I got a call today from someone I knew slightly. After a bit of flimflam, she got down to business: ‘Would I be prepared to write an article for them about what life was like after retraining. Didn’t need to be long, a thousand/ maybe fifteen hundred words or so. They would use it online and in excerpted in their prospectus and marketing. Would be a nice opportunity for me to get some exposure, and possibly some new clients?’
Which meant they had no plans to pay me.
I went back to college in my mid-forties. The general idea was to reset my mind, retrain it to think outside of the music- box. I enjoyed that part. The part where I sat in my lounge listening to middle-aged men tell me how stuck they were in life … that part just got my goat. People seemed unwilling to do anything to change. And I couldn’t be assed to push them up the hill.
So I was thrilled when my pal Gavin offered me a job at Positive Heroes. I accepted gleefully. After all, I met him at College. So my education had, in fact, paid off.
Over the weekend camparigirl sent me an article Tim Kreider wrote for the New York Times. She and I have been mulling over how to earn some more money. We don’t expect to make fortunes – but we both have a horror of penury. And different bio-rhythms: so the subject is bound to crop up every few months when serotonin levels are low.
Kreider wrote about people expecting him to give them illustrations or articles for free. And how that irritated him (he also referred to Ariana Huffington as “the man”, which made me laugh nastily): “I’ve been trying to understand the mentality that leads people who wouldn’t ask a stranger to give them a keychain or a Twizzler to ask me to write them a thousand words for nothing. I have to admit my empathetic imagination is failing me here. I suppose people who aren’t artists assume that being one must be fun since, after all, we do choose to do it despite the fact that no one pays us. They figure we must be flattered to have someone ask us to do our little thing we already do.”
I’ve seen the look that goes with the last sentence. It’s the same one that adults get when a child presents them with a badly decorated, home-made cupcake … ‘oh sweet, look what you did with ingredients someone else gave you. We know you didn’t really make it yourself. But, hey, it’s yummy.’
I mumbled that I was pretty busy, had a lot going on and she rejoined with more goo. How she knew I was able to pack things into a day, how my insights would be invaluable, how they were proud to have had me as a student etc. I wondered how she felt, pimping me out for a free lunch. I suspect Krieger would have loved it: “My parents blew tens of thousands of 1980s dollars on tuition at a prestigious institution to train me for this job. They also put my sister the pulmonologist through medical school, and as far as I know nobody ever asks her to perform a quick lobectomy — doesn’t have to be anything fancy, maybe just in her spare time, whatever she can do would be great — because it’ll help get her name out there.”
I needed it to stop, so I told my caller I would think about it – and get back to her. And then I sent her an email. Hey, she wanted something I had written. I used Krieger’s template, which he offered his readers in the NYT for free. Per his suggestion, I have amended it slightly to better fit the situation: Thanks very much for your compliments on my counseling skills and writing ability. I’m flattered by your invitation to write a piece describing my life after college. You are right, it would give me an opportunity to tell people how I went about getting a job, especially in the absence of of the promised assistance from the college. But writing is work, it takes time and in this economy I can’t afford to do it for free. I’m sorry to decline, but thanks again, sincerely, for your kind words.
I couldn’t resist making the point. Needless to say, I haven’t heard a word.
(Tim Kreider is the author of “We Learn Nothing,” a collection of essays and cartoons. All images in the public domain.)