, I’ve been big on list’s recently (see all summer posts.) I started writing this when I was in some sort of bad mood, where I seemed to feel the need to justify that I do something…which I recognize, intellectually, as some sort of crap, but have yet to get completely over it.

I started around the holidays, and when I started getting Christmas cards, I thought of all those brag-gy letters people used to send before you could simply brag on Facebook all year. This is not meant to be brag-gy. It’s just a list. The good, the bad, the ehh. Like, I’ve listed doing laundry. Turns out, a lot happens in a year, and a lot of it is good. A lot of regular stuff happens all the time. I think a lot of that goes unheralded, unappreciated, and that can make us feel tired for doing “not much.” I’m sure I do that with others in my life. It’s something to improve upon in 2015.

Anyhow, without further ado, my list:

Things I Did in 2014

Tutored a Korean woman in English

Painted the master bedroom green

Took my kids to lots of swim meets and practices

Make pasta salad for swim meets

Volunteered at swim meets

Volunteered for field day

Was room mom for my daughter’s class

Volunteered for School Library

Wrote one piece per month for Writers Group

Critiqued on average 3 pieces per month for Writers Group

Attended 2 or 3 Writing Conferences

Exercised around 3 days a week

Went to therapy

Make lots of lunches

Make lots of breakfasts

Folded lots of laundry

Packed a bunch of clothes

Grocery shopped a lot

Went Waterskiing

Went up North

Went to a wedding in Chicago area

Shopped for wedding clothes

Shopped for BTS

Wrote about 1/month for my blog

Cleaned the bathrooms (sometimes)

Signed the kids up for camps

Drove kids to camps

Bought equipment for kids

Chaperoned Lansing trip

Chaperoned zoo trip

Called my sister when I made risotto

Went to Disney world

Swam with dolphins

Went to SeaWorld

Ate at Denny’s on my birthday

Threw up in a bag on I-94

Cleaned up vomit in a hotel room

Took my mom in for knee surgery

Visited my mom in the hospital

Ate lunch with my brother Bill

Took my mom to a rehab facility

Visited my mom at the rehab facility

Brought my mom home from the rehab facility

Went off the high dive at Beachwood

Mowed the lawn

Ran a 5K with my daughter

Went to brunch

Swam in Lake Huron

Swam in Lake Michigan

Swam in the Atlantic Ocean

Paid my Mastercard Bill

Paid my Visa bill after MC changed to Visa

Paid my Kohl’s charge

Made doctor’s appointments

Went to doctors offices

Took my son for a 2D echogram

Took my son for X-rays

Watched my daughter get her blood drawn

Ran up and down sand dunes

Picked blueberries

Spent $80 on beach towels

Got my bikini bottom knocked down to my ankles while trying to body surf in the Atlantic Ocean

Walked from Maryland to Delaware and back

Ate at 5 Guys

Watched fireworks

Surfed the internet

Painted my son’s room

Glue gunned stuff

Frosted birthday cakes

Dressed up as a Ghostbuster

Shopped for Halloween costumes

Went to Halloween parties

Counted laps at the school jogathon

Had headaches

Got a mammogram

Had a root canal

Got my hair cut

Went to some improv workshops

Saw some movies

Watched TV

Read books

Cleaned out clothes

Cleaned out closets

Folded clothes

Yelled at my kids and husband

Hugged my kids and husband

Laughed

Was crabby

Cried

Got a puppy

Wiped urine off my kitchen floor

Stood in the cold garage with puppy

Stood in the cold outside with puppy

Watched youtube videos

Became a “Noon Aid” at school

Filled out applications

Got fingerprinted

Contacted really old employers on LinkedIn

Watched tutorials

Got CPR certified

Met a few people for coffee

Got a TB test

Shadowed some Stretch-N-Grow classes

Made videos on my phone

Took pictures on my phone

Listened to Percy Jackson in the car

Checked out books from library

Acquired overdue charges at library

Went to veterinarian

Walked dog

Went to training classes

Spent money at Target, Petco, Meijer, Amazon

Christmas shopped

Cooked turkey, apple pie, made cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving Day

Visited brother’s wife’s parents on Thanksgiving Day

Went to Chicago for Easter

Danced

Wrapped Christmas gifts

Tied donuts on a string

Ate hot donuts

Drank apple cider

Drank wine, beer, and mixed drinks

Slept

Ate chocolate

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Tweet! Tweet!

 

Most of us have already gone through several love/hate relationships with Facebook: been in love, been addicted, broken up, gotten back together. I get it. Facebook still seems like the original social media (yeah, yeah, I know there was myspace and stuff), and now, in social media years, it’s like the old aunt at the baby shower. There a zillion other social medias–Instagram pops to mind–that apparently youngsters hop to. Whatever.

Meanwhile, I’ve had a Twitter account for about a year. Yea, about-a-year-anniversary for me! I got on it because of my writers group. No, we don’t do anything important with or on Twitter; we just sometimes talk about at our meetings. I get the impression that there’s an art to it, a smart-ness to it, if you will, that it’s important for self-promotion and stuff. If you have anything important to promote, like a book or yourself or something.

Of course, I didn’t really “get” Twitter. See, Twitter is apparently something you “get.” I thought I’d “get” it by having an account and checking in once in a while. But whether or not I “get” it, it hasn’t taken on that (slightly) more personal feel that Facebook has. I would really only check in on Twitter when I felt like I needed to scale back on how often I would check Facebook out of sheer boredom. (Both my numbers and use of images is low, so my own activity I pretty worthless on Facebook. Yet…I still check it out.)

Then, my children’s principal sent out notice that he was opening a Twitter account. In order to help us see important things going on in the school/district. So please follow him. But don’t be sad if he doesn’t follow back. (Well. Then.)

Since I already have a Twitter account, I bit.

Now, I a slightly interested in Twitter.

Not because I am getting particularly exciting, enhancing tweets from the ol’ principal. The principal who won’t follow me back. On the contrary, I have some bizarre, maybe competitive or passive-aggressive desire to do Twitter better than the school boss.

I bet I can craft much more interesting, informative and relevant tweets that the ol’ principal. Edgier. Funnier. Better to “follow.”

Or…will I just end up sending tweets from the principal’s office?

Curious minds want to know. Or not.

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The Possibility of a Theme

Blogs are supposed to have a theme. That’s what the advice-from-the-blogging-gods tells me, anyhow. An area of expertise. A niche. A voice of authority. Or, to be fancy and recall my college English major days, a thesis statement.

I always had problems with those.

Maybe it’s because I’m a bit ADD. Maybe it’s because, instead of learning to write by crafting a solid, deep yet succinct thesis statement followed by a tidy outline, I learned to write mostly by babbling in a journal. I think this did a lot for developing “voice”, but it’s still tough to develop organization. I like voice. I think it makes writing more fun, but I’m not always sure it’s the neat and tidy way to go. Lots of people seem to like neat and tidy. Or at least Pinterest would lead me to believe this.

Anyhoo…my blog writing tends to follow this same pattern, and here I am, irregular, undisciplined blogger without a real niche or theme.

And then a cupcake problem arose a few weeks ago. A cupcake problem which made me think that, all along, I actually have had a theme. I just hadn’t seen it. Trees because of the forest, or forest because of the trees, or whatever.

By the way, I don’t have a cupcake theme. Sorry cupcake lovers.

But here’s the thing with the cupcakes, the story, if you will, that made me think that I’ve perhaps had a theme all along. It was my daughter’s birthday. She likes chocolate cake. My mom offered to make cake, as her birthday would be celebrated right after we returned from a 12-hours in the car vacation, and who has time to bake immdiately after vacation? My mom, of course. Yes, fine, make the cupcakes, I said.

I want them to be chocolate, my daughter told me as we were eating dinner at a subpar fast-food joint en route home from vacation.

I’ll call Grandma and let her know, I said. But I didn’t call grandma right away. I called her about 12 hours later. After she’d already baked 2 dozen key lime flavored cupcakes.

Key lime flavor? WTF–what kid is gonna respond to that? (Answer: probably all if that is their only choice. Or they’re marketed as Sprite cupcakes.)

Sigh. Fine. I’ll bake a cake as well. Chocolate.

I did.

We brought them all to her birthday celebration. The anticipation was trending towards cake, so, good Lord, what would be do with all the cupcakes?

And then this thought passed through my head:

Wow. Sounds like I have some major #whitepeopleproblems. Or some #firstworldproblems. Or some #suburbanproblems.

Thank you, self-depreciating hashtags, you’ve helped me find my theme.

I even tested this on previous posts:

Being scummy? Works.

Being stressed out by swim team. Check.

Writing issues? I think it works; writing issues are really not in the same seriousness vein as, say, health or plumbing issues.

Have-I-harnessed-my-potential issues? I believe food, water, and a roof over one’s head have to be taken care of before you can have these issues.

–Obsession with googling celebrities? Please

I guess this makes me shallow, but–hear me out–even on the days when I want my problems to be taken seriously, well, I think they still qualify. Look at Elizabeth Gilbert’s book Eat Pray Love. Oprah took that book very seriously. So I think the discovery of this theme still allows me to be, ahem, serious on my more woeful days.

Rock on, cupcake problems. Rock on.

Author’s Note: I also currently have the problem of finding it too difficult to find a good cupcake photo that also doesn’t break any copyright issues or anything.  I’ll try to fix that. A cupcake photo would sure be pretty, wouldn’t it?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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O Captain My Captain!

Unless you live in a hole–or stay away from all media and social media–you know by now that Robin Williams died this past Monday. And I’ve decided to write a post on him, because I’ve found myself googling him like mad since the sad news. True, this may show that I have a web-surfing issue, or too much time this week that my kids are at summer camp, but I gotta say, it actually surprises myself the extent to which I’m doing this. Why obsess so much over the death of this particular celebrity?

I found out this news on Facebook; someone posted that Robin Williams died, and posed the question: What was your favorite Robin Williams movie? I answered this rather quickly–Dead Poet’s Society, although I also think Good Will Hunting is a very good movie–and have reflected on the significance of this question since. Here’s the rub: so many people can note a favorite Robin Williams movie not because it was your favorite Robin Williams movie, but because that movie was your favorite movie, period. When Phillip Seymour Hoffman also tragically died this winter, he was hailed as a great actor with lots of great movies, but were they really your favorites? I’m sure Doubt and Capote are great performances; maybe I’ll watch them someday when I’m in the mood for something serious and depressing. We watched Robin Williams when we were in the mood for something uplifting, which we collectively need more often. Hoffman disappeared in his roles; with Williams, we pretty much recognized Robin in all his roles–assuming you could recognize Robin as one particular individual at all, or figure out what he was really like–and we liked him for this. It’s part of the reason he periodically made films that critics panned–things like Popeye or Patch Adams (the latter of which co-starred Phillip Seymour Hoffman)–and yet the public still liked them, defended them…even and especially today.

Of course, thinking about a lot of his roles, even as they were uplifting and funny and inspiring, they were often tinged with a sort of sadness. Good Morning Vietnam was set against a war; Professor Keating gets fired at the end of Dead Poet’s Society for pushing boundaries; Mrs. Doubtfire exists on a downer of a situation, and it’s realistic ending is sobering. Williams was always human, even as he was super-charged and super-human in his talent, energy, and humor. Or, to steal a better quote from the internet and Marc Maron, he was an “electric, shining piece of humanity.”

One final word, and going back to my favorite Williams movie–which ranks up there as one of my favorite movies, period–Dead Poet’s Society: tons of teachers have sited that film–and Williams’ performance–as the reason they became teachers. That’s powerful shit. All the more sad that William’s life ended so tragically.

Rest in Peace, O Captain my Captain!

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Signs that it might be time for swim season to wrap up

swim moms

This summer, we embraced another suburban cliché by becoming members of a private, extremely elite swim and tennis club. Okay, I don’t know how “extremely elite” it is, but the part of me that feels snobby saying I belong to any sort of club–particularly one that sounds like it may have its own chapter in The Official Preppy Handbookforces me to be ironic. Crap, is being “ironic” also pretentious? Probably. Well, if you can’t win, join ’em.

With that, I’m presenting you with a list of “Signs that it might be time for the swim season to wrap up.” I’d like to give a shout out to Annie and Bob for being two loyal readers; you are just as important to me as my also-have-a-blog-and-therefore-I-comment readers, Pam and Lisa. Dare I pitch an opening to Bob to guest post, maybe under the title “What About Bob?”

Okay, now without further ado, my list.

1. You’ve been having most of your meals at the Barracuda Café, or some other fishy, club-y establishment.

2. “Just go take a hot shower,” is becoming a catch phrase.

3. Every kid is suddenly blonde.

4. You’ve purchased 15 kinds of sunscreen and 12 pairs of goggles, but you can’t locate any of them.

5. If you did a shot every time you heard the words “A Finals” or “B Finals,” you’d be hammered.

6. You’ve redone the food pyramid in your head to include vast quantities of Gatorade and Twizzlers. You also believe a “Buddy Bag” is a really good multi-vitamin to go along with their “meal”, which is a hot dog.

7. You look at beach towels and think: Do I need to wash these? Do I even care?

8. You’ve gone on YouTube to watch swim videos with your kids, and Pinterest to think of ideas for swim posters.

9. Your child freebases cereal every night at 8 o’clock.

10. Your child actually wants to go to swim practice.

11. Scratch #10: The coaches have upped their game, and you have to pull out your now well-honed “let’s talk about this later” speech, as you’ve learned discussing the next swim practice immediately after swim practice is like asking a woman if she wants to have another baby after she’s just endured hours of hard labor.

12. You’ve stopped putting the name Bob in quotes. It’s simply her name, dammit!

Note to my brother Bob: Bob is not you. I also know my only blog reading brother is Bill. So, I’ll rephrase my note: Bill, Bob is not Bob. She’s another Bob. Now go back to drilling some teeth and taking care of your lovely newborn Rosie. I’ll come visit someday. You know, after this damn swim season is over.

Additional public service announcement: If you actually implement #5, or have done a shot each time you read Bob in this entry, you are probably an alcoholic and need to seek help. Or you’re just really drunk.

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13 Reasons It’s Good I’m Scummy

I haven’t gotten a haircut in a while. It’s often in a ponytail. I know some stylist would encourage me to fix myself up, but here are some reasons I will continue my current, err, style for a while. (I also wander around in workout clothes a lot.)

1.  It’s summer, and I’ll probably end up in a pool later.

2. I might clean the house later.

3. Maybe I just worked out. Maybe. Can’t be sure, right?

4. I might work out later.

5. I might mow the lawn later.

6. Yeah yeah yeah, the path the hell is paved in good intentions.

7. It’s not noon yet. (The people who sell booze use that every Sunday, so why can’t I?)

8. I’m trying to boost other women’s self-esteem by looking bedraggled myself. It’s a public service. You’re welcome.

9. When I finally do make myself up, blow-dry my hair, etc., I figure I’ll be unrecognizable and able to go on a glamorous bender all incognito.

10. I’m a super hero. This is my disguise.

11. I’m not Jennifer Garner being stalked by some local paparazzi.

12. My kids will probably push me in the pool soon for forcing them to do swim practice.

13. Yeah, I know #12 is almost the same as #1. Deal.

 

 

 

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